Jordan Fisher may be known as a go-to actor for newer musicals: he’s done Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen. But the 29-year-old is passionate in pointing out that his real love is classic musical theatre.
“At the Red Mountain Theatre Company back in Birmingham, I trained in classical musical theatre…it was Sondheim, it was Meredith Willson, it was Rodgers and Hammerstein,” the actor explains. That is why he considers the current Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd, where he plays Anthony, “unlike anything that I've done before. This is my comfort zone and no one has gotten to see it ever!”
Fisher grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. He started doing community theatre as a pre-teen. And it was in Birmingham where he saw his first Sweeney Todd. He was 12 years old and, “it shifted me and I was like, ‘Wait, this is a thriller. This is not Oklahoma! This is not Music Man. I loved scary movies already. So I was like, 'This is special. Who's this guy, Stephen Sondheim?'”
In Sweeney Todd, which currently stars Josh Groban as the demon barber and Annaleigh Ashford as Mrs. Lovett, the focus is usually on the leads—who get to murder people, sing with glee about murdering people, and eventually face the comeuppance for their sins. In short, they get to have most of the fun in the show.
Fisher plays the sailor Anthony, who saves Sweeney Todd from a shipwreck and falls in love with Todd’s daughter Johanna (played in this revival by Maria Bilbao in her Broadway debut). He spends the show trying to save Johanna from the evil Judge Turpin, who has locked her away. In the show, Anthony’s purity stands out in a show filled with people corrupted by revenge, lust, and greed.
Which could make him a boring character, if he didn’t sing one of the best songs in the show, the soaring love song "Johanna." Fisher is aware that the Anthony and Johanna storyline is usually considered “the moment of fresh air through the show so that you can catch your breath,” before quickly adding, “not to say that any other version of Anthony is wrong.”
Fisher’s take on the character has been someone who goes to London filled with idealism, his full name is Anthony Hope after all. Anthony is then slowly beaten down emotionally by the city (and physically by Turpin’s henchmen). “This London that he's coming back to is not the London that he has painted in his mind. And that's sobering, right?” Fisher posits.
That is why when Anthony meets Johanna and realizes she’s in trouble, he has no qualms about stealing her away and leaving the city that he ostensibly loves. “There’s one beautiful shining thing about this terrible, filled location that he had thought was paved with gold,” Fisher explains. “And that one thing is trapped. And Anthony can't help himself. You know, he's got to save her…And there's so much yearning in that. To me, there's so much more heart, there's so much more real authenticity to gnaw into. And that's what Maria and I are exploring and we're having a blast doing it.”
Fisher spoke to Playbill before he made two crucial announcements: one that the Sweeney Todd cast album has been recorded (but no date has been set), and that last year, he suffered from an eating disorder. In the conversation with Playbill, Fisher was more focused on speaking about what it means to be the first actor of color to play Anthony on Broadway. Fisher previously made headlines when he was the first Black actor to play the title role in Dear Evan Hansen full time.
For him, this revival of Sweeney Todd is a way to create, “brand new takes of these roles that everyone has known and loved for so long.” So Fisher hadn’t felt pressure to recreate original cast member Victor Garber’s take. Instead, he’s found a way into Anthony that feels true to him, while delivering the thrills, the comedy, and the vocals that fans expect. “What I pride myself on is truth. What I've worked so hard for as an actor for 20 years is to hold up a mirror to people that are watching whatever the thing is. I know there's someone who can find something that they relate to.”
To Fisher, the most important audience members are the young Jordans in the room, who can come see this Sweeney Todd and realize that Sondheim can be for them. “There's going to be some kid, especially some kid of color, who’s going to come and sit down and see this piece and see an ingenue being played by somebody who looks like them,” says Fisher emphatically. “And it be on this stage, with these people, with this kind caliber of production—never will there be a time that that is not beneficial to any kid who is thinking about pursuing this. Especially to one of color.”