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Annaleigh Ashford reveals what she misses most about Stephen Sondheim

The Tony Award winner, now nominated for her performance as Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd,” shares memories of working with the late composer-lyricist.

Annaleigh Ashford as Mrs. Lovett in 2023 Broadway revival of “Sweeney Todd” (Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

Tony Award winner Annaleigh Ashford has returned to Broadway in her second Stephen Sondheim musical. Following a run as Dot/Marie in the 2017 revival of “Sunday in the Park with George,” she received a 2023 Tony nomination for her turn as Mrs. Lovett in the current revival of “Sweeney Todd.” But this Sondheim experience feels different without the late maestro around.

In the latest episode of “The Broadway Show with Tamsen Fadal,” Paul Wontorek and Ashford discuss what the actor misses most about Sondheim and how his world of “Sweeney Todd” reminds her of Shakespeare.

Ashford called “Sweeney Todd” one of the “all-time beautiful pieces in the American musical theater.”

“It will be forever, because it’s so good on the page that it’s everlasting,” she shared. “Just like Shakespeare, you look at what’s in the text and you make it your own.”

Shakespeare’s plays — as well as “Sweeney Todd” — are often labeled as dark. However, Ashford said that “Sweeney” is actually quite balanced in tone. She recalled how Sondheim would always refer to the show as a “musical comedy thriller.” She leans into that blended genre.

Still, as she continues her run, there’s one thing, in particular, Ashford misses —and she realized it after reading an article penned by Patti LuPone on the heels of Sondheim’s November 2021 passing.

In the piece, LuPone (who was starring in the revival of Sondheim’s “Company” at the time) wrote about missing her longtime collaborator — and his notes.

“It just felt like a weight had been lifted from me because I’ve been feeling that so deeply,” Ashford said. “I miss him in a way that I knew I would, but creatively, the day-to-day of his presence was such a blessing.”

Without Sondheim here to help her with Mrs. Lovett, Ashford taps into the guidance she previously received from him during “Sunday in the Park with George.” During rehearsals and previews for “Sweeney,” she went back and reread some of her old notes from the composer.

“I knew they were gonna be applicable to this,” she said. And despite Sondheim not physically being present for “Sweeney,” Ashford believes he’s still here. “He’s all over every page and moment.”

This week’s episode of “The Broadway Show” features moments from the opening nights of “New York, New York,” “Good Night, Oscar,” “Fat Ham” and “Summer, 1976.” Viewers can also hear from Oscar Isaac and Rachel Brosnahan, currently starring in the revival of “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.” Charlie Cooper walks to work with “Some Like It Hot” star and Tony nominee Natasha Yvette Williams. Finally, the “Building Broadway” segment features “Leopoldstadt” playwright Tom Stoppard.