Times are hard in 1846 London and one must make do. So Nellie Lovett adds something extra to the meat pies she peddles on Fleet Street. The secret ingredient: freshly murdered victims of her partner in crime, barber Sweeney Todd. Composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim refashions a macabre tale into a musical masterwork in this dazzling performance of the 1979 Broadway hit originally staged by Harold Prince. In her Tony-winning role (one of eight the show earned, including Best Musical), Angela Lansbury plays Nellie. George Hearn turns his stage role of twisted Sweeney into an Emmy-winning triumph. The score coils around itself in ever-tightening spirals. The lines ripple with black humor and madness. Enter Sweeney's tonsorial parlor. Attend the tale.
Stephen Sondheim's Victorian horror thriller Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
is generally considered his greatest work, macabre but darkly humorous with a viscerally powerful score that has found a home both on Broadway and in opera houses. George Hearn (who replaced Len Cariou of the original Broadway cast
) plays the title character, a wronged man whose lust for revenge drives him to murder (an 18th-century legend who has been traced to a real-life barber), and Angela Lansbury plays his partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett, who finds a practical business use for Todd's victims. This combination of horror and humor is echoed in Sondheim's score: brooding menace ("The Ballad of Sweeney Todd," "My Friend"), achingly beautiful ballads ("Johanna," "Not While I'm Around"), clever puns ("A Little Priest"), coloratura arias ("Green Finch and Linnet Bird"), and intricate choral and ensemble numbers.
Continuing a fortuitous tradition of capturing the Sondheim legacy on video recordings, this performance was filmed before a live audience in Los Angeles during the 1982 national tour. Almost 20 years later, Hearn returned to the role opposite Patti LuPone in an acclaimed concert production. But Sweeney Todd is an especially compelling experience in this 1982 version, complete with the clever staging tricks (e.g., the barber's chair) and as close to the original cast as we're likely to see. --David Horiuchi