Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a 1979 musical thriller with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. The musical is based on the 1973 play Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Christopher Bond. Set in 19th century England, the musical tells the story of Benjamin Barker, aka Sweeney Todd, who returns to London after 15 years' transportation on trumped-up charges. When he finds out that his wife poisoned herself after being raped by the judge who transported him, he vows revenge on the judge and, later, other people too. He teams up with a piemaker, Mrs. Lovett, and opens a barbershop in which he slits the throats of customers and has them baked into pies.
Sweeney Todd opened on Broadway in 1979 and in the West End in 1980. In addition to several revivals the musical has been presented by opera companies. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical and Olivier Award for Best New Musical.
- 1 Synopsis
- 2 Musical numbers
- 3 Principal roles
- 4 Productions
- 5 Film adaptation
- 6 Cultural references
- 7 School edition
- 8 Themes
- 9 Musical analysis
- 10 Awards and nominations
- 11 Recordings and broadcasts
- 12 References
- 13 External links
The company, made up of citizens of London, assembles to perform a no-frills burial, dumping a body bag into a shallow grave. As they sing, Sweeney Todd rises from the grave as though summoned forth ("The Ballad of Sweeney Todd"), and introduces the actual play, set some months before the burial. The company continues to appear throughout the show as a Greek chorus to comment on the action of the play through song.
The year is 1846. A naive and homeward-bound young sailor named Anthony Hope has recently rescued an aloof older man named Sweeney Todd at sea, and the two are now riding a ship into London. On land, Todd's grim mood is worsened by a half-mad Beggar Woman who sexually solicits both men, and appears to recognize Todd ("No Place Like London"). Before the two shipmates part, Todd discourages Anthony's blissful innocence by recounting the tragic story of a young and naïve barber, his beautiful wife, and the lustful judge who exiled him to pursue her ("The Barber and His Wife"). Todd soon enters a meat pie shop on Fleet Street, where he encounters the shop's proprietress, Mrs. Nellie Lovett, who laments about the difficult economic times ("Worst Pies in London"). When Todd asks about her unoccupied upstairs apartment, she tells how the previous tenant, a barber named Benjamin Barker, was sentenced to life imprisonment on false charges by the corrupt Judge Turpin because of the Judge's lust for Barker's wife, Lucy. Mrs. Lovett reveals how, once Barker had been transported to Botany Bay in Australia, the Judge and his loyal cohort, Beadle Bamford, then lured Lucy to the Judge's home and raped her ("Poor Thing"). Upon hearing the tale, Todd's reaction of explosive despair confirms Mrs. Lovett's suspicions that he is himself Benjamin Barker, back from Australia. She tells Todd that his wife poisoned herself and his then-infant daughter, Johanna, became a ward of the Judge. Todd swears revenge on the Judge and Beadle before Mrs. Lovett reveals Todd's old collection of sterling silver razors, which she has kept hidden for years, telling him that he can now live above her shop and become a barber again. Todd welcomes the razors as old friend, and upon opening one, cries out "at last my right arm is complete again!" ("My Friends" and "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd – Reprise").
Meanwhile, Anthony, walking down Kearny's Lane in a wealthy part of the city, notices an exquisite blonde girl singing to the birds being sold outside her window ("Green Finch and Linnet Bird"). The Beggar Woman again approaches and tells Anthony that the girl is Johanna, Judge Turpin's ward. Unaware that Johanna is his friend Todd's daughter, Anthony is immediately smitten ("Ah, Miss") and pledges to woo her; however, the Judge and the Beadle threaten Anthony off by violently killing a bird that he buys for Johanna. Anthony swears to rescue her from such vile captors ("Johanna").
In the crowded marketplace, renowned "Italian" barber Adolfo Pirelli and his simple-minded assistant, Tobias Ragg, pitch a cure-all for hair loss ("Pirelli's Miracle Elixir"). Todd, after exposing the elixir as a hoax, challenges Pirelli to a shaving competition. Pirelli puts on a grandiose show before Beadle Bamford and other townsfolk, but Todd wins easily ("The Contest"). Todd invites the impressed Beadle to visit his parlor some time for a complimentary shave ("The Ballad of Sweeney Todd – Reprise 2").
Several days later, Judge Turpin prays for God to deliver him from sin, tormented by his lust for Johanna. He flagellates himself in a machotistic frenzy, and then resolves to save Johanna from the world's corrupting influence by marrying her. ("Johanna – Mea Culpa"). Meanwhile, Todd grows frustrated waiting for the Beadle's arrival, despite Mrs. Lovett's continued attempts to calm him down ("Wait"). Anthony enters the shop and tells Todd of his plan to ask Johanna to elope with him. He requests to use Todd's barbershop as a safe-house for the girl before they return to his home in Plymouth, and Todd, eager to reunite with his daughter, agrees. No sooner has Anthony left than Pirelli and Tobias visit the shop. Mrs. Lovett takes a motherly shine to the malnourished Toby, taking him downstairs for a pie. Once he is alone with Todd, Pirelli drops his Italian accent to reveal an Irish one. Pirelli reveals that his real name is Daniel O'Higgins and recounts having served as an assistant to Todd fifteen years ago. O'Higgins now attempts to blackmail his former employer; however, Todd suddenly strangles O'Higgins and dumps his body into an empty trunk when he hears Tobias coming up the stairs. Once he has distracted the boy with a promise of another pie and some gin, Todd opens the trunk and finishes off O'Higgins by slitting his throat ("Pirelli's Death" and "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd – Reprise 3").
Across town, Johanna and Anthony plan to elope in between frantic kissing and learning each other's names ("Kiss Me"). At the same time, the Beadle recommends Todd's services to the Judge, in order to improve his appearance for better winning Johanna's affections ("Ladies in Their Sensitivities").
Mrs. Lovett, weary of feeding Tobias, heads upstairs and learns of Pirelli's murder. She is panicked until she learns of the blackmail attempt, after which she approves and steals Pirelli's fancy coin purse off his corpse. They are discussing how to dispose of the body when the Judge rings the bell, and Todd eagerly admits him. Although caught off guard and eager for blood, Todd takes his time with his revenge, lulling the Judge into a relaxed state and engaging him in a conversation ("Pretty Women"). Before Todd strikes, however, Anthony barges in to tell Todd about his and Johanna's plans, accidentally informing the enraged Judge, who storms out, vowing never to return. Todd, having lost his opportunity for vengeance, drives Anthony away before descending into furious madness and broadening his anger's target to all of humanity, vowing to punish the rich and corrupt, and relieve the poor of their misery through death ("Epiphany"). Mrs. Lovett, however, is more practical while discussing how to dispose of Pirelli's body and has a sudden burst of inspiration, suggesting that they use the flesh of Todd's victims in her meat pies, an idea which Todd enthusiastically adopts. ("A Little Priest").
Several weeks later, Mrs. Lovett's pie shop has become a thriving business. Toby, who believes his former master has run off without him, is now working for Lovett as a waiter. ("God, That's Good!"). Todd and Mrs. Lovett now have a specially-designed mechanical barber's chair that allows Todd to kill someone in the barbershop and then send the body through a chute directly into the pie shop's basement bakehouse for Mrs. Lovett to cook. Todd has gradually accustomed himself to the idea that he may never see Johanna again, spending his time mechanically slashing his customers' throats, while Anthony searches the city for her and the Beggar Woman hangs around the shop, screaming about the hellish, foul-smelling smoke arising from Mrs. Lovett's bakehouse to anyone who will listen. ("Johanna–Quartet"). Anthony is able to find Johanna when he hears her singing from inside an insane asylum, but before he can reach her he is chased away by the Beadle.
After a day of hard work, Mrs. Lovett tries to engage Todd in her dream of retiring to live by the seaside, but he remains fixated on revenge. Anthony rushes in and begs Todd for help to free Johanna from the Madhouse, and Todd devises a plan to rescue her by having Anthony pose as a wigmaker intent on purchasing inmates' hair ("Wigmaker Sequence" and "The Ballad... – Reprise 4"). Jubilant at the possibility of having his revenge fulfilled after all, Todd sends a secret letter to notify the Judge about Anthony's plot, hoping to lure the Judge to his shop, where he writes that Anthony plans to return with Johanna. The contents of the letter are sung aloud by a quintet from the company ("The Letter").
In the pie shop, Toby expresses suspicions about Todd and his desire to protect Mrs. Lovett, whom he has come to view as a mother ("Not While I'm Around"). When he recognizes Pirelli's coin purse in Mrs. Lovett's possession, she distracts him by showing him the bakehouse where she makes her pies, instructing him on how to work the meat grinder and the oven, and then secretly locking him alone in the basement when she leaves. Back upstairs, she encounters Beadle Bamford sitting at her harmonium, commissioned by neighbors to investigate the strange smoke and smells from the pie shop's chimney. Mrs. Lovett stalls for time before Todd arrives and offers the Beadle his promised "free shave"; Mrs. Lovett loudly plays music on her harmonium to cover the screams of the Beadle's demise above ("Parlor Songs"). In the bakehouse, Toby discovers a hair and a fingernail in a pie he samples when suddenly the Beadle's fresh corpse tumbles into the basement. Above, Mrs. Lovett informs Todd that Toby has figured them out and they head downstairs to dispose of him.
Anthony arrives at the asylum to rescue Johanna, but Mr Jonas Fogg, the deranged owner of the asylum, attempts to stop them. Anthony brandishes a pistol but when he is unable to kill Fogg, Johanna instinctively grabs the weapon and shoots Fogg dead, fleeing with Anthony. The asylum's inmates pour out onto the streets, ecstatically proclaiming the end of the world. Meanwhile, Todd and Mrs. Lovett hunt for Toby and the Beggar Woman calls out for the Beadle to beware of Mrs. Lovett ("City on Fire/Searching").
Anthony and Johanna, who is now disguised in a sailor's uniform, arrive to find Todd's shop empty. Anthony leaves to find a coach and he and a frightened Johanna reaffirm their love. ("Ah Miss, Reprise"). Let alone, Johanna hears the Beggar Woman calling for the Beadle and hides just before the frenzied woman enters the barbershop. She seems to recognize the room, but before she can make sense of it, Todd arrives. With the Judge about to arrive, he has no time to deal with the deranged beggar and slits her throat, sending her down the chute a moment before the Judge bursts in ("Beggar Woman's Lullaby"). Todd assures the Judge that Johanna is totally repentant and the Judge lustfully asks for a quick face massage and some cologne before reuniting with her. Once he has the Judge in his chair, Todd soothes then suddenly mocks him, alerting the Judge to his former identity. The Judge recognizes Benjamin Barker just before Todd, at last, passionately slashes his enemy's throat and sends him hurtling down the chute ("The Judge's Return"). He leaves to deal with Tobias, but turns back and catches Johanna climbing out of the trunk. Not recognizing her due to the sailor's uniform, he forces her into the barber chair and nearly slits her throat before Mrs. Lovett shrieks from the bakehouse below, providing a distraction for Johanna to escape.
Down in the bakehouse, Mrs. Lovett panics while struggling with the wounded Judge, who claws at her before finally dying. She frantically attempts to drag the beggar woman's body into the oven, but Todd arrives before she can do so. When the light from the oven falls upon the dead woman's face, Todd realizes in horror that she is in fact his wife Lucy. He accuses Mrs. Lovett of deceiving him, but Mrs. Lovett maintains her innocence, saying that although Lucy had indeed taken poison, she did not die but instead went insane. Lovett confesses she withheld the whole truth from Todd in order to spare his feelings because she loves him. Todd feigns calm forgiveness, taking Mrs. Lovett into his arms and waltzing with her until she is in front of the oven, abruptly hurling her into the fire, and slamming the doors shut. Todd then sinks to the floor and cradles his deceased wife in his arms, once more remembering the story of the barber and his wife. Toby, driven completely insane and with his hair now white from shock, reappears from the shadows. Babbling nursery rhymes to himself, he picks up Todd's fallen razor, and strikes at Todd's throat. As Anthony, Johanna, and some constables break into the bakehouse, Todd falls dead and Toby drops the razor, heedless of the others, while beginning to absentmindedly turn the meat grinder, just as Mrs. Lovett showed him. ("Final Scene").
The company assembles one last time to sing "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd." As the resurrected ghosts of Todd and Mrs. Lovett rise from their graves, they conclude that the capability for revenge is within all of us. The company exits with Todd and Mrs. Lovett being the last. Todd pauses at the large iron door at the back of the stage to look at Mrs. Lovett one final time before slamming the door in the audience's face.
Notes on the songs:
- † Despite being cut in previews for reasons of length, these numbers were included on the Original Cast Recording. They have been restored in subsequent productions.
- ‡ This song was moved to after "Pirelli's death" in the 2000 New York Philharmonic concert performance.
- § This number was written for the original London production and first recorded for the 2000 New York Philharmonic concert performance.
- The song "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" and its multiple reprises are titled in some productions by their first lyrics to differentiate them from one another:
|Sweeney Todd / Benjamin Barker||Bass-Baritone or Baritone||Morose and brooding, a barber by profession who returned to London (after fifteen years of unjust incarceration in an Australian penal colony) to seek revenge first on the corrupt judge who sent him there, and then simply on whoever proves unfortunate enough to end up in his shop.|
|Mrs. Nellie Lovett||Contralto or Mezzo-soprano||A cheery and chatty but wholly amoral restaurateur whose business has become run down due to a scarcity of meat and who would like to be more than a landlady to Mr. Todd.|
|Anthony Hope||Baritone / Tenor||A young, naïve sailor who has rescued Todd and falls in love with Johanna Barker.|
|Johanna Barker||Soprano||Todd's beautiful young daughter, claimed by Judge Turpin as his own ward.|
|Judge Turpin||Bass or Bass-Baritone||A corrupt and depraved judiciary official who twists the system to serve his own ends and who has become infatuated by Johanna as she has matured.|
|Tobias Ragg||Tenor/ Boy soprano||A simple young lad who works first for Pirelli, and then for Mrs. Lovett, but does not trust Todd.|
|Beadle Bamford||Tenor / Countertenor||Turpin's right-hand man and accomplice to his dirty deeds.|
|Beggar Woman / Lucy Barker||Mezzo-soprano||A mad crone with a filthy tongue whose interjections go unheeded, but who is eventually revealed to be Lucy Barker, the wife of Benjamin Barker.|
|Adolfo Pirelli / Danny O'Higgins||Tenor||An Irish charlatan and former employee of Benjamin Barker's who has since developed a public persona as a flashy, Italian barber; he attempts to blackmail Todd whom he ultimately recognizes from his youth. (In some productions, Pirelli has been played as a trouser role.)|
Original Broadway production and tour
The original production premiered on Broadway at the Uris Theatre on March 1, 1979 and closed on June 29, 1980 after 557 performances and 19 previews. Directed by Hal Prince and choreographed by Larry Fuller, the scenic design was by Eugene Lee, costumes by Franne Lee and lighting by Ken Billington. The cast included Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett, Len Cariou as Todd, Victor Garber as Anthony, Sarah Rice as Johanna, Merle Louise as the Beggar Woman, Ken Jennings as Tobias, Edmund Lyndeck as Judge Turpin, Joaquin Romaguera as Pirelli, and Jack Eric Williams as Beadle Bamford. The production was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning eight including Best Musical. Dorothy Loudon and George Hearn replaced Lansbury and Cariou on March 4, 1980.
The first national US tour started on October 24, 1980, in Washington, D.C. and ended in August 1981 in Los Angeles, California. Lansbury was joined by Hearn and this version was taped during the Los Angeles engagement and broadcast on PBS on September 12, 1982.
Original London production
The first London production opened on July 2, 1980, at the West End's Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, starring Denis Quilley and Sheila Hancock along with Andrew C. Wadsworth as Anthony, Mandy More as Johanna, Michael Staniforth as Tobias, Austin Kent as Judge Turpin, Dilys Watling as the Beggar Woman, David Wheldon-Williams as Beadle Bamford, Oz Clarke as Jonas Fogg, and John Aron as Pirelli. The show ran for 157 performances. Despite receiving mixed reviews, the production won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 1980. The production closed on November 14, 1980.
1989 Broadway revival
The first Broadway revival opened on September 14, 1989 at the Circle in the Square Theatre, and closed on February 25, 1990 after 189 performances and 46 previews. It was produced by Theodore Mann, directed by Susan H. Schulman, with choreography by Michael Lichtefeld. The cast featured Bob Gunton (Sweeney Todd), Beth Fowler (Mrs. Lovett), Eddie Korbich (Tobias Ragg), Jim Walton (Anthony Hope) and David Barron (Judge Turpin). The production was originally produced Off-Off-Broadway by the York Theatre Company at the Church of the Heavenly Rest from March 31, 1989 to April 29, 1989. This production received four Tony Award nominations: for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical and Best Direction of a Musical, but failed to win any.
1993 West End revival
In 1993, the show received its first West End revival at the Royal National Theatre. The production opened originally at the Cottesloe Theatre on June 2, 1993, and later transferred to the Lyttleton Theatre on December 16, 1993, playing in repertory and closing on June 1, 1994. The show's design was slightly altered to fit a proscenium arch theatre space for the Lyttleton Theatre. The director was Declan Donnellan and the Cottesloe Theatre production starred Alun Armstrong as Todd and Julia McKenzie as Mrs. Lovett, with Adrian Lester as Anthony, Barry James as Beadle Bamford and Denis Quilley (who had originated the title role in the original London production in 1980) as Judge Turpin. When the show transferred, Quilley replaced Armstrong in the title role. Sondheim praised Donnellan for the "small 'chamber' approach to the show which was the composer's original vision for the piece." This production received Olivier Awards for Best Musical Revival, Best Actor in a Musical (Armstrong) and Best Actress in a Musical (McKenzie), as well as nominations for Best Director and two for Best Supporting Performance in a musical.
2004 London revival
In 2004, John Doyle directed a revival of the musical at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, England, running from July 27, 2004 until October 9, 2004. This production subsequently transferred to the West End's Trafalgar Studios and then the Ambassadors Theatre. This production was notable for having no orchestra, with the 10-person cast playing the score themselves on musical instruments that they carried onstage. This marked the first time in nearly ten years that a Sondheim show had been presented in the commercial West End. It starred Paul Hegarty as Todd, Karen Mann as Mrs. Lovett, Rebecca Jackson as The Beggar Woman, Sam Kenyon as Tobias, Rebecca Jenkins as Johanna, David Ricardo-Pearce as Anthony and Colin Wakefield as Judge Turpin. This production closed February 5, 2005.
2005 Broadway revival
A version of the John Doyle West End production transferred to Broadway, opening on November 3, 2005 at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre with a new cast, all of whom played their own instruments, as had been done in London. The cast consisted of: Patti LuPone (Mrs. Lovett/Tuba/Percussion), Michael Cerveris (Todd/Guitar), Manoel Felciano (Tobias/Violin/Clarinet/Piano), Alexander Gemignani (Beadle/Piano/Trumpet), Lauren Molina (Johanna/Cello), Benjamin Magnuson (Anthony/Cello/Piano), Mark Jacoby (Turpin/Trumpet/Percussion), Donna Lynne Champlin (Pirelli/Accordion/Flute/Piano), Diana DiMarzio (Beggar Woman/Clarinet) and John Arbo (Fogg/Double bass). The production ran for 384 performances and was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning two: Best Direction of a Musical for Doyle and Best Orchestrations for Sarah Travis who had reconstructed Jonathan Tunick's original arrangements to suit the ten-person cast and orchestra. Because of the small scale of the musical, it cost $3.5 million to make, a sum small in comparison to many Broadway musicals and recouped in nineteen weeks. A national tour based on Doyle's Broadway production began on August 30, 2007 with Judy Kaye (who had temporarily replaced LuPone in the Broadway run) as Mrs. Lovett and David Hess as Todd. Alexander Gemignani also played the title role for the Toronto run of the tour in November 2007.
2012 London revival
Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton starred in a new production of the show which played at The Chichester Festival Theatre, running from 24 September to 5 November 2011. Directed by Jonathan Kent, the cast included Ball as Todd, Staunton as Mrs. Lovett, James McConville as Tobias, John Bowe as Judge Turpin, Robert Burt as Pirelli, Luke Brady as Anthony, Gillian Kirkpatrick as Lucy Barker, Lucy May Barker as Johanna and Peter Polycarpou as Beadle Bamford. It notably takes place in the 1930s instead of 1846 and restored the oft-cut song "Johanna (Mea Culpa)". The production received positive reviews from both critics and audience members and transferred to the Adelphi Theatre in the West End in 2012 for a limited run from March 10 until September 22. The West End transfer received six Laurence Olivier Award nominations of which it won the three; Best Musical Revival, Best Actor in a Musical for Ball and Best Actress in a Musical for Staunton.
Other notable productions
- 1994 Los Angeles revival
In 1994, East West Players in Los Angeles staged a revival of the show directed by Tim Dang, featuring a largely Asian Pacific American cast. It was also the first time the show had been presented in an intimate house (Equity 99-seat). The production received 5 Ovation Awards including the Franklin Levy Award for Best Musical (Smaller Theatre) and Best Director (Musical) for Dang.
- 2002 Kennedy Center production
As part of the Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration, Sweeney Todd ran from May 10, 2002 through June 30, 2002 at the Eisenhower Theatre, starring Brian Stokes Mitchell as Todd, Christine Baranski as Mrs. Lovett, Hugh Panaro as Anthony, Walter Charles (a member of the original cast), as Judge Turpin and Celia Keenan-Bolger as Johanna. It was directed by Christopher Ashley with choreography by Daniel Pelzig.
- 2007 Dublin production
Irish tenor David Shannon starred as Todd in a highly successful Dublin production of the show at the Gate Theatre, which ran from April 2007 through June 2007. The production employed a minimalistic approach: the cast consisted of a small ensemble of 14 performers, and the orchestra was a seven-piece band. The look of the production was quite abstract. The Sunday Times wrote that "The black backdrop of David Farley's rough hewn set and the stark minimalism of Rick Fisher's lighting suggest a self-conscious edginess, with Shannon's stylised make-up, long leather coat and brooding countenance only adding to the feeling." When a character died, flour was poured over them and their shoes would be removed.
- 2008 Gothenburg production
The 2008 Gothenburg production premiered on May 15, 2008 at The Göteborg Opera. The show was a collaboration with West End International Ltd. The cast featured Michael McCarthy as Sweeney Todd and Rosemary Ashe as Mrs Lovett. The show did a four week-run and ended on June 8, 2008.
- 2010 National Youth Music Theatre, London
In 2010, fifty members of the National Youth Music Theatre staged a production at the Village Underground as part of Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday celebrations in London. NYMT took the show, directed by Martin Constantine, out of a conventional theatre space and staged it within a converted Victorian warehouse in the city's East End. NYMT's patron Jude Law was in attendance on the last night. The company revived the show in 2011 for the International Youth Arts Festival at the Rose Theatre in Kingston upon Thames.
- 2011 Paris production
A major new production opened in April 2011 at the Théâtre du Châtelet (Paris), which first gave Sondheim a place on the French stage with their production of A Little Night Music. The director was Lee Blakeley with choreography by Lorena Randi and designs by Tanya McAllin. The cast featured Rod Gilfry and Franco Pomponi (Sweeney Todd) and Caroline O'Connor (Mrs Lovett).
- 2013 DUCTAC, Centrepoint Theatre, Dubai
Directed by Joseph Fowler with staging by Cressida Carre and designs by Jamie Todd. The cast featured Simeon Truby as (Sweeney Todd) and Natacza Boon (Mrs Lovett)
- 2014 Quebec City Production
Quebec City-based Théâtre Décibel will produce the French-speaking world-premiere of the show. Translated by Joëlle Bond and directed by Louis Morin, the show will play from October 28 to November 8, 2014 at the Capitole de Québec. The cast includes Renaud Paradis as Sweeney Todd, Andréane Bouladier as Johanna, Jean Petitclerc as Judge Turpin, Pierre-Olivier Grondin as Anthony Hope, David Noël as Tobias and Katee Julien as Mrs. Lovett.
Opera house productions
The first opera company to mount Sweeney Todd was the Houston Grand Opera in a production directed by Hal Prince which ran from June 14, 1984 through June 24, 1984 for a total of 10 performances. Conducted by John DeMain, the production used scenic designs by Eugene Lee, costume designs by Franne Lee, and lighting designs by Ken Billington. The cast included Timothy Nolen in the title role, Joyce Castle as Mrs. Lovett, Cris Groenendaal as Anthony, Lee Merrill as Johanna, Will Roy as Judge Turpin, and Barry Busse as The Beadle.
In 1984 the show was presented by the New York City Opera. Hal Prince recreated the staging using the simplified set of the 2nd national tour. It was well received and most performances sold out. It was brought back for limited runs in 1986 and 2004. Notably the 2004 production starred Elaine Paige as Mrs Lovett. The show was also performed by Opera North in 1998 in the UK starring Steven Page and Beverley Klein, directed by David McVicar and conducted by James Holmes.
In the early 2000s, Sweeney Todd gained acceptance with opera companies throughout the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, Israel, Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Australia. Bryn Terfel, the popular Welsh bass-baritone, performed the title role at Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2002, with Judith Christian, David Cangelosi, Timothy Nolen, Bonaventura Bottone, Celena Shaffer and Nathan Gunn. It was performed at the Royal Opera House in London as part of the Royal Opera season (December 2003-January 2004) starring Sir Thomas Allen as Todd, Felicity Palmer as Mrs. Lovett and a supporting cast that included Rosalind Plowright, Robert Tear and Jonathan Veira as Judge Turpin. The Finnish National Opera performed Sweeney Todd in 1997-98. The Israeli National Opera has performed Sweeney Todd twice. The Icelandic Opera performed Sweeney Todd in the fall of 2004, the first time in Iceland.
A "Reprise!" Concert version was performed at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre on March 12–14, 1999 with Kelsey Grammer as Todd, Christine Baranski as Mrs. Lovett, Davis Gaines as Anthony, Neil Patrick Harris as Tobias, Melissa Manchester as The Beggar Woman, Roland Rusinek as The Beadle, Dale Kristien as Johanna and Ken Howard as Judge Turpin.
Director Lonny Price directed a semi-staged concert production of "Sweeney Todd" on May 4–6, 2000 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, New York with the New York Philharmonic. The cast included George Hearn (a last-minute substitute for Bryn Terfel), Patti LuPone, Neil Patrick Harris, Davis Gaines, John Aler, Paul Plishka, Heidi Grant Murphy, Stanford Olsen and Audra McDonald. This concert also played in San Francisco, from July 9, 2001 to July 21, with the San Francisco Symphony. Hearn and LuPone were joined once again by Harris, Aler, and Olsen as well as new additions Victoria Clark, Lisa Vroman and Timothy Nolen. This production was taped for PBS broadcast. The same production played at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago on August 24, 2001, with most of the cast from the preceding concerts, except for Plishka and Clark, who were replaced by Sherrill Milnes and Hollis Resnik. In 2014, Price directed a new concert production, returning to Avery Fisher Hall with the New York Philharmonic on March 5–8 with Bryn Terfel as Todd, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Lovett, Philip Quast as Judge Turpin, Jeff Blumenkrantz as The Beadle, Christian Borle as Pirelli, Kyle Brenn as Tobias, Jay Armstrong Johnson as Anthony, Erin Mackey as Johanna and in some of the performances Audra McDonald as The Beggar Woman. The concert was again filmed for future broadcast on PBS as part of their series Live from Lincoln Center.
London's Royal Festival Hall hosted two performances on February 13, 2000, starring Len Cariou as Todd, Judy Kaye as Mrs. Lovett, and Davis Gaines as Anthony. A 4-day concert took place in July 2007 at the same venue with Bryn Terfel, Maria Friedman, Daniel Boys and Philip Quast.
A feature film adaptation of Sweeney Todd, jointly produced by DreamWorks and Warner Bros., was released on December 21, 2007. Tim Burton directed from a screenplay by John Logan. It stars Johnny Depp as Todd (Depp received an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe award for his performance), Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin, Sacha Baron Cohen as Signor Pirelli, Jamie Campbell Bower as Anthony Hope, Laura Michelle Kelly as The Beggar Woman, Jayne Wisener as Johanna, Ed Sanders as Toby, and Timothy Spall as Beadle Bamford. The film received high acclaim from critics and theatregoers and also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.
In Kevin Smith's film Jersey Girl, characters from the film perform the play Sweeney Todd for a school performance.
A modified version of the logo is featured on the cover of the album, Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid by Collective Soul. The knife is replaced by a big flag, the picture is in colour and is on a red background, and the man is just on the cover. This is probably due to founding member Will Turpin sharing a last name with Judge Turpin.
Music Theatre International recently adapted the production to be performed by high schoolers. The only substantial edits that have been made are the removal of the Judge's "Johanna" and optional slightly different lyrics for a few of the Beggar Woman interludes, as well as optionally removing most of the swearing, and providing optional alterations to the stage directions so the murders did not need to be performed onstage. Repertory Company Theatre of Dallas's school of musical theater division in the US, Ysgol Bryn Elian, North Wales from the UK; Artestudio, a musical theatre school in Mexico; John Septimus Roe Anglican Community School in Perth, Australia and the Sunbeams School in Dhaka, Bangladesh were the first in their respective countries to perform the School Edition.
Stephen Sondheim believes that Sweeney Todd is a story of revenge and how it consumes a vengeful person. He has asserted, "…what the show is really about is obsession."
Hal Prince believed it to be an allegory of capitalism and its selfish qualities. He described this theme as follows: "It was only when I realized that the show was about revenge…and then came the factory, and the class struggle—the terrible struggle to move out of the class in which you're born…"
Sondheim's score is one of his most complex, with orchestrations by his long-time collaborator Jonathan Tunick. Relying heavily on counterpoint and rich, angular harmonies, its compositional style has been compared to Maurice Ravel, Sergei Prokofiev, and Bernard Herrmann (who scored Alfred Hitchcock films). Sondheim also utilizes the ancient Dies Irae in the eponymous ballad that runs throughout the score, later heard in a musical inversion, and in the accompaniment to "Epiphany". According to Raymond Knapp "Most scene changes bring back "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd", which includes both fast and slow versions of the "Dies Irae". He also relies heavily on leitmotif - at least twenty distinct ones can be identified throughout the score.
Depending on how and where the show is presented, it is sometimes considered an opera. Sondheim himself has described the piece as a "black operetta", and indeed, only about 20% of the show is spoken; the rest is sung-through.
In his essay for the 2005 cast album, Jeremy Sams finds it most relevant to compare Sondheim's work with operas that similarly explore the psyche of a mad murderer or social outcast, such as Alban Berg's Wozzeck (based on the play by Georg Büchner) and Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes (1945). On the other hand, it can be seen as a precursor to the later trend of musicals based on horror themes, such as The Phantom of the Opera (1986), Jekyll & Hyde (1997), Little Shop of Horrors (1982) and Dance of the Vampires (1997), which used the description of the trend, "grusical", as its commercial label. Theatre critic and author Martin Gottfried wrote on this subject: "Does so much singing make it an opera? Opera is not just a matter of everything being sung. There is an operatic kind of music, of singing, of staging. There are opera audiences, and there is an opera sensibility. There are opera houses. Sweeney Todd has its occasional operatic moments, but its music overall has the chest notes, the harmonic language, the muscularity, and the edge of Broadway theater."
Donal Henahan wrote an essay in The New York Times concerning the 1984 New York City Opera production: "The difficulty with Sweeney was not that the opera singers were weaklings incapable of filling the State Theater with sound - Miss Elias, who was making her City Opera debut, has sung for many years at the Metropolitan, a far larger house. The other voices in the cast also were known quantities. Rather, it seemed to me that the attempt to actually sing the Sondheim score, which relies heavily on a dramatic parlando or speaking style, mainly showed how far from the operatic vocal tradition the work lies. The score, effective enough in its own way, demanded things of the opera singers that opera singers as a class are reluctant to produce."
The original Broadway pit consisted of a 26 piece orchestra. (The number of percussionists may vary for different shows, though the percussion book is written for two players).
- Strings: 6 Violins, 2 Violas, 2 Celli, 1 Double Bass, 1 Harp
- Brass: 2 Trumpets, 1 French Horn, 2 Trombones, 1 Bass Trombone
- Keyboards: 1 Organ/Celesta
- Woodwinds: Reed 1: Flute, Piccolo.
- Reed 2: Bb and Eb Clarinet, Flute, Piccolo.
- Reed 3: Bass Clarinet, Bb Clarinet.
- Reed 4: Oboe, English Horn.
- Reed 5: Bassoon.
- Percussion: (2 Players) 3 Timpani, Bass Drum, Xylophone, Vibraphone, Snare Drum, Tom Toms, Bass Drum with Pedal, Orchestra Bells, Tam-Tam, Chimes, 4 Suspended Cymbals, Wood Block, Crash Cymbals, Bell Tree, Tambourine, Washtub
- Strings: 1 Violin, 1 Cello, 1 Double Bass
- Brass: 1 Trumpet in Bb, 1 French Horn
- Woodwinds: Reed 1: Clarinet; Reed 2: Bassoon
- Percussion: Bass Drum, Bell Tree, Bells, Chimes, Crotales, Rachet, Side Drum, Snare Drum, Swiss Bell, Tam-Tam, Tambourine, Temple Blocks, Triangle, Tympani, Vibraphone, Whistle, Wood Block, Xylophone
Original orchestrator Jonathan Tunick revised his large orchestration for the 1993 London revival, adding a dirtier, grittier texture to the score's arrangements.
2012 London Revival: 15 piece orchestra.
- Strings: 2 Violins, 1 Viola, 1 Cello, 1 Double Bass
- Brass: 1 French Horn, 2 Trumpets, 1 Trombone
- Reed 1: Flute, Clarinet.
- Reed 2: Oboe, Cor Anglais.
- Reed 3: Clarinet.
- Reed 4: Bassoon.
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
Original London production
|1980||Laurence Olivier Award||Best New Musical||Won|
|Best Actor in a Musical||Denis Quilley||Won|
|Best Actress in a Musical||Sheila Hancock||Nominated|
1989 Broadway revival
|1990||Tony Award||Best Revival of a Musical||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical||Bob Gunton||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical||Beth Fowler||Nominated|
|Best Direction of a Musical||Susan H. Schulman||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Revival of a Musical||Nominated|
|Outstanding Actor in a Musical||Bob Gunton||Nominated|
|Outstanding Actress in a Musical||Beth Fowler||Nominated|
|Outstanding Set Design||James Morgan||Nominated|
|Outstanding Lighting Design||Mary Jo Dondlinger||Won|
1993 London revival
|1994||Laurence Olivier Award||Best Musical Revival||Won|
|Best Actor in a Musical||Alun Armstrong||Won|
|Best Actress in a Musical||Julia McKenzie||Won|
|Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical||Adrian Lester||Nominated|
|Best Director of a Musical||Declan Donnellan||Won|
2003 Ireland production (Amateur)
|2003||AIMS Award||Best Overall Show||Won|
|Best Actor||Todd Brothers||Won|
|Best Actress||Marie Kelly||Won|
|Best Supporting Actor||Chris Ramsey||Won|
|Best Supporting Actress||Yvonne Ramsey||Nominated|
|Best Director||Pat Dwyer||Won|
|Best Music Director||Graham Walsh||Nominated|
2005 Broadway revival
|2006||Tony Award||Best Revival of a Musical||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical||Michael Cerveris||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical||Patti LuPone||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical||Manoel Felciano||Nominated|
|Best Direction of a Musical||John Doyle||Won|
|Best Orchestrations||Sarah Travis||Won|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Revival of a Musical||Won|
|Outstanding Actor in a Musical||Michael Cerveris||Nominated|
|Outstanding Actress in a Musical||Patti LuPone||Nominated|
|Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical||Alexander Gemignani||Nominated|
|Outstanding Orchestrations||Sarah Travis||Won|
|Outstanding Director of a Musical||John Doyle||Won|
|Outstanding Set Design||Nominated|
|Outstanding Lighting Design||Richard G. Jones||Won|
|Outstanding Sound Design||Dan Moses Schreier||Nominated|
2012 London revival
|2012||Evening Standard Award||Best Musical||Won|
|2013||Laurence Olivier Award||Best Musical Revival||Won|
|Best Actor in a Musical||Michael Ball||Won|
|Best Actress in a Musical||Imelda Staunton||Won|
|Best Costume Design||Anthony Ward||Nominated|
|Best Lighting Design||Mark Henderson||Nominated|
|Best Sound Design||Paul Groothuis||Nominated|
Recordings and broadcasts
A performance of the 1980 touring company was taped before an audience at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles during the first national tour, with additional taping done in an empty theatre. It was televised on September 12, 1982, on The Entertainment Channel and broadcast on PBS. It was later released on both VHS and DVD.
In July 1994, the Royal National Theatre revival production starring Denis Quilley and Julia McKenzie was broadcast by the BBC. Opera North's production was also broadcast by the BBC on March 30, 1998 as was the Royal Opera House production in 2003.
The 2005 Broadway revival also was recorded. The producers originally planned only a single-disk "highlights" version; however, they soon realized that they had recorded more music than could fit on one disk and it was not financially feasible to bring the performers back in to re-record. The followings songs were cut: Wigmaker Sequence, The Letter, Parlor Songs, City On Fire, and half of the final sequence (which includes The Judge's Return).
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- Sweeney Todd the Musical Sweeney Todd the Musical, London's Adelphi Theatre
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- Sweeney Todd at the Music Theatre International website
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- Opening Night: 'Sweeney Todd', interviews and footage from the 2005 production (6 minutes, Flash video)
- Sweeney Todd Music Theatre Warwick's 2008 production[dead link]
- Stephen Sondheim "The Story So Far" podcast series produced by Sony BMG Masterworks
- Ovrtur.com Listing