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Sweeney Todd

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Sweeney Todd Stephen Sondheim (b. 1930) has written over twenty shows in the course of his career each one unique in its own way, but Sweeney Todd was his first to be considered an opera. With 80% music and only 20% spoken words Sondheim challenged the world of opera with the unconventional Sweeney Todd (Woolf, www.musicweb.uk.net/SandH/2000/july00/sweeney.htm). The irony of the success of Sweeney Todd is the fact that Sondheim himself claimed that he hated opera. Sweeney Todd opened on March 1, 1979 at the Uris Theater in New York and was directed by Harold Prince. Len Cariou and Angela Lansburry starred as Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett. Despite fairly a short run of only 577 performances, Sweeney Todd won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical (www.sjsondheim.com/SweeneyTodd.htm). Sweeney Todd is adapted from a play by Christopher Bond who's play is based on the English myth of The Demon Barber of Fleet Street which is partly historically based. After a prologue by the chorus, the story begins in 19th century London where we see Anthony and Sweeney Todd arriving on a small boat. Anthony sings about how wonderful it is to be back home in London. A beggar woman comes and harasses Sweeney and Anthony and insists that she knows Sweeney. After Sweeney shoos her away he begins to sing about how horrible London is and tells a story his past. ...read more.


Anthony comes and tells Sweeney that the Judge has hidden Johanna somewhere and both Anthony and Sweeney long for Johanna. Mrs. Lovett tries to convince Sweeney that they should use the money from the business and move to the sea but Sweeney is still preoccupied with the thought of his revenge on the Judge. Later, Anthony returns and tells Sweeney that the Judge has put Johanna in an asylum. Sweeney comes up with a plan of disguising Anthony as a wig maker to get Johanna out of the asylum and tells Anthony to bring Johanna back to the shop. He then writes a letter to the Judge telling him that Anthony has helped Johanna escape and that Johanna will be at the shop that evening. Meanwhile, Tobias is affectionate towards Mrs. Lovett and shows his suspicion for Sweeney. Mrs. Lovett distracts Tobias by allowing him to work in the bake house. Just then the Beatle comes to inspect the shop because some complaints of strange odors. Mrs. Lovett distracts him until Sweeny returns and kills Beatle. Downstairs in the bake house, Tobias is shocked to find human remains in some of the meat when he sees Beatle's body come down into the back house. Anthony helps Johanna to escape from the asylum. Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett realize that Tobias is missing and must know about the contents of the meat pies. ...read more.


The chorus opens the show and sets the scene as well as closes it. Although Sondheim's music plays an important role in Sweeney Todd, his lyrics are of as much, if not more importance to the opera. Unlike some operas, the lyrics are sung very clearly allowing the audience to absorb their full meaning. In many songs, two or more people are singing at the same time, but saying completely different things like in the song Kiss Me as well as in the song My Friends. In Sweeney Todd there is very little sung recit. Instead there are spoken words between musical numbers making much more of a distinction from number to number. I seems, however, that Sondheim had not originally intended for spoken word at all: "I started it, trying to write everything myself because it was going to be virtually an opera. I did the first twenty minutes and I realized I was only on page five of Bond's script. So at that rate, the show would have possibly been nine hours long"- Stephen Sondheim (http://www.sjsondheim.com/SweeneyTodd.html). For a man who said hated opera, Sweeney Todd is an amazing production. The words and music blend beautifully for songs that evoke emotions in the listener from happiness, to hope, to anger, to sadness. Sweeney Todd is truly a groundbreaking piece in the opera as well as musical theater world and one can only hope that Sondheim will continue to contribute to music in such a fantastic way. Anna LaSalle February 26, 2003 ...read more.

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