Maybe, just maybe, Apple TV+ has justified its existence by getting Jennifer Aniston to sing Sweeney Todd. On this week’s episode of The Morning Show, Aniston’s character, the embattled morning news host Alex Levy, hosts a theater fundraiser with super-fancy karaoke, at which Billy Crudup’s scummy network executive, Cory Ellison, makes an appearance and ropes Alex into a duet of “Not While I’m Around” from Sweeney Todd.
“That song just popped into my head, I don’t know why,” Morning Show showrunner Kerry Ehrin told Vulture, “I thought the idea of doing a beautiful song about protection of someone you love would be the way you could mock someone the most that you do not love.”
Ehrin said she liked the idea of a fundraiser with “really expensive karaoke,” in which people pay to sing alongside a professional pianist, because it gave an opportunity for Alex and Cory to act out their angst in public. Cory, the human embodiment of being on one, has antagonized Alex throughout the season. Earlier in this scene, he attempts to offer a truce, which she rejects. “In his strange brain, he initially does it to mock her,” Ehrin explained, but then, as the performance goes on, “He sees the human vulnerability in her that’s so unnerving to him, it melts him a little bit.”
The song in the original Stephen Sondheim musical is sung by the young boy Toby to Mrs. Lovett, whom he can’t actually protect and who’s actually a lot more dangerous than he realizes. The Morning Show performance reverses that power dynamic: Cory is “a network boss who technically should be able to protect you,” Ehrin said, while Alex feels a deep emotional turmoil about her sense of professional obsolescence and her former co-host facing accusations of sexual harassment. “It’s impossible for him to protect her from that,” Ehrin said. “But by the end of the song, he does get to see and feel differently about her.”
It wasn’t hard to convince Crudup and Aniston to sing together. “I basically just texted Billy and said, ‘Can you sing?’ and he said, ‘No!’” She said. “But after he joked about it, he said yes he could. Jennifer was similarly both excited by the idea and nervous about it. They both prepared a lot.” They recorded the singing at Capitol Records, separately from the scene itself, because Ehrin said it’d be too much of a headache to shoot it live.
This performance makes The Morning Show part of a fall trend, as other Sondheim songs have popped up in Joker (“Send in the Clowns”), Knives Out (“Losing My Mind”), Marriage Story (two songs from Company), and in TV shows like The Politician (“Unworthy of Your Love”). “Maybe it’s just a Sondheim time of the world,” Ehrin said. “Because it’s a very complicated world out there and Sondheim is complicated.”
Ehrin herself is a big musical theater fan, which explains why Alex and Cory banter over a Les Misérables deep cut (“The Waltz of Treachery”) earlier in the episode. Plus, The Morning Show has a small running joke about the existence of a Gilmore Girls musical in its universe. Ehrin didn’t have the time to think up a song-list for Lorelai, Rory, and Stars Hollow, but given her interest in theater, perhaps there’ll be more references coming soon. “I love musicals,” she said. “A dark story set against theater is always good.”