Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet
musicals have always been kind of odd for the Broadway stage. Growing up in
theater in a period where showgirls and singing nuns were the order of the
day, Sondheim's interests always skewed more to the macabre. He preferred
to write about strippers (Gypsy), street gangs (West Side Story),
philandering couples (Company), flawed fairy-tale heroes (Into the
Woods) and the murderers of Presidents (Assassins).
However, even by
Sondheim's odd standards, the story of Sweeney Todd made for a
particularly offbeat choice for a Great White Way toe-tapper. It dealt with
violence, revenge, throat slitting, cannibalism and human beings baked into
Director Tim Burton
and his favorite leading man Johnny Depp share Sondheim's obsession with the
eccentric, so if anyone could convincingly bring Sweeney Todd to the
big screen, it would probably be this team.
It still feels like
a tiny bit of an odd fit - beautiful heartfelt melodies capped off by more
spurts of blood from slashed carotid arteries than a horror film - but it
Depp plays a barber
who loses his wife and baby daughter when a jealous judge has him jailed for
years despite committing no crime.
When he returns to
London, his wife has poisoned herself and the same judge who put him in jail
has adapted his daughter. All he has left is his gleaming sharp straight
razors and an all-consuming desire for revenge. Therefore he takes on a new
identity as Sweeney Todd, and quickly establishes a reputation as the best
barber in London.
What most of the
people frequenting his establishment do not realize, though, is that he
periodically uses those exceedingly sharp blades for more than just a close
Soon he has bodies
piling up in his basement. He comes up with a novel way of disposing of
them; he teams up with the lovestruck mistress of the downstairs pie shop
(Helena Bonham-Carter) – a shop that is universally agreed to have London’s
worst pies – and starts baking the corpses into pastry. Soon the pie shop
is also a smash hit and soon they are in need of an ever-growing supply of
In the meantime,
Sweeney befriends a young man who has fallen for his daughter and is
determined to free her from the evil judge. Sweeney sees this as an
advantage in two ways – to save his daughter and to avenge himself on the
Sweeney’s bloodlust and anger grows and grows he loses more control and
perspective and it all leads to inevitable tragedy.
this offbeat and dark world brilliantly, however, sometimes the blood and
mayhem do overwhelm the heartfelt and subtly constructed Sondheim songs –
which are, after all, the whole point of the film. However, Depp and
Bonham-Carter and most of the rest of the cast (who are mostly known as
actors rather than singers) perform their musical numbers with surprising
nuance and skill.
You need a stronger
stomach for Sweeney Todd than you would for other recent musical
adaptations such as DreamGirls, Chicago, Rent and The Phantom of
the Opera. However, if you can handle the sprays of blood you are in
for quite a treat.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: March 30, 2008.