Jordan Fisher is back on Broadway in the revival of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Stephen Sondheim’s gory operatic tale about a murderous duo. Luckily, the Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between star plays Anthony, a good guy who falls instantly in love with the musical’s ingenue, Johanna. Fisher has always dreamed of doing a Sondheim role on Broadway, even though the prolific musical composer’s works weren’t specifically written for Black actors.
“He's one of my biggest inspirations musically,” Fisher reveals. “When he passed [in November 2021], I was in Evan Hanson, and I told my wife I wanted to be a Sondheim piece, obviously with tears in my eyes. But that was the dream.” Fisher is making history again as the first actor of color to originate the role of Anthony on Broadway.
Fisher discusses his latest Broadway run with EBONY, why representation matters and how he’s found success on stage and in film.
EBONY: How did you get involved with this production of Sweeney Todd?
Jordan Fisher: Our director Thomas Kail and I go way back; we did Grease Live! on Fox several years ago and our collaborative efforts have always been at the forefront. Flash to last summer: my wife had just given birth to our son Riley and I'm enjoying new dad life at home in Florida. I get a phone call about the revival, the show's 26-piece orchestra playing the original orchestration. And then it all happened pretty quickly. I had a couple of months to wrap things up and bring my family up to New York.
Were you a Sondheim fan before joining the show?
Yes, and pretty much everyone who's a part of this production is a major Sondheim fan. We all want to be good custodians of the piece. To be able to do this on Broadway ticks off a big fat box for a lot of us. It has the essence of Sondheim, but it also has a new fresh, human take to it.
How do you interpret Anthony through your own eyes?
Anthony has always struck me as somebody that can easily be two-dimensional. He's the romantic relief of the show, but that's pretty much it. When Anthony runs on stage and is talking about Johanna, there's this sigh of relief because it's the only part of the show that is geared toward actually saving someone, rather than exacting vengeance. My job is to bring out his humanity and authenticity. Once I'm in that costume, I try to be as honest and as truthful as possible in the role.
What's the most challenging part of playing Anthony?
The most challenging part is singing "Johanna." There's a lot that comes with that song, a lot of progressive storytelling and information that happens at a really rapid rate. People say it's the prettiest and one of the most memorable songs in the musical and it's the moment I have to get the audience on board with Anthony’s journey throughout the show. That's a big challenge for me personally, but it's one that I look forward to taking every night.
What do you think is the lesson of Sweeney Todd?
At the end of the day, it's a cautionary tale and a reminder about what love means. My favorite question for the audience is how far would you go and whether you'd be willing and capable of dealing with the consequences. Everyone in this show does crazy things for love or for what they don't want to give up in their lives. It's about manipulation, torture and heartache. And it's just so much fun to do.
Why is it so important to have an actor of color in Broadway roles that aren't necessarily Black-themed?
Talking about representation, I was that kid that didn't know that I could do theater because I never saw people like me. For a lot of my career, I have been not white enough and not Black enough for a lot of things. There's this untouched realm of what if you're a bunch of things because ethnic ambiguity does exist within our world. So how nice is it to see somebody up on stage that looks like you? Whether you are Black or another person of color, to be able to sit down in a massive theater with a huge orchestra for this amazing musical and to see yourself represented is incredible. I've been very fortunate in my career to be the first principal Black actor in many projects, and here, it’s just a joy and honor to play this role.
You've created a super successful career in film and theater, which don't always intersect. What's the key?
I think the key is recognizing where I'm feeling a lack or a void. There's a lot of subjectivity around what can be stimulating for an actor. There are times in our career when we're working on something that might be a good piece but isn't necessarily artistically stimulating. My big goal now as a father and as a producer is just recognizing what jars are feeling empty and pouring into them a little bit. And my life outside of work is very happy. My relationship with my wife, our partnership, is such a big roadmap for me and the choices I make where my career is concerned. She helps me so figure out what I'm lacking and what I need to do to remedy that. Sometimes that's on Broadway. Sometimes it's a film. If the thing that I'm working on makes me excited, then the balance will find itself.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is currently playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York City.