The Stars of New York’s New Sweeney Todd Recall Their First Time
February 14th, 2017
by Josh Ferri
Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Tony-winning musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is back in New York with a stunning, environmental production that enjoyed sold-out runs in London. Designer Simon Kenny transformed off-Broadway’s Barrow Street Theatre into a working pie-shop where the gruesome musical is played all around audiences. The production’s original London stage stars Jeremy Secomb, Siobhan McCarthy, Duncan Smith, and Joseph Taylor are all here to kick off the New York run.
Now it’s no surprise Sweeney is a big deal to Broadway fans and especially Sondheim fanatics. For most, Sweeney or Into the Woods is your gateway drug to Sondheim. (Seriously, who starts with Merrily or Pacific Overtures?!) BroadwayBox caught up with the stars and creators of NYC’s new Sweeney Todd to ask each of them, what was your first experience seeing or hearing the iconic musical Sweeney Todd?
Jeremy Secomb (Sweeney Todd)
I was a teenager in the theatre and I think I was given a cassette tape of the soundtrack. That was my first introduction to it. At that point, I was singing anything but Sweeney Todd; I was singing Pirelli and I was singing Anthony. Then my parents gave me the VHS of the original Broadway cast, and it was crazy.
Siobhan McCarthy (Mrs. Lovett)
I was working with Hal Prince on Evita in 1978 and he asked me to audition for the part of Johanna for the London production, and that was my first time I had ever heard about Sweeney Todd. Now it was very high and I didn’t get the part but I did get music sent over from New York for me by Stephen Sondheim—the biggest sheet music you’d ever seen. My husband Andrew Bruce was working on the show as the sound designer so I did see it many times.
Alex Finke (Johanna)
For me, it was the original Broadway cast recording in college. My really good friend was obsessed with Sweeney Todd and I was like, “What’s that?” And she was like “How do you not know?!?” So that was my introduction but I’ve never seen a production of Sweeney at all, not even the Johnny Depp movie…nothing.
Matt Doyle (Anthony)
My first experience was in high school. I did Into the Woods in high school so I watched the DVD of that, and then I found out that they were all filmed. The next one I went to like a night later was Sweeney Todd, which I had never seen at that point. Then I became obsessed with it. I love penny dreadfuls and gothic stories like this and I couldn’t believe something like that was turned into a musical. I still can’t. I can’t believe we are working on one of the most famous and revered musicals ever.
Brad Oscar (The Beadle)
I first saw it a week after it opened on Broadway in March of 1979. I had never seen anything like it. Then I went home to DC and waited patiently for the album to come out—calling Korvettes every day. Korvettes was where you knew you would get that cast album first. You knew they would have it. Literally I called every day and then my dad drove me over the minute it did. Then I saw it twice more in New York and once a week when it opened its national tour in DC. Yeah, it’s been a big thing. To work on this piece now is extraordinary.
Duncan Smith (Judge Turpin)
I saw the West End production with Julia McKenzie and Denis Quilley and it was absolutely sensational. Julia McKenzie was exquisite as Mrs. Lovett. Denis Quilley (who I worked with subsequently in Anything Goes) was wonderful as the Judge. He was so anguished—he was an extraordinary character to watch onstage. I worked with Barry James (who played the Beadle in that production) later in Phantom of the Opera, and I asked him, “What was it like to be in that production?” And he said, “I can’t describe it to you because it is indescribable. It was absolutely extraordinary.” So it’s been on my bucket list to do, and when this opportunity came up I thought, “Wow how can I not do it?”
Joseph Taylor (Tobias)
I first got to know Sweeney Todd in my third year at drama school. I actually played the part I’m playing now seven years ago and then I wrote my dissertation on it. So I’m pretty well-versed in Sweeney Todd. I fell in love with the show when I first did it and I’m lucky to be doing it again.
Betsy Morgan (Pirelli & Beggar Woman)
This is it. I mean of course I’ve heard the music before, and when I was preparing for the audition I saw the recorded stage version with Angela Lansbury; but I had never seen it before and I still have never seen it up on stage before. This is a first. I’m coming to it very fresh and this particular production is like being thrown into the deep end of Sweeney Todd in all the best ways. It’s not just Sweeney Todd up on stage, it’s Sweeney Todd all around you.
Bill Buckhurst (Director)
My parents had a recording of the original production and I just remember Angela Lansbury’s voice. Right around the same time, I saw an Agatha Christie movie called Death On The Nile that she starred in. I remember these two worlds of Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece and this masterpiece thriller of Agatha Christie coming together with one extraordinary lady in common. I will never forget that voice. It was an extraordinary introduction to a musical and an actress I’d never heard of before. Since then it’s been the musical I’ve always wanted to direct, and to have that opportunity to do that and in such unusual circumstances, I’m very lucky.
Simon Kenny (Scenic & Costume Designer)
The first time I saw it in the West End, the Watermill production that came in with actor-musicians (a version of which came over here). I knew a little bit about the story but seeing it onstage for the first time in such a stripped-back, imaginative way with all the actors playing instruments was absolutely thrilling. I fell in love with it straight away.
Rachel Edwards (Lead Producer)
I first saw it at the National Theatre probably in the early ‘90s with Julia McKenzie as Mrs. Lovett and when she did “Worst Pies” she totally blew me away. To that point theatre was alright, but when I saw her do that, I thought, “Oh my god!” And it was a terrifying production. That’s when I fell in love with it.
Don't miss 'Sweeney Todd' at New York's Barrow Street Theatre.