Sunday, 10 February 2008

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

A couple of weeks ago I begged Smith to take me to go see Sweeney Todd at the movies. We enjoyed it thoroughly. And tonight I bought a recording of the musical, done in 2005 by a Broadway Revival cast, over iTunes. Listened to that and also enjoyed it.

I saw the movie first without knowing much about the plot. Now, I love musicals, but I hate suspense and gore. I'm a scaredy-cat type who, if there is any indication that 'somebody might get hurt!', will hide under the seat with my ears blocked, or leave the area. As a result, I don't watch much TV :P Or at least not the kind of stuff that Smith watches - he likes supernatural themes. I like documentaries and comedian revues.

Anyway, I normally wouldn't see a movie with so much violence and death. But this was a musical, and highly recommended by my type of people (xkcd readers). So I steeled myself, I even read spoilers. (I like to read plot synopses if I have to watch something with suspense, but this time I didn't, so I didn't really know the plot.) However, I knew it was about a barber who kills people, so I was fully prepared for everybody who went anywhere near Johnny Depp to die. This served me well - the couple of people who didn't die were a pleasant surprise :P And for anyone who hasn't seen it and wants to, firstly DO SEE IT ... and secondly, be prepared for blood. Lots and lots of blood. Lots and lots and LOTS of blood. Mostly fake-looking, but hey, that's part of the fun.

And the music was wonderful. The musical itself is by Stephen Sondheim, who also wrote Into The Woods and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and the lyrics in West Side Story. The lyrics to Sweeney Todd are fantastically witty, lots of laughs, suitably cutting and cynical in places, and overall the best bit of the movie, even if you can't catch them all. Johnny Depp sang quite well, Helena Bonham Carter did a great job, Sacha Baron Cohen was hilarious and Ed Sanders (the child who played Tobias) just shone. Overall I found the movie to be tremendous fun.

So of course I had to listen to the original. I bought it over iTunes tonight, the 2005 Broadway Revival Cast recording, and it was well worth it. But quite different to the movie.

Of course, the musical came first, and so I'll be comparing the movie to the original, as it were. Firstly, in the movie they transposed a lot of the key parts to fit the voices of the actors. For instance, in the musical Mrs Lovett is probably an alto, and Patti Lupone on my recording has a reasonably deep voice. Helena Bonham Carter, on the other hand, is a mezzo-soprano at least. Likewise, the role of Tobias is sung by a light tenor in the musical, while they used a boy soprano in the movie. I can see why an adult tenor would be more practical for the musical, as the Toby role is rather large and I can't see an 11-14 year-old boy playing it night after night for however long a Broadway run lasts. (Although hey, they do it for Annie.)

Given that they could cast more freely for the movie, though, I think they did superbly. Having a young boy with an unbroken voice as assistant to Pirelli just makes the role much more likeable and poignant in the right places. The young actors who play Johanna and Antony have adolescent-like singing voices, consistent with their characters (my original recording has an adult soprano as Johanna, which doesn't grate as much on the ear, when really it should. She's supposed to be 15.) And Helena Bonham Carter ... well.

I'm still tossing up as to whether Helena Bonham Carter or Patti LuPone (Mrs Lovett in the Broadway recording) is the better voice-actor. And that's quite a compliment to Ms Carter, given how much I love Patti LuPone. Of course, I was more than halfway through the recording before I realised where I recognised the voice - she also sang Fantine in the London Cast recording of Les Miserables. And Ms Carter does a different, but equally good job. And she does a great down-to-earth accent, I'm not sure what to call it, although it's definitely a British one. Ms LuPone had an American accent in the recording, and that made me cringe in places.

They also seem to have sped up some of the songs for the movie. Either that or the professional singers have that much better diction, that everything not only comes out clearer, but seems slower. But I could swear that most of Mrs Lovett's songs in the movie are a touch faster than on the stage version, especially the patter in "The Worst Pies in London." (See, with song titles like that, you've got to see it.) And it works well, even if Smith had much trouble making out the words.

And the choice of what songs to put in the movie and what to leave out ... I think they did well. They did leave out a key 'narration' song, "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd", which it seems some musical-goers missed. Me, I wasn't that enamoured of the song itself, although maybe it needs a visual impact to go along with it. The flashback technique they used in the movie in the other songs served as a good background, so that song would have been redundant. And the rest of the songs ... well, they flattened some of the characters out severely (Judge Turpin, Johanna and the Beggar Woman) by leaving out key songs that displayed depth of character, but I don't think it detracted from the story.

Overall, I think the movie is a great rendition of the musical. Hey, apparently even Stephen Sondheim likes it. But if the musical ever comes to town, or we ever make it to London's West End, I'll be seeing that too. :)


  1. You know, I would have never gone to see that but after reading this and trusting your judgement, I AM going to go...the next time some guy wants to pay for it. :):):)

  2. Hehee ... go Meg!

    Yes, do see it ... and tell me what you think!

  3. I rented Sweeney Todd and it turned out to be the wrong one. It had some other people in it instead. It wasn't a musical so I knew it was the wrong one soon after it started. Now I have to go see the other one! I checked IMDB and there are a few of those suckers!

  4. Did you get the comment about me watching the wrong Sweeney Todd? I can't tell if it worked.


  5. Aww ... I was talking about the movie that came out last year. You know, the one with Johnny Depp in it :P I'd be surprised if it was out on DVD ... but then again us Aussies lag behind, it was still in cinemas here a few weeks back.

    I don't know what the non-musical one would be like, the light moments and wit were the best part of the musical and I don't know if you'd get that in a film which is essentially a tragedy rather than a black comedy.


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the angel Jean