Seven times a week, Josh Groban picks up his trusty straight razor in the titular role in the acclaimed revival of Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 dark operetta “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” This means performing barbershop shaves with hair-splitting precision and, for some unfortunate souls, cutting throats—all while singing in his rich baritone for hours on end.
Off-stage, the actor and vocalist is much more mellow, drinking a whiskey or two on his Friday night (which is actually Sunday) and doing plenty of core work and yoga stretching to stay loose. By playing against his nice guy type as the bloodthirsty, unhinged barber, Groban earned a Tony Award nomination this year for Best Actor in a Musical — his second nomination after his Broadway debut in 2017 (that’s two for two, not bad).
When he’s not treading the boards, Groban is well-known as a record-selling phenomenon, with nine studio albums under his belt, and a theater-filling concert schedule and one of the few modern singers to bridge classical and popular music genres. We caught up with the honey-voiced actor to discuss how he trains his body to take it all on, how he preps for a three-hour show where he only has about 15-minutes offstage (let’s just say when to pee is often top of mind), how he mentally preps to be a killer barber each night, and how he kills times between shows.
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GQ: You’ve been doing the show for months now—how does it feel in your body?
Josh Groban: It’s funny, because it’s been about six years since my last time on Broadway and you kind of pick and choose what you remember about it. You take the really hard things and you take the really great things, and you kind of leave behind the memories of just the ordinary grind. And so, with previews we’re approaching 100 shows and I’m now feeling like the show is now entirely in my body and in my voice.
Little little things crept in early on, like, I didn’t realize that holding the razor all day would cause a pain in my wrist. I have to swipe this way or twirl with Annaleigh [Ashford], my costar, and it would just tweak things in little ways. It’s just your body waking up to new things it has to do, and then it says, Okay, well, now I know I have to do that. And then it goes away. But we also have an amazing PT that we have every day at the theater. And we’ve all definitely made use of that.
You’re also active on the concert circuit—how is this different from that? They both seem taxing, just in very different ways.
During a concert, I’m doing 19, 20 songs each night, all by myself. Whereas with “Sweeney Todd” I’m sharing the load with an extraordinary cast, we all share that weight. But I do, you know, four or five concerts in a week, as opposed to seven shows—and never two [concerts] in one day. It’s a different kind of grind.
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Josh Groban Has Learned How to Eat a Late Post-Show Dinner and Still Sleep Well