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Sweeney Todd bringing down their curtain on Broadway demonstrates how the trend of musical theater changed

2024.05.01 20:56:01 Seungwon Oh

[Photo Credit to Unsplash]

On March 11th, 2024, Sweeney Todd, one of the most iconic musicals in the history of theater, decided to conclude their Broadway run on May 5th, 2024, demonstrating the transformation of the overall trend of musical theater.

Sweeney Todd premiered at the Uris Theater on Broadway in 1979, garnering significant attention with three Tony Awards that year: Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score.

Combined with the intricate music and lyrics of the legendary American composer Stephen Sondheim and a unique concept of a serial killer, Sweeney Todd earned recognition in the world of theater and eventually solidified its position as one of the most iconic Broadway musicals.

In March of 2023, this masterpiece made a return once again, and while it was able to capture the attention of many audiences eager to watch the legendary symbolic show, the spark proved to be short-lived.

Greg Evans, a reporter from Deadline, stated, "While box office figures since the new leads took over remain strong, average attendance has slipped from the previous sell-out numbers to around 90% of capacity in most recent weeks."

Eventually, the creative team of Sweeney Todd has made the decision to close after just a year and two months since their opening.

Examining the stellar cast of Sweeney Todd raises further questions about its underperformance.

Aaron Tveit, currently playing the role of Todd, with his immense fandom, is clearly one of the most popular musical theater actors, and he also showcased his stage presence in prominent works from Moulin Rouge and Catch Me If You Can.

Furthermore, Sutton Foster, currently portraying the role of Mrs. Lovvett, is a seasoned actress who has clinched the Tony Award for Best Actress twice with her performance in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Anything Goes.

Evidently, the failure of Sweeney Todd lies in one singular reason: it simply doesn't align with the latest Broadway trends.

The most successful musicals on Broadway recently, such as MJ, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and Hamilton, boast grand sets with a variety of visual spectacles and music similar to contemporary style.

Considering that most Broadway audiences consist of tourists from around the world, it's natural for shows with dazzling sets and accustomed music to succeed.

Unfortunately, Sweeney Todd doesn't fit this Broadway trend.

Firstly, it lacks the magnificent props and special points of interest to captivate audiences.

The 2023 version of Sweeney Todd endeavored to match the quality of their sets to that of other Broadway shows, but since the script itself was written in 1979, there are limits in terms of diversity of set changes or visual effects.

Secondly, although the music is powerful and unique, it is based on an operatic writing style, meaning that the music sound can be unfamiliar to the new generation, making audiences these days to rather watch Hamilton, a hip hop musical, or MJ, a jukebox musical.

This phenomenon of revivals of classical musicals failing is also evident in several other cases.

The Phantom of the Opera, which held its place on Broadway for an impressive 35 years since 1988, had to close its curtains in 2023 due to lack of sales, and revivals of once-renowned musicals like Company or West Side Story failed to achieve notable success.

As Broadway trends evolve, so do the trends of what musicals become popular, leaving standard musicals like Sweeney Todd ineffective at selling tickets.

Seungwon Oh / Grade 11
Korea International School Jeju