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You either love Sondheim or you hate him (although few of the arguments for
hating him hold water, In My Anything But Humble Opinion). Certainly his
darkest work and arguably his best, Sweeney Todd is an exploration of the
depths to which a man will sink to wreak vengeance on those who have wronged
With all respect to Len Cariou, who created the role in the original production, George Hearn is and always will be the definitive Sweeney Todd. There are things he does that I don't even think he's consciously aware of anymore, but are absolutely chilling to watch. Patti Lupone has the thankless task of trying to follow the immortal Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett; she carries it off by making almost completely different dramatic choices and playing her strengths (like Meryl Streep, she's got one of the best deadpans in the business, and lines that Lansbury played for laughs, Lupone plays straight--we still laugh, but for different reasons). The rest of the cast acquit themselves beautifully, particularly Davis Gaines as the lovestruck Anthony Hope and Victoria Clark as the crazed Beggar Woman.
But the real surprise of the cast is Neil Patrick Harris as the innocent, waiflike Tobias Ragg. Having played the part myself, I have a bad habit of holding other actors to impossible standards--and Harris not only meets them, he flattens them. Instead of watching him and thinking, "I could have done that," I found myself watching him and saying "I wish I'd done that"--something I've never been able to say in any other production.
The score is as close to grand opera as Sondheim gets, and the gems--"A Little Priest", "Not While I'm Around", "Johanna", "Wait," and the act II quartet sparkle as brightly as I've ever heard them.
"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street" In Concert, which aired Halloween night on PBS, is a truly splendid sight for those who know songs like "Worst Pies In London," "Pretty Women," and the show-stopping "Little Priest" by heart. Stephen Sondheim is a musical Renaissance man, and Jonathan Tunick's orchestrations are magnificent. George Hearn is a wonderful Sweeney, and Patti Lupone, even though she looses her British accent in a few places, is lively and attractive as Mrs. Lovett. Everyone else, including Neil Patrick Harris and his surprising singing voice, is wonderful! The style of the production - everyone dressing in black, the blood-red sheet, etc. - are very appropriate for the show. See this show! Only thing this reviewer would inquire is that they could've included more of Hugh Wheeler's clever dialogue. Otherwise, "Sweeney Todd" is a show that needs to be seen more by anyone looking for a good time, and to have their ears blessed by Stephen Sondheim's definitive score! "God, That's good!"
This is a wonderful representation of this brilliant musical. The performances are all at peek energy and perfect characterization. Patti LuPone's voice and new spin on the classic character of Mrs. Lovett is the highlight of this concert, for me. She is moving, hysterical, coy, and her voice is always beautiful. George Hearn gives a wonderful reprise performance of the role he played so many years ago. All other performances are wonderfully acted and beautifully sung by both Broadway and opera singers. Lonny Price's new vision and direction for this concert is just about perfection. He uses minimal set, props and costumes, but still creates the atmosphere of the show. Also, the opera ensemble and symphonic orchestra only adds to the magnitude and beauty of the piece. This is a must-have for any Sweeney fan!
Of all the various performances, this is my favorite one. The chorus moves while singing in the manner of ancient Greek classics. The lighting is very, very effective. But of course it is the music and the singing that makes this the best one yet. Friends who have never heard of Sweeny Todd have enjoyed this - as well as people who did not like the stage presentation. Watch it and fall in love with this classic.
I love Sweeney Todd, but I did not love this concert version. I did not care for Patti LuPone and I really abhorred the way it was taped. During the Judge's Song (Johanna), the camera kept panning back and forth from Johanna to the Judge. Towards the middle of the song, there were brief and idiotic shots of Johanna's chest, hands, and face that were timed with crescendi in the music. Cornball! It took away a lot from Timothy Nolen's wonderful performance because the viewer becomes too aware of the camera. The director is saying: "Look at how the camera moves! Aren't I ever so clever?" Aside from that, I did enjoy the extras on the DVD: a short documentary on the genesis and making of the concert versions of Sweeney Todd, plus interviews with Sondheim, George Hearn, Timothy Nolen, Victoria Clarke, Lisa Vroman, Neil Patrick Harris, Patti LuPone (blech) and unfortunately, the execrable Lonny Price (good stage direction; bad TV direction). If you love Sweeney Todd, you'll want to see this no matter how badly the camera is directed.
I have seen 3 versions of Sweeney Todd: the 2007 movie by Tim Burton,
the 1979 version with Angie Lansbury, and this. I became a fan of
Sweeney after seeing the wonderfully amazing 2007 version (I WILL
review that), and this was the 2nd Sweeney I've seen, and I've never
been disappointed yet except for the atrocious camera work in the 1979
Now you guys already know the plot, so I won't give anything away. But anyways, here's my breakdown of some of the cast: GEORGE HEARN as SWEENEY TODD: Awesome!!!!! He was much better than Johnny Depp... and Depp's my favorite actor (Depp did an amazing job in the movie though, keep in mind). I couldn't believe my eyes and ears. His singing is perfect, and so is his acting! PATTI LuPONE as LANDLADY MRS. LOVETT: The best Mrs. Lovett I've seen. She did an amazing job. Throughout she kept me captivated, and I loved it.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS as TOBEY RAGG: Good performance, especially in "Not While I'm around".
DAVIS GAINES as ANTHONY: Great performance! Especially when he sings "I have sailed the world and seen its wonders...", that's when you know he's awesome from the beginning.
VICTORIA CLARK as the BEGGAR: Great!!!!! I felt like they actually used an actual beggar for her role.
I will leave the rest for you to see, but I was amazed by this Sweeney adaptation. Watch it!
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
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
For those who may have missed it on Broadway or the filming with most of the original Broadway cast, this film of the 2001 concert version performed with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra is equally as exciting. Director Lonny Price has assembled a first-rate cast for this concert version of the 1979 Gothic musical about the relationship between a demented barber hellbent on vengeance and the slightly daffy but lovable owner of a meat pie shop who falls in love with him. This version is almost more riveting because, as a concert version, with limited sets, costumes, and props, the audience is allowed to focus where their focus should be...on Stephen Sondheim's frighteningly beautiful musical score, flawlessly sung by a rock-solid cast backed by a first rate orchestra. Tony winner Patti Lupone puts her own spin on Mrs. Lovett, the pie maker originated on Broadway by Angela Lansbury. Lupone is careful to never mimic Lansbury and because she is technically a better vocalist than Lansbury, gives the musical portion of her performance so much more meat than Lansbury did. George Hearn, who followed original Sweeney Len Cariou on Broadway again proves to be the ultimate interpreter of this role in another powerhouse rendering of this richly complex role, which at times is downright bone-chilling, particularly in his rendering of "Epiphany" one of the most powerful pieces of music ever written. Timothy Nolen's brilliant interpretation of the evil Judge Turpin is a standout, including his rendition of "Johanna"...a song that was cut from the original Broadway production. Davis Gaines makes a strong Anthony and works well with Lisa Vroman, who is the loveliest Johanna I ever seen, offering a flawless rendition of "Green Finch and Linnet Bird". Victoria Clark is outstanding as the Beggar Woman and TV's Neil Patrick Harris makes a surprisingly devastating Toby. A once in a lifetime concert experience that will stay with you.
This DVD was an absolute delight to watch. George Hearn had almost 20 years to refine this performance, and he used them well. (It's amazing that he wasn't originally cast for this concert.) Patti Lupone may outdo Angela Lansbury, IMHO. The supporting cast all do wonderful jobs, as well. The actor playing Judge Turpin was especially noteworthy.
For me, Sweeney Todd is not just Stephen Sondheim's best musical but also one of the greatest musicals full-stop. Of the 1982 production, the 2007 film and this 2001 concert production, it is difficult to say which is my favourite of the three as all three have so many great merits to them. There is not much to fault at all with here, and it does the score and musical justice. The camera work is choppy in places and while Davis Gaines characterises beautifully and gets much better later on- I do think generally that he has a beautiful and rich voice- he starts very off-pitch(not just slight, this is can't hear the music sort of quality), which wasn't pleasant on the ears, he is also too old I agree for Anthony but that wasn't big enough an issue. The costumes and sets are hugely effective to the atmosphere and the lighting is wholly appropriate to the dark, minimalist look to the visuals. The stage direction has the ability to be witty and harrowing, nothing about it came across as dull and distasteful to me, the chorus are directed quite interestingly but not in a way that jars. The orchestral playing is superb throughout, giving the magnificent score its full impact(Epiphany just made me go wow!), while the chorus are well-blended and involved in the drama. George Hearn is a complete revelation as Sweeney, his voice has lost none of the power it had nineteen years earlier, which helps give Epiphany the power it has, and he is both sympathetic and chilling. Patti Lupone's Mrs Lovett compared to Angela Lansbury is broader and played with a straight deadpan approach, which considering it was Lupone playing to her strengths worked, she doesn't have the best voice- like Gaines she has moments where she is pitchy- but still sings with terrific gusto and character. Timothy Nolen's Judge Turpin is creepy and sinister with a very strong voice, thank goodness that Johanna was included because it adds so much to the character and is just hair-raising here and in any production I imagine that includes it. Neil Patrick Harris is very charming and sings with a very pleasant tone as Toby, while the Johanna of Lisa Vroman is a vast improvement over that of her 1982 counterpart(especially in Green Finch and Linnett Bird, a very difficult song to get right), instead of shrill and strident her voice is clear and vibrant. Victoria Clark is also great as the beggar woman. So overall, a terrific concert production of a musical masterpiece. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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