Mrs. Lovett

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Mrs. Lovett
Portrayed by Stella Rho (1936 film)
Angela Lansbury (1979 Broadway)
Sheila Hancock (1980 West End)
Dorothy Loudon (1980 Broadway)
Beth Fowler (1989 Broadway)
Julia McKenzie (1993 West End)
Joanna Lumley (1998 TV movie)
Patti LuPone (2000 concert, 2005 Broadway)
Elaine Paige (2004 NYC Opera)
Essie Davis (2006 TV movie)
Helena Bonham Carter (2007 film)
Judy Kaye (2007 Canada/U.S. tour)
Imelda Staunton (2012 West End)
Emma Thompson (2014 concert)
Information
Gender Female
Occupation Baker
Spouse(s) Albert Lovett (deceased)

Mrs. Lovett is a fictional character appearing in many adaptations of the story Sweeney Todd. She is most commonly referred to as Nellie, although Margery, Maggie, Sarah, Shirley, Wilhemina and Claudetta are other names she has been given. First appearing in the penny dreadful serial The String of Pearls, it is debated if she was based on an actual person or not.[1] The character also appears in modern media related to Sweeney Todd including the Stephen Sondheim musical and its 2007 film adaptation.

Character overview[edit]

In every version of the story in which she appears, Mrs. Lovett is the business partner and accomplice of barber/serial killer Sweeney Todd; in some versions, she is also his lover. She makes and sells meat pies made from Todd's victims.

Usually, Mrs. Lovett is depicted as a childless widow, although in some depictions (but very rarely) Mr. Albert Lovett is shown. Before she goes into business with Todd, she is on the verge of poverty, with her premises being filthy and infested with vermin. In the musical she has resorted to using a rather revolting substitute for meat, and laments her pies are the worst ones in London. While she feels no remorse about killing people and serving them as pies, she is sometimes shown to have a softer side to those in need; for example, she informally adopts the young orphan Tobias Ragg as her own, and considers taking in Todd's daughter Johanna as well.

Various interpretations[edit]

Although Mrs. Lovett's character and role in the story are similar in each version, certain details vary according to the story's interpretation. In some versions, for example, Mrs. Lovett commits suicide when their crimes are discovered, while in others, Todd kills her himself or she is arrested and escapes execution by turning King's Evidence against Todd. Her physical appearance varies from a slim and alluring beauty, to a plump, homely lunatic. Her age is also differing in many adaptaions; though it is never specifically stated in any versions, there are some (most noticeably in Sondheim's musical) where she is older than Todd, often by a difference of over fifteen years and others where she is around his age. Whether their relationship is platonic, romantic or merely sexual also varies according to interpretation.[2][3]

Role in the musical[edit]

In Stephen Sondheim's 1979 stage musical Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Tim Burton's 2007 film adaptation, Todd pays a visit to Mrs. Lovett's pie shop below his old home after 15 years in exile, seeking information about his lost family. Mrs. Lovett recognizes him as her former tenant, Benjamin Barker, with whom she was (and is) secretly in love. She informs him that his wife, Lucy, was raped by Judge Turpin — who exiled Todd on a false charge — and informs Todd that Lucy was so distraught that she poisoned herself with arsenic. Seeking vengeance, Todd reopens his shaving parlour above the shop, and slits the throats of his customers. Mrs. Lovett initiates a plan for Todd to send the corpses of his victims down a chute that leads to her bakehouse. She then uses the flesh to bake meat pies, which makes her business very successful.

She and Todd take in an orphan, Tobias Ragg, to whom she becomes like a mother. She also dreams of marrying Todd, who is completely uninterested in her.

In the story's climactic "Final Sequence", Todd murders Beadle Bamford, Turpin and a beggar woman, and discovers that the latter is actually Lucy. Todd confronts Mrs. Lovett, who confesses that Lucy survived drinking the poison but was driven insane, reduced to begging. Todd then demands why Mrs. Lovett lied to him, to which Mrs. Lovett then confesses her love to Todd, and promises she would be a better wife than Lucy ever was. Todd pretends to forgive her, but later throws her into the furnace, burning her alive as retribution for her lies. However, killing Lovett proves to be Todd's fatal mistake; as he cradles his dead wife's body, the now-insane Tobias, who considers Mrs. Lovett as a surrogate mother to him, emerges from hiding and kills Todd by slitting his throat with his own razor (in the 2007 film version, Tobias is not insane and kills Todd in revenge for Todd's killing Mrs. Lovett).

Portrayals[edit]

In film and stage adaptations of the Sweeney Todd story, Lovett is considered the female lead.

  • Essie Davis played the role of Mrs. Lovett in the 2006 television film broadcast on the BBC, simply titled Sweeney Todd.
  • Judy Kaye filled in for LuPone for a week (while LuPone was on vacation) in the 2005 Broadway revival, before it ended production in early 2006. She went on to the Canadian and American tour version of the John Doyle revival for which she received acclaim and had to learn to play the tuba. She also appeared in the 2000 concert at Royal Festival Hall in London.
  • Dorothy Loudon replaced Lansbury in the original Broadway production.
  • June Havoc portrayed the character in a 1982 tour following the PBS broadcast.
  • Joanna Lumley portrayed her in the 1998 Showtime television movie The Tale of Sweeney Todd starring Ben Kingsley. Her character is in love with Sweeney Todd and has a romantic/physical relationship with him as opposed to an unrequited attraction. She is additionally—and with the implied consent of Todd—sexually involved with a local judge, to whom she provides sadomasochistic release. She is imprisoned for her crimes in the end, and does not die in this version.
  • Patti LuPone has played the role on two occasions: in concert (2000 and 2001) and on Broadway (2005). Her interpretation of the character differed in both performances. In the semi-staged concert version, LuPone played the role in the way that Lansbury or Hancock would have originally played it, as a "homely lunatic". This portrayal was seen at the Avery Fisher Hall of Lincoln Center, a taped production in San Francisco and at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago. However in 2005, to suit the fresh, dark and sparse approach to the show, LuPone had to "throw all that out" and create a new look for the character: her interpretation became more lustful and sex-starved, with a dry wit throughout. She received a Tony nomination for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for the 2005 Broadway production at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre.

Songs[edit]

In the musical Mrs. Lovett sings many numbers by herself and with other characters. The tracks were all composed by Stephen Sondheim. These include:

  • "The Worst Pies in London"
  • "Poor Thing"*
  • "My Friends" (with Todd)
  • "Pirelli's Miracle Elixir" (with Tobias and Todd and Company)"*
  • "Wait" (with Todd)
  • "Epiphany) (with Todd)
  • "A Little Priest" (with Todd)*
  • "God, That's Good" (with Tobias, Todd and Company)*
  • "By the Sea" (with Todd)*
  • "Not While I'm Around" (with Tobias)*
  • "Parlour Songs (Sweet Polly Plunkett)" (with Beadle Bamford)**
  • "Parlour Songs Part 2" (The Tower of Bray)" (with Beadle and Tobias)**
  • "Searching" (with Todd, Johanna, Anthony, and Beggar Woman)*
  • "Final Sequence" (with Todd and Tobias)
  • "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd (Epilogue)" (with Company)**

(* Edited for 2007 film)
(** Cut from 2007 film)

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Sweeney Todd: Fresh Meat Pies". Crimelibrary.com. Retrieved 20 February 2008. 
  2. ^ "Sweeney Todd: Margery Cheats the Hangman". Crimelibrary.com. Retrieved 19 May 2008. 
  3. ^ "Sweeney Todd: The Trial of Sweeney Todd — The Defense". Crimelibrary.com. Retrieved 19 May 2008.