Entertainment & Arts

Emma Thompson, from ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ to ‘Sweeney Todd’ musical

Emma Thompson
Emma Thompson in a scene from the New York Philharmonic’s production of “Sweeney Todd” at Lincoln Center.
(Mike Coppola / Getty Images)

Coming off her acclaimed performance as the ornery P.L. Travers in “Saving Mr. Banks,” Emma Thompson has brought her considerable comic energy to Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Sweeney Todd,” which is being performed in a semi-staged concert production by the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center.

Thompson plays Mrs. Lovett, the worst pie-maker in London, opposite operatic bass-baritone Bryn Terfel in the title role of the murderous barber. (The ubiquitous Audra McDonald puts in a cameo appearance as a beggar woman. McDonald previously co-starred with Thompson in the HBO adaptation of Margaret Edson’s play “Wit.”)

“Sweeney Todd” kicked off on Wednesday at Avery Fisher Hall and is scheduled to run only through Saturday. The production will air on PBS’ “Live from Lincoln Center,” though no broadcast dates have been announced.

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“Sweeney Todd,” which is directed by Lonny Price, is the latest musical mounted by the New York Philharmonic, which in 2011 produced a starry concert version of Sondheim’s “Company,” which featured Neil Patrick Harris, Stephen Colbert and Patti LuPone. 

This isn’t Thompson’s first time acting on stage in the U.S. In 1990, she performed at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in repertory productions of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “King Lear.”

The productions were in partnership with Kenneth Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company. A spokeswoman for Center Theatre Group said that Thompson played the Fool in “King Lear” and Helena in “Midsummer’s.”

In her native Britain, Thompson has performed in numerous comedy productions as well as a 1984 West End production of the musical “Me and My Girl." 


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Thompson has been earning mostly raves for “Sweeney” in early reviews. The Guardian critic wrote that “Thompson runs off with the show....  Her voice is silky one moment, brassy the next; it helps that the role is perfect for an imperfect voice.”

A critic for the New York Post wrote that Thompson “nails all of the role’s comic elements” but “she lacks Mrs. Lovett’s street sass... [and] comes across as a little too refined. Still, you can’t say she’s boring.”

The New York Philharmonic mounted a concert version of “Sweeney Todd” in 2000 with LuPone and George Hearn.


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