Tonight, I rented the DVD of a musical I have heard so much about but have never had the opportunity to see in any form. Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has all the makings of not musical theatre but an operatic tragedy. It tells the tale of a barber, Benjamin Barker, who was wrongfully accused of a crime and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. The evil Judge Turpin was in love with Benjamin’s wife Lucy and had the barber put away so he could have the woman to himself.
As the movie opens, Benjamin (who has assumed the identity of Sweeney Todd) returns to Victorian era London aboard a sailing ship upon which he meets the young Anthony. While the title character was away, his daughter Johanna became the ward of the sadistic judge. Sweeney opens a new barber shop above the pie shop of one Mrs. Lovett who is known around the city for making “The Worst Pies in London.” It is in this barber shop where Mr. Todd plots to take his revenge against the man who sent him away while helping to keep Mrs. Lovett’s business thriving.
The aforementioned tragic character, the young lovers, and in particular the score itself is much more reminiscent of opera. The dark tones set by the entire piece is unlike most light musical theatre. In fact, audiences must be warned of the large displays of blood…. definitely not the “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” type of show. However, for those who can look beyond the obvious, what is left is well worth watching. Sondheim composed not only the music but the lyrics to some of his most beautiful songs in Sweeney Todd. “Pretty Woman“,”Not While I’m Around “, and “Johanna ” (one of my favorite Sondheim pieces) are three of the memorable tunes.
As for the marquee attraction, Johnny Depp who has had a looong standing cinematic relationship with director Tim Burton, was adequate in the role. His singing is better suited for a rock band then a musical stage production. Helena Bonham Carter had some of the more difficult songs to sing as Mrs. Lovett (who one could say is perhaps as villainous as anyone in the show). I was also pleased with the voice of Jamie Campbell Bower as Anthony. In perhaps the closest moment of comic relief, Sacha Baron Cohan plays a scam artist named Pirelli who knows something of Sweeney’s past (those of you who know me KNEW I had to mention this bit that looks like a lot of fun).
Would I recommend this musical to everyone? Definitely not! As I said before, if you can look beyond the the blood, what is left is one of the best shows Sondheim has yet created. Sometime, I have been promised to watch a video of a stage performance with Angela Lansbury (who was the original Broadway Mrs. Lovett).
|Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (Vocal Selections) Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (1930-). Songbook for voice and piano. 44 pages. Published by Alfred Publishing. (AP.VAL2020A)
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