This movie is a recorded performance in concert. It all begins when Benjamin Barker( George Hearn), a mysterious,quiet,and subtle barber, returns to his hometown in London after escaping ... See full summary »
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This movie is a recorded performance in concert. It all begins when Benjamin Barker( George Hearn), a mysterious,quiet,and subtle barber, returns to his hometown in London after escaping from a prison in Australia with help from a young sailor named Anthony. Now Sweeney Todd, he returns to his home where he and his wife Lucie and daughter Johanna used to live. When he arrives he meets Mrs. Nellie Lovett(Patti Lupone), a lonely woman who owns a down and out pie shop, and discovers that his wife has poisoned herself and the judge that unfairly punished him is responsible and the judge also has his daughter. So then Sweeney plots his revenge on the judge and his accomplice the Beadle and with help from Mrs. Lovett he re-opens his barber shop and vows to give the judge the closest shave he will ever know and give Mrs. Lovett a tasty new ingredient for her homemade meat pies. Written by
The original Broadway production starring Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou opened at the Uris Theater on February 6, 1979, ran for 557 performances and won the 1979 Tony Awards for the Best Musical, Book and Score. See more »
A Remarkable Staging With Hearn and LuPone A Memorable Team
In 1846 Thomas Peckett Prest combined several urban legends in the story A STRING OF PEARLS; within a year it was adapted to the stage under the title SWEENEY TODD, THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET. It was popular, and, in an era that knew little of copyright law, theatres throughout England soon picked up the play, changing the story around as they saw fit. In 1973 playwright Christopher Bond recreated the story for the London stage--and in the process caught the attention of Stephen Sondheim, one of great talents of the 20th Century musical stage.
Using Bond's script as a foundation, Sondheim created a hybrid of musical comedy, operetta, grand opera, and grand guingol for the Broadway stage. SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET opened at the Uris Theatre in 1979 with Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury. Although it captured every critical accolade imaginable, it proved too dark for most theatregoers, played a somewhat disappointing 557 performances, and lost a fair amount of money in the process; nonetheless, its critical power was such that two tours were mounted, each of which did extremely well, and which led to a film record of the Lansbury-Hearn tour.
After several revivals in various venues and of varying success, the play was selected for a "concert" staging in New York in 2000--a format in which a full orchestra supports the vocalists, who play on a largely bare stage with minimal staging in an almost "recital-like" manner. Starring George Hearn (who had played Todd opposite Lansbury on tour) and Patti LuPone, it was a great success--and was restaged in 2001 in San Francisco again with Hearn and LuPone in the leads. The San Francisco concert was filmed--and this DVD is the result.
Stage performances are designed to be seen live, often with the actors at a significant distance from the audience; as such, they often seem to be overplayed when seen on film. Such is the case here--but even so, and although the concept of "concert staging" requires an additional leap, this is a knock-out. Johnny Depp's performance in the recent Tim Burton film has received considerable acclaim, and he is indeed excellent, but there is no doubt that Hearn is the great interpreter of the role; he is ferocious, frightening, and absolutely believable. It is worth noting that Patti LuPone is something of an acquired taste; those who like her like her tremendously and those who do not tend to cringe at the mention of her name. Being among the former, I have to say that she is an absolute knock-out in the role of the wicked Mrs. Lovett, who bakes Sweeney's victims into pies; her "The Worst Pies In London" is a great masterpiece of dark comedy, and she and Hearn make for a memorable pair.
The downside of seeing SWEENEY TODD in a concert version is that the story does not always lend itself to such a pared-down staging: you miss the tilting chair, the bloody visuals, and corpses piling up as the pies go down--so unless you've already seen the stage version or even the film version you may find yourself a little nonplussed by the sparseness involved. Nonetheless, this really is the production that began to push SWEENEY TODD toward a wider acceptance in both the musical theatre and opera world, and it is very nice to have a record of it. The DVD comes with a "making of" featurette that includes comments from Hearn, LuPone, members of the principal cast, director Lonny Price--and, thankfully, Stephen Sondheim himself. I recommend it, but primarily for those who are already used to such "concert stagings." GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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