Aaron Tveit on Being ‘Terrified & Excited’ to Play Sweeney Todd, How His Cafe Carlyle Setlist Takes a Cue From Eras Tour

Aaron Tveit on Being ‘Terrified & Excited’ to Play Sweeney Todd, How His Cafe Carlyle Setlist Takes a Cue From Eras Tour

When Aaron Tveit meets fans at a Broadway stage door, or at the concerts he’s performed at rock clubs and symphony halls alike, it’s always a surprise where they know the actor from.

They might have seen him in his career-making role in the acclaimed modern musical Next to Normal, or perhaps from his more recent Tony-winning turn in Moulin Rouge! They might remember him as Nate’s hot cousin Tripp van der Bilt on the original Gossip Girl, or as a hilarious send-up of numerous musical theater hero tropes on the late, great Apple TV+ comedy Schmigadoon! Or maybe they recall his scene-stealing turn as Enjolras, leading “Do You Hear the People Sing?” in the feature film of Les Misèrables.


Behind the Big Broadway Return of ‘The Wiz’


Sufficed to say, Tveit has range – as he most recently proved when he replaced Josh Groban in the acclaimed Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece Sweeney Todd, playing the Demon Barber of Fleet Street opposite Sutton Foster’s Mrs. Lovett (the two just co-hosted the Drama Desk Awards together). Now, he’s moving to a smaller but no less prestigious stage as he kicks off his first Café Carlyle residency in New York City. The run of shows at the storied cabaret venue was extended practically as soon as it was announced (running through June 29). Prior to its kick-off Tuesday night (June 11), Tveit spoke to Billboard about his bucket-list Sondheim roles, the possible future of Schmigadoon!, and why his Carlyle audiences could hear a little Taylor Swift in his set.

The degree of deafening audience screaming for both you and Sutton the night I went to see Sweeney was truly at boy-band hysteria levels. What was your experience on the other end of that?

Honestly, it was fascinating and very unexpected. I went back to Moulin Rouge! for 12 weeks about a year ago, and there were similar responses at that time, and I thought it was a product of that show and how it encourages the audience to be kind of participatory. But I really did not expect that type of audience to carry over at Sweeney. When it started, we looked around and said, “Well, this will go away,” but it didn’t.

A lot of younger people seeing Sweeney take in Broadway shows in a different way – they like to feel like they’re a part of it and they get excited. But the thing we took away from it that I think was the most amazing was: What would Steve Sondheim think, to hear his material being appreciated and taken in in that way by a very young audience? I think a similar thing is happening at Merrily [We Roll Along, also on Broadway now], and I just felt so thrilled to be a small part of his material being taken in by this new audience.  

When you were first announced for Sweeney, there was a lot of chatter about the idea of a tenor playing the role (which is traditionally sung by a baritone or bass-baritone). When you were offered the role, was it an immediate yes for you?

It was a role I’ve always looked at and said, “Wow, if I ever get the chance, I’ll jump at the challenge and also be terrified.” And when they did call, I was very surprised … and immediately terrified and excited. For me, vocally, I knew it would be a challenge – it’s definitely a different type of vocal part than I’ve traditionally done. But I started my training in classical voice before I switched to theater; I was confident that with enough work I could [do it], and I’m proud of where it landed.

And the little bit of backlash, if you want to call it that, I understand there are a lot of tenor roles in musical theater and I think for people who aren’t tenors, they might have thought [the role] would be changed in some way, but I tried to keep everything as is. That show is such an acting piece, to me, and I felt it more as a play, so once I realized I could do the singing, everything I was concerned about was acting the show.  

Aaron Tveit during his first curtain call in Sweeney Todd on Broadway at The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Feb. 9, 2024 in New York City.

You’ve done some bucket-list Sondheim roles now, including Bobby in Company, Booth in Assassins and Sweeney. What’s next on your wish list? 

The big one I’d love to do still is Sunday in the Park With George — I’d really love to play George. That vocal part may fit me better on paper than this one did, but I think it’s equally such a complicated and wonderful story. I bow down to Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette [Peters, the original stars of the show] – she came to see Sweeney toward the end, which was really special for me. I also sometimes feel like I missed Tony in West Side Story in my professional life, and now maybe I’ve aged out, but that’s OK. 

You can also be very funny, as we saw on Schmigadoon! What stood out about that experience for you?  

When the first season of Schmigadoon! came up, I got to live out my Billy Bigelow [from Carousel] dreams as well as a bit of Annie Get Your Gun … and those are very traditional musical theater roles, which is not something I’ve gotten to do a lot of. I’d never done a revival at that point or a traditional musical, so I was very excited to jump in. We all felt so grateful to be part of that first season – it was 2020, Broadway was still a year out from being back. And then we got to go back [for season 2], and Cinco [Paul, the show’s composer] played “Doorway to Where” for me and I was like, “Oh, that’s ‘Corner of the Sky.’” And he was like, “Yeah, this season you’re gonna be a weird version of Pippin and Claude [from Hair] and Jesus from Godspell and Jesus and Judas from [Jesus Christ] Superstar.” And I thought well, I’ve not played any of those roles either!

The thing that was so fun was the tongue-in-cheek nature of it — but at the same time, we were never making fun of the musicals because we all love them so much. My friends know I’m a very silly person, so it was nice to bring a lot of aspects of myself to the work in a way I don’t ever get to.

It’s so tragic that it’s over! 

We’ll see. I know Cinco has hopes; season 3 is completely written, so someone could pick it up. It’s available! 

Aaron Tveit in Schmigadoon!

Your upcoming shows at the Café Carlyle mark your debut there. How did you conceive of the setlist? 

I’ve done a lot of concerts in the last 10 or so years, and I have running lists of the shows I’ve done, and a note in my Notes app of running lists of dream songs, and I’m always sending myself emails about songs I hear. But for this, it just feels very fancy, you know? [Laughs] I talked abut that a lot with my music director: how could we do our version of fancy? I’ve done pop-rock cover shows at lots of House of Blues across the country and Irving Plaza and Webster Hall, and a lot of more traditional cabaret sets, and the venue usually dictates the setlist. So it’s like, “OK, what does the Carlyle say to me?”

I immediately thought “old New York,” standards, jazz – but also, New York is my theater world and career, more contemporary and traditional musical theater. So the show seems to have three sections. I try to not take myself seriously, but I take the music seriously.

You’re a big pop fan too. Who are you listening to right now? 

I’m very into Billie Eilish the last couple years. The songwriting she and her brother are doing is just incredible. Hozier is a really inspirational artist for me; he keeps having moments because the music he makes is just incredible and clearly meaningful to him. Same thing with Noah Kahan — I’ve listened to him a lot, and his songs are clearly really personal as well. This young guy Sam Fender is a great guitar player and songwriter and vocalist. And then there are the things I’m just always listening to, like Bon Iver and Donny Hathaway.

Years ago, you were very well known for covering Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” at your more pop-rock concerts. I have to ask if it’ll be part of the set – or if any other Taylor might be… 

On New Year’s last year, I did a concert with a bit of a medley, and “Anti-Hero” made it in. We have our setlist, but I have an idea to have a rotating song that changes every night or couple nights, a slot for something. … I’d be remiss to say one of those wouldn’t slot in.

That’s a very Eras Tour move for you.

Exactly! I’m just taking cues from the greats.