The company of Sweeney Toddis anticipating the upcoming Broadway revival’s first performance at theLunt-Fontanne Theatre just as much as audiences are. “It feels like the spring musical, doesn’t it?” says Jordan Fisher, who plays Anthony in the beloved musical. “Oh, we can’t wait.”
Taking on the roles of young lovers Anthony and Johanna, Fisher and newcomer Maria Bilbao star in Sweeney Todd alongside such names as Josh Groban, Annaleigh Ashford, and Gaten Matarazzo. The pair sat down with Broadway Direct only days before the show’s first Broadway performance on February 26 to discuss the Stephen Sondheim classic and how audiences should expect the unexpected in the Thomas Kail–directed revival.
What was your first exposure to Sweeney Todd?
Maria Bilbao: I think I was most aware of Sweeney Todd during my audition process for this show. I had seen one production of Sweeney Todd when I was in high school, but it didn’t really resonate for me for some reason, so I never really went back to it. Once I got the audition material for this, I dived really deep into all the pro–shots and all the documentaries that I could find and I just fell in love with it.
Jordan Fisher: It’s crazy how Sondheim has this ability to touch and move regardless of the walk of life that you’re in. No matter when you’re exposed to him, he has so much to offer.
I was 12, so this was a moon or two ago. I saw a production in Birmingham, Alabama. That was it for me, where Sweeney was concerned. It took me a minute to find the rest of his stuff. And then Sunday in the Park [with George], I just came across one day and that became my favorite piece ever. Being able to find these moments, these connective pieces within all of his work is super exciting and Sweeney specifically is such a heartbeat, I feel like, for the rest of his material. So much is informed by what he and Hal [Prince] were able to do in the ’70s; they were in the rebellious-like phase of their career, and you can smell that in this show.
What was the process like for joining the cast of Sweeney, and your reaction when you found out you booked the job?
JF: Tommy [Kail] and I have been friends for a while, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with him on a few different things over the last decade or so. I’d always mentioned to him how much I love classical theater and how much I missed that. An opportunity to come back to Broadway with a piece that is familiar, but to be able to give it the broad strokes that we are capable of giving it, is something that was really exciting to me. All of a sudden it was this email of, “Hey pal, I don’t know if you remember that conversation, but we’re doing this thing.”
It was a flight up to the city from Florida and a meeting with the Sondheim crew and Tommy and Lac [music supervisor Alex Lacamoire]. It took me getting my feet on the ground in the city and hearing the score, it just definitively screams New York and Broadway. And how cathartic and lovely is that, to be able to have an opportunity to jump in? So I was very, very grateful that they said yes as well.
MB: The process for booking this went by so quickly. I think I got a self-tape request the week before Thanksgiving and the week after Thanksgiving I got the call from my manager — and I literally just, like, fell on the floor crying.
I immediately FaceTimed my mom, immediately FaceTimed my grandmother. It was just a really surreal moment for me. I’ll never forget that day when I got that call.
JF: That happens one time in your career. That first call — “Hey, Broadway debut!” — happens one time ever. It’s so cool. We got a lot of debuts in this show.
Jumping off that, you are making your Broadway debut, Maria. Is there anything about this experience and working with multiple Broadway veterans that has taken you by surprise?
MB: Oh my God. I think, for me, when you think, “Oh, Broadway debut, principal character,” there’s a lot of anxiousness and fear surrounding that. And I guess a little bit of an imposter syndrome. But the moment that I walked into the room for our first rehearsal and I started meeting everybody and watching the way they work and the way that they process material, and how just chill they were, it kind of allowed me to be like, “Oh, I’m exactly where I need to be. This is right.” That just kind of eased all of my worries and all of my nervousness and I was just ready to dive in with all of these amazing artists and individuals.
JF: The world is not ready for Maria.
Jordan, this marks your return to Broadway, having played roles in Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, as well as a stint in Freestyle Love Supreme. But this is your first time joining a Broadway production from its inception. How has that made this experience different?
JF: I’ve been fortunate enough to help develop a few other projects from the ground up over the course of my 20 years doing this, but there are few things as gratifying, satisfying, and stimulating as this specific moment. I think the idea of 26 [orchestral] pieces underneath supporting us, we haven’t seen that since ’79. And to be able to bring that back at this capacity with this company, as Maria was saying. Just the diversity in the way that we all work, but absolute unification and what we’re capable of accomplishing and what we strive to accomplish.
And yes, being “OBC” [original Broadway cast] for such a massive revival, especially a year after Sondheim’s passing, and to put our stamp on it with love being the capital L, it’s a really big deal for all of us. That came forward very much so the other day during our sitzprobe [the first run-through of the musical with the cast and orchestra]. I have not participated in a sitzprobe since I was a teenager. That’s the space that I could absolutely live in, and I think for all of us to get that affirmation and confirmation that it sounds that good. [Laughs.] But the affirmation that the time and energy that we’re putting into it is all going to the right places and spaces, and it’s really coming together as such a whole piece.
Was the anticipation of the sitzprobe palpable? I’m sure the room was electric when it finally arrived.
JF: It’s what we’ve been dreaming about. And Lac, I mean, this is his show. If you ask Alex Lacamoire what his reference songs are for tempos, it would be this show. The tempo that “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” is set to … He knows it like the back of his hand. He had a tearful moment with the two of us in a small little rehearsal room at [rehearsal space] Open Jar, and he just stopped playing and was like, “I need a picture of this moment for 15-year-old Alex who played this in his bedroom for no one but himself. It needs to be burned to my memory.”
You play Anthony and Johanna, a love story central to the musical. What went into building that relationship?
MB: I think the moment that we met each other was just like “Cool. OK.” We kind of got each other. Before every run, we’ll give each other a hug, check in with each other, and tell each other, “I got you, you got me,” so we know that and that allows the relationship throughout the show to just be so strong and, also I think, really truthful. Which is really exciting for these characters.
JF: No one else in the story really trusts each other. I mean — spoiler alert — Anthony and Johanna get away. This is something that, especially if you know this going into the show, then you have that peace to kind of rest on, the truth in that you can trust them. You can be with them the whole time. And I think that Anthony and Johanna are the only ones that can really, actually, genuinely trust each other. So to have that anchor on stage, especially in really intense sequences, it is very important, very vital for us that we built a friendship. And it was very easy. We both love a lot of the same things and are both able to connect on all of that, as well as the love for the work.
What will be going through your heads during that first performance on February 26th?
JF: Man, a couple of things. One, I can’t wait for people to see this show. Holy s–t — it’s happening. Wow. Get ready for your minds to be blown. You think you know this show, you think you have attended this tale before, and you have not. And it is so exciting to know that on the giving side. I long to be on the receiving side of it one day. It’s gonna be awesome, I’m gonna sit and enjoy it all.
And then, two: for people to hear this woman sing “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” and for their jaws to drop and wonder where she’s been their whole life.
MB: That’s so sweet, thank you. I am so excited to gift this to audiences. One thing that [producer] Jeffrey Seller told us in our last run in the rehearsal studio was that we have a secret. And we really do. We have this show that people will listen to and watch and think that it’s about vengeance and revenge and anger and murder, when really this is a show about love. About grief and loss of love and how we navigate that as humans. And so I’m just really excited for people to come and experience that with us and go on that journey with us.
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