Music & Lyrics By Stephen Sondheim
Book By Hugh Wheeler
Based on a Version of “Sweeney Todd” By Christopher Bond
Production Directed By Harold Prince
Having just recently seen director Tim Burton’s cinematic version of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, I find reading the original musical version very interesting especially in terms of what was changed and/or omitted in order to accomplish the limitability of the film. The story of Sweeney Todd follows that of the film in that it is the 19th century London when barber Benjamin Barker is living a quant existence with his wife Lucy and young child Johanna when Judge Turpin becomes infatuated with Lucy thus with his corrupt power imprisons Barker from London in order to have his way with his wife.
When the story opens Baker, now going by the name of Sweeney Todd, has made his way back to London by means of a young sailor by the name of Anthony. Both have been on the seas for a very long time – Anthony under the illusion that London is one of the greatest cities on Earth whereas the only thing in Todd’s heart is revenge on Judge Turpin for the turmoil and injustice brought upon him. Sweeney returns home to Fleet Street where his former life and business was on top of the pie shop owned and operated by Mrs. Lovett who immediately recognizes Sweeney for whom he really is. She tells Sweeney that his wife Lucy took some poison and that the Judge Turpin took Johanna as his ward. When he hears of this blood is in his veins as he swears vengeance even more. In order to achieve his revenge Sweeney sets up shop as the new barber of Fleet Street but must first outshine the city’s current barber the Italian Pirelli whose ward is Tobias. After dueling with the Italian and winning Sweeney is now “The” barber of the city impressing The Beatle, Judge Turpin’s right hand man. Now that the trap is set all that is left is to wait for Judge Turpin to arrive at his shop.
Events go astray when Sweeney learns that Anthony has fallen in love with Johanna and plans to take her away from Judge Turpin, who coincidentally plans on marrying his ward. Sweeney then sets upon an even grander plan and with Mrs. Lovett’s help punishes all the wicked of London by killing his patrons and serving them up in meat pies.
The play is very much different than the cinematic film in that the play is very grand in scope especially in terms of characters. The “Company” singers, who add a multitude of dimension to all the songs in the book, make for a great chorus as they play many roles in the story from regular Londoners to the lunatics of the asylum and the patrons of Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop. There are also many more songs for both Anthony and Johanna and by reading the book they include a scene not included in the stage production in which Judge Turpin is given another song and more elaboration on his character (this scene was cut due to the running time of the original production). Reading the actual stage production may not be the experience of seeing the show on stage but sometimes it’s close.