5 Questions With the Original Sweeney Todd: Len Cariou

The Tony Award winner returns to 54 Below to sing the songs of George and Ira Gershwin.

As far back as he can remember, Len Cariou, who won a Tony Award for his performance as Broadway’s original Sweeney Todd, has always loved the music of George and Ira Gershwin. This week, Cariou celebrates the pair with three shows at nightclub 54 Below, where he’ll take the stage on December 11, 13, and 14.

As he prepared his return to the venue, TheaterMania caught up with Cariou and quizzed him on his love for the prolific songwriting Gershwin team.

Len Cariou on stage at 54 Below.
Len Cariou on stage at 54 Below.
(© David Gordon)

1. Is there something about the Gershwins’ work, in particular, that fascinates you?
What fascinates me is that all this music was written before I was born. I’ve been singing and listening to it forever. It seems to me that all of the Broadway lyricists and composers learned from these guys. They just wrote great music across the board, and Ira is one of the great lyricists of all time, I think.

2. How did you first discover the songs of George and Ira Gershwin?
When I was about twelve, I heard an Ella Fitzgerald recording [of their music]. I had never heard Gershwin before, for some reason. I thought “Where the hell have I been?” But I was just a kid.

3. You just randomly heard a recording of Ella singing?
A guy my older brother [knew] went away for almost a year and he gave the collection to my brother to keep for him. That’s when I discovered all this stuff. I played it constantly and fell in love with it. I loved the lyrics and the melodies so much that I made it my business to do a little research and find out who this guy [Gershwin] was.

4. What songs can we expect to hear?
The hook for the evening is that I found [the music] when I was a young kid. I’m gonna do a lot of the male lyrics for songs that not too many people have done before, such as “The Girl I Love” and “Embraceable You.” You realize that Gershwin was one of the first people who went from the Broadway stage to the movies; I’m going to touch on a little bit of that and weave it into what I was doing through my life and career. It won’t be chronological, bit it will be a little history.

5. What surprises you most about their music?
They never wrote a Christmas song! We may do one. We may make one up.