The character of Sweeney Todd had its origins in serialized Victorian popular fiction, known as "penny dreadfuls". A story called The String of Pearls was published in a weekly magazine during the winter of 1846-47. Set in 1785, the story featured as its principal villain a certain Sweeney Todd and included all the plot elements that were used by Sondheim and others ever since. The psychopathic barber’s story proved instantly popular – it was turned into a play before the ending had even been revealed in print. An expanded edition appeared in 1850, an American version in 1852, a new play in 1865. By the 1870s, Sweeney Todd was a familiar character to most Victorians.
Sondheim’s musical was, in fact, based on Christopher Bond’s 1973 spooky melodrama, which introduced a psychological background to Todd’s crimes. In Bond's reincarnation of the character, Todd was the victim of a ruthless judge who raped his young wife and exiled him to Australia. Sondheim first conceived of a musical version of the story in 1973, after he went to see Bond's ghoulish take on the story at Theatre Royal Stratford East.
Bond's sophisticated plot and language significantly elevated the lurid nature of the tale. Sondheim once noted, “It had a weight to it . . . because [Bond] wrote certain characters in blank verse. He also infused into it plot elements from Jacobean tragedy and "The Count of Monte Cristo". He was able to take all these disparate elements that had been in existence rather dully for a hundred and some-odd years and make them into a first-rate play.”
Sondheim felt that the addition of music would greatly increase the size of the drama, transforming it into a different theatrical experience, saying later: “What I did to Chris' play is more than enhance it. I had a feeling it would be a new animal. The effect it had at Stratford East in London and the effect it had at the Uris Theater in New York are two entirely different effects, even though it's the same play. It was essentially charming over there because they don't take Sweeney Todd seriously. Our production was larger in scope. Hal Prince gave it an epic sense, a sense that this was a man of some size instead of just a nut case. The music helps to give it that dimension.”
Music proved to be a key element behind the impact of Sweeney Todd on audiences. Over eighty percent of the production is set to music, either sung or orchestrated underneath dialogue. The score is one vast structure, each individual part meshing with others for the good of the entire musical machine. Never before or since in his work has Sondheim utilized music in such an exhaustive capacity to further the purposes of the drama.
Sondheim decided to pair one of the most nightmarish songs (Sweeney Todd's "Epiphany") with the comic-relief of "A Little Priest". This pair of songs at the end of Act I was the most significant musical addition which Sondheim made to Bond’s version of the story. In the play, Sweeney Todd’s mental collapse and the subsequent plan for Lovett's meat pies take place in less than half a page of dialogue, much too quickly to convey the full psychological impact. Sondheim's version more carefully reveals the developing ideas in Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett's demented minds.
Sondheim has often said that his Sweeney Todd was about obsession – and close friends seemed to instinctually agree. When Sondheim first played songs from an early version of the show for Judy Prince (wife of the show's director), she told him: "Oh God – I didn't know this was what [Sweeney Todd] was about. It's nothing to do with Grand Guignol. It's the story of your [own] life."
What Sondheim thought of as "a small horror piece" eventually became a colossal portrait of the Industrial Revolution in the hands of director Hal Prince. At first, Prince was not interested in directing the show; to him it was just another melodrama, not very experimental structurally. Then he discovered a metaphor which expanded the story into an essay on the human condition.
On the stage of the Uris Theater in New York, this little tale of horrors was transformed into a mountain of steel in motion. Prince's scenic metaphor for Sweeney Todd was a 19th-century iron foundry moved from Rhode Island and reassembled on the stage, which critic Jack Kroll aptly described as "part cathedral, part factory, part prison, that dwarfed and degraded the swarming denizens of the lower orders."
The massive scope of Prince's setting went beyond even Sondheim's intentions. Sondheim admits that his conception of the show differed from that of Prince: "Hal's metaphor is that the factory turns out Sweeney Todds. It turns out soulless, defeated, hopeless people. That's what the play's about to him; Sweeney Todd is a product of that age. I think it's not. Sweeney Todd is a man bent on personal revenge, the way we all are in one way or another, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the time he lived in, as far as I'm concerned.”
When it came to casting, Sondheim thought stage veteran Angela Lansbury would add some needed comedy to the grim tale as the lunatic Cockney shopkeeper, but Lansbury needed to be convinced. She was a star by the late seventies, and as she pointed out to Sondheim, "Your show is not called Nellie Lovett, it's called Sweeney Todd. And I'm the second banana." To convince her, Sondheim "auditioned," writing a couple of songs for her, including the macabre patter song, "A Little Priest." And he gave her the key to the character, saying "I want Mrs. Lovett to have a music hall character." Lansbury, who had grown up in British music hall, immediately got it. "Not just music hall," she said, "but dotty music hall." After she was formally confirmed in the role, she relished the opportunity, saying that she loved "the extraordinary wit and intelligence of [Sondheim's] lyrics."
Len Cariou was Sondheim's personal choice to play the tortured barber. In preparation for the role, Cariou (who was studying with a voice teacher at the time) asked Sondheim what kind of range he needed to have in the role. Cariou told him he was prepared to give Sondheim a couple of octaves to deal with, and Sondheim immediately replied, "That would be more than sufficient."
With director Harold Prince absorbed in staging the mammoth production, Lansbury and co-star Len Cariou were left largely to their own when it came to developing their characters. They worked together on all their scenes, both of them creative actors who were experienced in giving intense, original performances. "That cuckoo style of playing Mrs. Lovett, that was pretty much Angela," Cariou later said. "She invented that character." Lansbury recalled, "I just ran with it. The wide-openness of my portrayal had to do with my sink or swim attitude toward it. I just figured hell, I've done everything else on Broadway, I might as well go with Mrs. Lovett."
It is said that on opening night Harold Clurman, the doyen of American theatre critics, rushed up to Schuyler Chapin, former general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, demanding to know why he had not put it on at the Met. To which Chapin replied: "I would have put it on like a shot if I'd had the opportunity. There would have been screams and yells but I wouldn't have given a damn. Because it is an opera. A modern American opera."
The citizens of London, acting as a Greek chorus to raise commentary throughout the play, drop a body bag into a shallow grave. Sweeney Todd rises forth ("The Ballad of Sweeney Todd"), and introduces the play, set some months before the burial.
In 1846, young sailor Anthony Hope and Sweeney Todd, whom Anthony has recently rescued at sea and befriended, dock in London, where a half-crazed Beggar Woman sexually solicits them, appearing to briefly recognize Todd ("No Place Like London"). Todd tells Anthony of his troubled past as a naïve barber, when a crooked judge banished him in order to pursue his wife ("The Barber and His Wife"). Leaving Anthony, Todd enters a meat pie shop on Fleet Street, where the owner, Mrs. Lovett, laments about the scarcity of meat ("Worst Pies in London"). When Todd asks about her empty upstairs apartment, she reveals that its former tenant, Benjamin Barker, was transported out of England on false charges by Judge Turpin, who, along with his servant, Beadle Bamford, then lured Barker's wife Lucy to the Judge's home and raped her ("Poor Thing"). Todd's reaction reveals that he is himself Benjamin Barker. Promising to keep his secret, Lovett explains that Lucy poisoned herself and that their then-infant daughter, Johanna, became a ward of the Judge. Todd swears revenge on the Judge and Beadle, and Mrs. Lovett presents Todd with his old collection of sterling silver straight razors, which persuades Todd to take up his old profession ("My Friends" and "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd – Reprise"). Elsewhere, Anthony notices an exquisite blonde girl singing out her window ("Green Finch and Linnet Bird"), and the Beggar Woman tells him that her name is Johanna. Unaware that Johanna is his friend Todd's daughter, Anthony is immediately enamored ("Ah, Miss") and he pledges to return for her, even when the Judge and Beadle chase him away ("Johanna").
In the crowded London marketplace, faux-Italian barber Adolfo Pirelli and his simple-minded assistant, Tobias Ragg, pitch a dramatic cure-all for hair loss ("Pirelli's Miracle Elixir"). Todd and Lovett soon arrive; Todd exposes the elixir as a sham, challenges Pirelli to a shaving competition, and easily wins ("The Contest"), inviting the impressed, onlooking Beadle to a free shave ("The Ballad of Sweeney Todd – Reprise 2"). Several days later, Judge Turpin flagellates himself in a frenzy over a growing lust for Johanna, but instead resolves to marry her himself. ("Johanna – Mea Culpa"). Todd impatiently continues to wait for the Beadle's arrival, but Mrs. Lovett attempts to calm him ("Wait"). When Anthony tells Todd of his plan to ask Johanna to elope with him, Todd, eager to reunite with his daughter, agrees to let them use his barbershop as a safehouse. As Anthony leaves, Pirelli and Tobias enter, and Mrs. Lovett takes Toby downstairs for a pie. Alone with Todd, Pirelli reveals that he is actually an Irishman named Daniel O'Higgins, an assistant to Todd fifteen years ago, who knows Todd's true identity. When O'Higgins attempts to blackmail his former employer, however, Todd injures and hides him, later slitting his throat ("Pirelli's Death" and "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd – Reprise 3"). Meanwhile, Johanna and Anthony plan their elopement ("Kiss Me"), while the Beadle recommends Todd's services to the Judge, so that he can better win Johanna's affections ("Ladies in Their Sensitivities").
At first panicked upon learning of Pirelli's murder, Mrs. Lovett seizes his leftover coin purse and then discusses with Todd plans to dispose of the body. Suddenly, the Judge enters; Todd quickly seats him and lulls him into a relaxed conversation ("Pretty Women"). Before Todd can kill the Judge, however, Anthony re-enters to explain the specifics of his and Johanna's plans, accidentally informing the Judge, who storms out and vows never to return. Todd drives Anthony away in a furious fit of madness, determining that he will kill all future customers, since all people deserve to die: the rich to be punished for their corruption, and the poor to be relieved of their misery ("Epiphany"). Mrs. Lovett slyly suggests that they use the flesh of Todd's victims in her meat pies, and Todd joyously agrees ("A Little Priest").
Several weeks later, Mrs. Lovett's pie shop has become a thriving business, and Toby is now working there as a waiter ("God, That's Good!"). Todd and Mrs. Lovett acquire a specially-designed mechanical barber's chair that allows Todd to kill his clients and then send their bodies directly through a chute into the pie shop's basement bakehouse. Mundanely slitting his customers' necks, Todd despairs about ever seeing Johanna again, while Anthony discovers that Johanna is missing ("Johanna–Quartet"), having been locked away in an insane asylum by the Judge. After a day of hard work, Mrs. Lovett envisions a seaside retirement ("By the Sea"), but Todd remains fixed on his revenge. Anthony arrives to beg Todd for help to free Johanna, and Todd, revitalized, devises a plan to rescue her by having Anthony pose as a wigmaker intent on purchasing inmates' hair ("Wigmaker Sequence" and "The Ballad... – Reprise 4"). Todd later sends a secret letter to notify the Judge of Anthony's plot, hoping to lure the Judge back to his shop ("The Letter").
In the pie shop, Toby expresses suspicions against Todd and his own desire to protect Mrs. Lovett ("Not While I'm Around"). When he recognizes Pirelli's coin purse in Mrs. Lovett's possession, she distracts him by showing him the bakehouse, instructing him how to work the meat grinder and the oven, before locking him down there. Upstairs, she encounters the Beadle at her harmonium, requested by neighbors to investigate the strange smoke emitted by the pie shop's chimney. Mrs. Lovett stalls the Beadle until Todd returns to offer the Beadle his promised "free shave"; Mrs. Lovett loudly plays her harmonium to cover the Beadle's screams above, as Todd is killing him ("Parlor Songs"). In the basement, Toby discovers human remains in a pie, just as the Beadle's fresh corpse comes tumbling through the chute. Mrs. Lovett then informs Todd that Toby has discovered their secret, and they plan to kill him.
Anthony arrives at the asylum to rescue Johanna, but cannot bring himself to shoot Jonas Fogg, the deranged asylum owner who tries to stop them; Johanna does so herself, grabbing the pistol. Now, the asylum's inmates pour out into the streets, ecstatically proclaiming the end of the world, while Todd and Mrs. Lovett hunt for Toby, and the Beggar Woman fears what has become of the Beadle ("City on Fire/Searching"). Anthony and a disguised Johanna arrive to find Todd's shop empty. Anthony leaves to seek a coach after he and Johanna reaffirm their love ("Ah Miss – Reprise"). Left alone, Johanna hears the Beggar Woman enter and so she hides. The Beggar Woman seems to recognize the room, but, before she can make sense of it, the frantic Todd appears to greet the approaching Beggar Woman and lethally cuts her, sending her down the chute just a moment before the Judge bursts in ("Beggar Woman's Lullaby"). Todd assures the Judge that Johanna is repentant and the Judge asks for a quick splash of cologne. Once he has the Judge in his chair, Todd soothes but then suddenly mocks him. The Judge recognizes him as "Benjamin Barker!" just before Todd slashes his throat and sends him hurtling down the chute ("The Judge's Return"). The disguised Johanna finally stands, horrified, from her hiding place, surprising Todd. Todd next decides to kill her too, before Mrs. Lovett shrieks from the bakehouse below, providing a distraction for Johanna to escape. Downstairs, Mrs. Lovett is struggling with the dying Judge, who claws at her. She then attempts to drag the Beggar Woman's body into the oven, but Todd arrives and sees the lifeless face clearly for the first time: the Beggar Woman is his wife Lucy. Todd is in shock as Lovett confesses that she did not tell him the full story of Lucy because she loves him herself. Todd then feigns forgiveness, dancing manically with Lovett until pushing her into the raging fires of the oven. Full of despair, Todd embraces the dead Lucy. Toby, with his hair now white from shock and babbling nursery rhymes to himself, picks up Todd's fallen razor, and cuts Todd's throat. As Anthony, Johanna, and some constables break into the bakehouse, Todd falls dead and Toby drops the razor, heedless of the others, while absentmindedly turning the meat grinder ("Final Scene").
The citizens, soon joined by the ghosts of Todd, Mrs. Lovett, and the others, recite "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd." The company exits, with Todd and Mrs. Lovett being the last, with Todd exiting with an abrupt slam of a door.
Notes on the songs:† Despite being cut in previews for reasons of length, these numbers were included on the Original Cast Recording. They have been restored in subsequent productions.
‡ This song was moved to after "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd (Reprise 3)" in the 2000 and 2014 New York Philharmonic concert performances, and on the Original Broadway Cast Album.
§ This number was written for the original London production and first recorded for the 2000 New York Philharmonic concert performance.
The song "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" and its multiple reprises are titled in some productions by their first lyrics to differentiate them from one another:
Sources: SondheimGuide.com & InternetBroadwayDatabase
The original production premiered on Broadway at the Uris Theatre on March 1, 1979 and closed on June 29, 1980 after 557 performances and 19 previews. Directed by Hal Prince and choreographed by Larry Fuller, the scenic design was by Eugene Lee, costumes by Franne Lee and lighting by Ken Billington. The cast included Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett, Len Cariou as Todd, Victor Garber as Anthony, Sarah Rice as Johanna, Merle Louise as the Beggar Woman, Ken Jennings as Tobias, Edmund Lyndeck as Judge Turpin, Joaquin Romaguera as Pirelli, and Jack Eric Williams as Beadle Bamford. The production was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning eight including Best Musical. Dorothy Loudon and George Hearn replaced Lansbury and Cariou on March 4, 1980.
The first national U.S. tour started on October 24, 1980, in Washington, D.C. and ended in August 1981 in Los Angeles, California. Lansbury was joined by Hearn and this version was taped during the Los Angeles engagement and broadcast on PBS on September 12, 1982.
A North American tour started on February 23, 1982, in Wilmington, Delaware, and ended on July 17, 1982, in Toronto, Ontario. June Havoc and Ross Petty starred.
The first London production opened on July 2, 1980, at the West End's Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, starring Denis Quilley and Sheila Hancock along with Andrew C. Wadsworth as Anthony, Mandy More as Johanna, Michael Staniforth as Tobias, Austin Kent as Judge Turpin, Dilys Watling as the Beggar Woman, David Wheldon-Williams as Beadle Bamford, Oz Clarke as Jonas Fogg, and John Aron as Pirelli. The show ran for 157 performances. Despite receiving mixed reviews, the production won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 1980. The production closed on November 14, 1980.
The first Broadway revival opened on September 14, 1989 at the Circle in the Square Theatre, and closed on February 25, 1990 after 189 performances and 46 previews. It was produced by Theodore Mann, directed by Susan H. Schulman, with choreography by Michael Lichtefeld. The cast featured Bob Gunton (Sweeney Todd), Beth Fowler (Mrs. Lovett), Eddie Korbich (Tobias Ragg), Jim Walton (Anthony Hope) and David Barron (Judge Turpin). The production, affectionately referred to as "Teeny Todd," was originally produced Off-Off-Broadway by the York Theatre Company at the Church of the Heavenly Rest from March 31, 1989 to April 29, 1989. This production received four Tony Award nominations: for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical and Best Direction of a Musical, but failed to win any.
In 1993, the show received its first West End revival at the Royal National Theatre. The production opened originally at the Cottesloe Theatre on June 2, 1993, and later transferred to the Lyttleton Theatre on December 16, 1993, playing in repertory and closing on June 1, 1994. The show's design was slightly altered to fit a proscenium arch theatre space for the Lyttleton Theatre. The director was Declan Donnellan and the Cottesloe Theatre production starred Alun Armstrong as Todd and Julia McKenzie as Mrs. Lovett, with Adrian Lester as Anthony, Barry James as Beadle Bamford and Denis Quilley (who had originated the title role in the original London production in 1980) as Judge Turpin. When the show transferred, Quilley replaced Armstrong in the title role. Sondheim praised Donnellan for the "small 'chamber' approach to the show, which was the composer's original vision for the piece." This production received Olivier Awards for Best Musical Revival, Best Actor in a Musical (Armstrong) and Best Actress in a Musical (McKenzie), as well as nominations for Best Director and two for Best Supporting Performance in a musical.
On 5 April 1995 it premiered in Catalan at the theater Poliorama of Barcelona (later moving to the Apollo), in a production of the Drama Centre of the Government of Catalonia. The libretto was adapted by Roser Batalla Roger Pena, and was directed by Mario Gas. The cast consisted of Constantino Romero as Todd, Vicky Peña as Mrs.Lovett, Ma. Josep Peris as Johanna, Muntsa Rivers as Tobias, Pep Molina as Anthony and Xavier Ribera-Vall as Judge Turpin, with critical acclaim and audience applause (Sondheim himself traveled to Barcelona after hearing the success it was having and was delighted with the production). Later it moved to Madrid. The show received over fifteen awards.
In 2004, John Doyle directed a revival of the musical at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, England, running from July 27, 2004 until October 9, 2004. This production subsequently transferred to the West End's Trafalgar Studios and then the Ambassadors Theatre. This production was notable for having no orchestra, with the 10-person cast playing the score themselves on musical instruments that they carried onstage. This marked the first time in nearly ten years that a Sondheim show had been presented in the commercial West End. It starred Paul Hegarty as Todd, Karen Mann as Mrs. Lovett, Rebecca Jackson as The Beggar Woman, Sam Kenyon as Tobias, Rebecca Jenkins as Johanna, David Ricardo-Pearce as Anthony and Colin Wakefield as Judge Turpin. This production closed February 5, 2005.
In spring 2006, the production toured the UK with Jason Donovan as Todd and Harriet Thorpe as Mrs. Lovett.
A version of the John Doyle West End production transferred to Broadway, opening on November 3, 2005 at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre with a new cast, all of whom played their own instruments, as had been done in London. The cast consisted of: Patti LuPone (Mrs. Lovett/Tuba/Percussion), Michael Cerveris (Todd/Guitar), Manoel Felciano (Tobias/Violin/Clarinet/Piano), Alexander Gemignani (Beadle/Piano/Trumpet), Lauren Molina (Johanna/Cello), Benjamin Magnuson (Anthony/Cello/Piano), Mark Jacoby (Turpin/Trumpet/Percussion), Donna Lynne Champlin (Pirelli/Accordion/Flute/Piano), Diana DiMarzio (Beggar Woman/Clarinet) and John Arbo (Fogg/Double bass). The production ran for 349 performances and 35 previews, and was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning two: Best Direction of a Musical for Doyle and Best Orchestrations for Sarah Travis who had reconstructed Jonathan Tunick's original arrangements to suit the ten-person cast and orchestra. Because of the small scale of the musical, it cost $3.5 million to make, a sum small in comparison to many Broadway musicals and recouped in nineteen weeks. A national tour based on Doyle's Broadway production began on August 30, 2007 with Judy Kaye (who had temporarily replaced LuPone in the Broadway run) as Mrs. Lovett and David Hess as Todd. Alexander Gemignani also played the title role for the Toronto run of the tour in November 2007.
Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton starred in a new production of the show that played at The Chichester Festival Theatre, running from 24 September to 5 November 2011. Directed by Jonathan Kent, the cast included Ball as Todd, Staunton as Mrs. Lovett, James McConville as Tobias, John Bowe as Judge Turpin, Robert Burt as Pirelli, Luke Brady as Anthony, Gillian Kirkpatrick as Lucy Barker, Lucy May Barker as Johanna and Peter Polycarpou as Beadle Bamford. It was notably set in the 1930s instead of 1846 and restored the oft-cut song "Johanna (Mea Culpa)". The production received positive reviews from both critics and audience members and transferred to the Adelphi Theatre in the West End in 2012 for a limited run from 10 March to 22 September 2012. Comedian Jason Manford made his musical debut as Pirelli from 2 to 28 July and 15, 18 and 24 August 2012 while Robert Burt appeared at Glyndebourne Festival Opera.The West End transfer received six Laurence Olivier Award nominations of which it won the three; Best Musical Revival, Best Actor in a Musical for Ball and Best Actress in a Musical for Staunton.
Cameron Mackintosh produced the West End transfer of the Tooting Arts Club production the show which ran in at Harrington's Pie Shop in Tooting, London in October and November 2014. This production takes place in a pie shop that has been recreated for the occasion in Shaftesbury Avenue and runs from 19 March to 16 May 2015. The cast includes Jeremy Secomb as Sweeney Todd, Siobhan McCarthy as Mrs. Lovett, Nadim Naaman as Anthony, Ian Mowat as the Beadle, Duncan Smith as the Judge, Kiara Jay as Pirelli, Joseph Taylor as Toby and Zoe Doano as Johanna.
Pieter Toerien and KickstArt produced a production at the Pieter Toerien Monte Casino Theatre in Johannesburg, which ran from 10 October - 13 December 2015 before transferring to the Theatre on the Bay in Cape Town from 19 February - 9 April 2016. Directed by Steven Stead and designed by Greg King, the production starred Jonathan Roxmouth (Sweeney Todd), Charon Williams-Ros (Mrs Lovett), Michael Richard (Judge Turpin), Jaco van Rensburg (Tobias), Anne Marie Clulow (Beggar Woman), Adam Pelkowitz (Beadle Bamford), Cameron Botha (Anthony), Sanli Jooste (Johanna), Germandt Geldenhuys (Adolfo Pirelli) and Weslee Swain Lauder (Jonas Fogg), with an ensemble comprising Candice van Litsenborgh, Luciano Zuppa, Pauline du Plessis, Claire Simonis, Megan Rigby, Schoeman Smit and Earl Gregory. The musical director for the show was Rowan Bakker, with costume designs by Neil Stuart Harris and lighting by Tina le Roux.
The Tooting Arts Club production will transfer to Off-Broadway, transforming the Barrow Street Theatre into a working pie shop. Previews begin February 14, 2017 before officially opening night on March 1. Like the London production, the transfer will be directed by Bill Buckhurst, designed by Simon Kenny and produced by Rachel Edwards, Jenny Gersten, Seaview Productions, and Nate Koch, executive producer, in association with Barrow Street Theatre.1994 Los Angeles revival
In 1994, East West Players in Los Angeles staged a revival of the show directed by Tim Dang, featuring a largely Asian Pacific American cast. It was also the first time the show had been presented in an intimate house (Equity 99-seat). The production received 5 Ovation Awards including the Franklin Levy Award for Best Musical (Smaller Theatre) and Best Director (Musical) for Dang.1997 Finnish National Opera, Helsinki
The 1997 Finnish National Opera production premiered on September 19, 1997. Directed by Staffan Aspegren and starting Sauli Tiilikainen (Sweeney todd) and Ritva Auvinen (Mrs. Lovett). Translated by Juice Leskinen2002 Kennedy Center production
As part of the Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration, Sweeney Todd ran from May 10, 2002 through June 30, 2002 at the Eisenhower Theatre, starring Brian Stokes Mitchell as Todd, Christine Baranski as Mrs. Lovett, Hugh Panaro as Anthony, Walter Charles (a member of the original cast), as Judge Turpin and Celia Keenan-Bolger as Johanna. It was directed by Christopher Ashley with choreography by Daniel Pelzig.2007 Dublin production
Irish tenor David Shannon starred as Todd in a highly successful Dublin production of the show at the Gate Theatre, which ran from April 2007 through June 2007. The production employed a minimalistic approach: the cast consisted of a small ensemble of 14 performers, and the orchestra was a seven-piece band. The look of the production was quite abstract. The Sunday Times wrote that "The black backdrop of David Farley's rough hewn set and the stark minimalism of Rick Fisher's lighting suggest a self-conscious edginess, with Shannon's stylised make-up, long leather coat and brooding countenance only adding to the feeling." When a character died, flour was poured over them.2008 Gothenburg production
The 2008 Gothenburg production premiered on May 15, 2008 at The Göteborg Opera. The show was a collaboration with West End International Ltd. The cast featured Michael McCarthy as Sweeney Todd and Rosemary Ashe as Mrs Lovett and David Shannon this time as Anthony. The show did a four week-run and ended on June 8, 2008.2010 National Youth Music Theatre, London
In 2010, fifty members of the National Youth Music Theatre staged a production at the Village Underground as part of Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday celebrations in London. NYMT took the show, directed by Martin Constantine, out of a conventional theatre space and staged it within a converted Victorian warehouse in the city's East End. NYMT's patron Jude Law was in attendance on the last night. The company revived the show in 2011 for the International Youth Arts Festival at the Rose Theatre in Kingston upon Thames.2011 Paris production
A major new production opened in April 2011 at the Théâtre du Châtelet (Paris), which first gave Sondheim a place on the French stage with their production of A Little Night Music. The director was Lee Blakeley with choreography by Lorena Randi and designs by Tanya McAllin. The cast featured Rod Gilfry and Franco Pomponi (Sweeney Todd) and Caroline O'Connor (Mrs Lovett).2013 DUCTAC, Centrepoint Theatre, Dubai
Directed by Joseph Fowler with staging by Cressida Carre and designs by Jamie Todd. The cast featured Simeon Truby as (Sweeney Todd) and Natacza Boon (Mrs Lovett)2014 Boston production
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston produced a run in September and October 2014 with the company's Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos staging and directing the show. The cast included Christopher Chew as Sweeney Todd and Amelia Broome as Mrs. Lovett.2014 Quebec City production
Quebec City-based Théâtre Décibel produced the French-speaking world-premiere of the show. Translated by Joëlle Bond and directed by Louis Morin, the show played from October 28 to November 8, 2014 at the Capitole de Québec. The cast includes Renaud Paradis as Sweeney Todd, Katee Julien as Mrs. Lovett, Jean Petitclerc as Judge Turpin, Sabrina Ferland as the Beggar Woman, Pierre-Olivier Grondin as Anthony Hope, Andréane Bouladier as Johanna, David Noël as Tobias, Jonathan Gagnon as Beadle and Mathieu Samson as Pirelli.
2014 prog metal version, Landless Theatre Company, Washington, D.C.
Sondheim grants DC's Landless Theatre Company permission to orchestrate a "prog metal version" of Sweeney Todd, the first rock orchestration of the score. The production plays at DC's Warehouse Theatre in August, 2014. Directed by Melissa Baughman. Music Direction by Charles W. Johnson. Prog Metal Orchestration by The Fleet Street Collective (Andrew Lloyd Baughman, Spencer Blevins, Charles Johnson, Lance LaRue, Ray Shaw, Alex Vallejo, Andrew Siddle). The cast features metal band front singers Nina Osegueda (A Sound of Thunder) as Mrs. Lovett, Andrew Lloyd Baughman (Diamond Dead) as Sweeney Todd, Rob Bradley (Aries and Thrillkiller) as Pirelli, and Irene Jericho (Cassandra Syndrome) as Beggar Woman. The show receives three 2015 Helen Hayes Awards nominations for Best Musical, Outstanding Director of a Musical (Melissa Baughman), and Outstanding Music Director (Charles W. Johnson).
2015 Welsh National Opera production
In autumn 2015 the Welsh National Opera and Wales Millennium Centre produced a co-production with West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Royal Exchange Manchester as part of the WNO's "Madness" season. Directed by James Brining and designed by Colin Richmond, the production was set in the 1970/80s, and was performed in Cardiff before touring to Southampton, Bristol, Llandudno, Oxford, Liverpool, Birmingham before returning to Cardiff. It was based on Brining's previous smaller productions from Dundee Rep in 2010, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Royal Exchange Manchester in 2013. The cast included David Arnsperger as Sweeney Todd and Janis Kelly as Mrs. Lovett.
The first opera company to mount Sweeney Todd was the Houston Grand Opera in a production directed by Hal Prince, which ran from June 14, 1984 through June 24, 1984 for a total of 10 performances. Conducted by John DeMain, the production used scenic designs by Eugene Lee, costume designs by Franne Lee, and lighting designs by Ken Billington. The cast included Timothy Nolen in the title role, Joyce Castle as Mrs. Lovett, Cris Groenendaal as Anthony, Lee Merrill as Johanna, Will Roy as Judge Turpin, and Barry Busse as The Beadle.
In 1984 the show was presented by the New York City Opera. Hal Prince recreated the staging using the simplified set of the 2nd national tour. It was well received and most performances sold out. It was brought back for limited runs in 1986 and 2004. Notably the 2004 production starred Elaine Paige as Mrs Lovett. The show was also performed by Opera North in 1998 in the UK starring Steven Page and Beverley Klein, directed by David McVicar and conducted by James Holmes.
In the early 2000s, Sweeney Todd gained acceptance with opera companies throughout the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, Israel, Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Australia. Bryn Terfel, the popular Welsh bass-baritone, performed the title role at Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2002, with Judith Christian, David Cangelosi, Timothy Nolen, Bonaventura Bottone, Celena Shaffer and Nathan Gunn. It was performed at the Royal Opera House in London as part of the Royal Opera season (December 2003-January 2004) starring Sir Thomas Allen as Todd, Felicity Palmer as Mrs. Lovett and a supporting cast that included Rosalind Plowright, Robert Tear and Jonathan Veira as Judge Turpin. The Finnish National Opera performed Sweeney Todd in 1997-98. The Israeli National Opera has performed Sweeney Todd twice. The Icelandic Opera performed Sweeney Todd in the fall of 2004, the first time in Iceland. On September 12, 2015, Sweeney Todd opened at the San Francisco Opera with Brian Mulligan as Todd, Stephanie Blythe as Mrs. Lovett, Matthew Grills as Tobias, Heidi Stober as Johanna, Elliot Madore as Anthony and Elizabeth Futral as the Beggar Woman/Lucy.
A "Reprise!" Concert version was performed at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre on March 12–14, 1999 with Kelsey Grammer as Todd, Christine Baranski as Mrs. Lovett, Davis Gaines as Anthony, Neil Patrick Harris as Tobias, Melissa Manchester as The Beggar Woman, Roland Rusinek as The Beadle, Dale Kristien as Johanna and Ken Howard as Judge Turpin.
London's Royal Festival Hall hosted two performances on February 13, 2000, starring Len Cariou as Todd, Judy Kaye as Mrs. Lovett, and Davis Gaines as Anthony. A 4-day concert took place in July 2007 at the same venue with Bryn Terfel, Maria Friedman, Daniel Boys and Philip Quast.
Director Lonny Price directed a semi-staged concert production of "Sweeney Todd" on May 4–6, 2000 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, New York with the New York Philharmonic. The cast included George Hearn (a last-minute substitute for Bryn Terfel), Patti LuPone, Neil Patrick Harris, Davis Gaines, John Aler, Paul Plishka, Heidi Grant Murphy, Stanford Olsen and Audra McDonald. This concert also played in San Francisco, from July 19, 2001 to July 21, with the San Francisco Symphony. Hearn and LuPone were joined once again by Harris, Aler, and Olsen as well as new additions Victoria Clark, Lisa Vroman and Timothy Nolen. This production was taped for PBS broadcast. The same production played at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago on August 24, 2001, with most of the cast from the preceding concerts, except for Plishka and Clark, who were replaced by Sherrill Milnes and Hollis Resnik.
In 2014, Price directed a new concert production, returning to Avery Fisher Hall with the New York Philharmonic on March 5–8 with Bryn Terfel as Todd, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Lovett, Philip Quast as Judge Turpin, Jeff Blumenkrantz as The Beadle, Christian Borle as Pirelli, Kyle Brenn as Tobias, Jay Armstrong Johnson as Anthony, Erin Mackey as Johanna and Audra McDonald and Bryonha Marie Parham sharing the role of The Beggar Woman. Audra was not announced as the Beggar Woman: she was a surprise, her name only being revealed at the time of the first performance. On the Saturday performances, Bryonha Marie Parham played the role of the Beggar Woman, while Audra played it at the other performances. The concert was again filmed for broadcast on PBS as part of their Live from Lincoln Center series and was first aired on September 26, 2014. This production transferred to London Coliseum Theatre for 13 performances from March 30 through April 12, 2015. The cast included original members like Terfel, Thompson and Quast, as well as new actors like John Owen-Jones and Rosalie Craig.
A feature film adaptation of Sweeney Todd, jointly produced by DreamWorks and Warner Bros., was released on December 21, 2007. Tim Burton directed from a screenplay by John Logan. It stars Johnny Depp as Todd (Depp received an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe Award for his performance), Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin, Sacha Baron Cohen as Signor Pirelli, Jamie Campbell Bower as Anthony Hope, Laura Michelle Kelly as The Beggar Woman, Jayne Wisener as Johanna, Ed Sanders as Toby, and Timothy Spall as Beadle Bamford. The film received high acclaim from critics and theatregoers and also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.
Music Theatre International recently adapted the production to be performed by high schoolers. The only substantial edits that have been made are the removal of the Judge's "Johanna" and optional slightly different lyrics for a few of the Beggar Woman interludes, as well as optionally removing most of the swearing, and providing optional alterations to the stage directions so the murders did not need to be performed onstage. Other edits include the removal of the "Wigmaker" and its reprise (although the fourth reprise of "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" is referred to as "Wigmaker Sequence"). There are some changes in the naming of songs. "The Barber and His Wife" is considered part of "No Place Like London," the first reprise of "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" is considered part of "My Friends." "Pretty Women," "By the Sea," and "Searching" are in two parts ("Searching (Part II)" is mainly just "Ah Miss (Reprise)") and "Parlour Songs" and "Final Scene" are in three, (the epilogue is considered "Final Scene (Part III)"). "Pirelli's Entrance," "The Contest," "Wigmaker Sequence," "The Letter," "Fogg's Asylum," "City on Fire," "Searching," "Judge's Return," and "Final Scene" are all considered separate songs. Repertory Company Theatre of Dallas's school of musical theater division in the United States, Ysgol Bryn Elian, North Wales from the UK; Artestudio, a musical theatre school in Mexico; John Septimus Roe Anglican Community School in Perth, Australia and the Sunbeams School in Dhaka, Bangladesh were the first in their respective countries to perform the School Edition.
Stephen Sondheim believes that Sweeney Todd is a story of revenge and how it consumes a vengeful person. He has asserted, "…what the show is really about is obsession."
Hal Prince believed it to be an allegory of capitalism and its selfish qualities. He described this theme as follows: "It was only when I realized that the show was about revenge…and then came the factory, and the class struggle—the terrible struggle to move out of the class in which you're born…"
Sondheim's score is one of his most complex, with orchestrations by his long-time collaborator Jonathan Tunick. Relying heavily on counterpoint and rich, angular harmonies, its compositional style has been compared to Maurice Ravel, Sergei Prokofiev, and Bernard Herrmann (who scored Alfred Hitchcock films). Sondheim also utilizes the ancient Dies Irae in the eponymous ballad that runs throughout the score, later heard in a musical inversion, and in the accompaniment to "Epiphany". According to Raymond Knapp "Most scene changes bring back "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd", which includes both fast and slow versions of the "Dies Irae". He also relies heavily on leitmotif - at least twenty distinct ones can be identified throughout the score.
Depending on how and where the show is presented, it is sometimes considered an opera. Sondheim himself has described the piece as a "black operetta", and indeed, only about 20% of the show is spoken; the rest is sung-through.
In his essay for the 2005 cast album, Jeremy Sams finds it most relevant to compare Sondheim's work with operas that similarly explore the psyche of a mad murderer or social outcast, such as Alban Berg's Wozzeck (based on the play by Georg Büchner) and Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes (1945). On the other hand, it can be seen as a precursor to the later trend of musicals based on horror themes, such as The Phantom of the Opera (1986), Jekyll & Hyde (1997), Little Shop of Horrors (1982) and Dance of the Vampires (1997), which used the description of the trend, "grusical", as its commercial label. Theatre critic and author Martin Gottfried wrote on this subject: "Does so much singing make it an opera? Opera is not just a matter of everything being sung. There is an operatic kind of music, of singing, of staging. There are opera audiences, and there is an opera sensibility. There are opera houses. Sweeney Todd has its occasional operatic moments, but its music overall has the chest notes, the harmonic language, the muscularity, and the edge of Broadway theater."
Donal Henahan wrote an essay in The New York Times concerning the 1984 New York City Opera production: "The difficulty with Sweeney was not that the opera singers were weaklings incapable of filling the State Theater with sound – Miss Elias, who was making her City Opera debut, has sung for many years at the Metropolitan, a far larger house. The other voices in the cast also were known quantities. Rather, it seemed to me that the attempt to actually sing the Sondheim score, which relies heavily on a dramatic parlando or speaking style, mainly showed how far from the operatic vocal tradition the work lies. The score, effective enough in its own way, demanded things of the opera singers that opera singers as a class are reluctant to produce."
The original Broadway pit consisted of a 26 piece orchestra. (The number of percussionists may vary for different shows, though the percussion book is written for two players).Strings: 6 Violins, 2 Violas, 2 Celli, 1 Double Bass, 1 Harp
Brass: 2 Trumpets, 1 French Horn, 2 Trombones, 1 Bass Trombone
Keyboards: 1 Organ/Celesta
Woodwinds: Reed 1: Flute, Piccolo.
Reed 2: Bb and Eb Clarinet, Flute, Piccolo.
Reed 3: Bass Clarinet, Bb Clarinet.
Reed 4: Oboe, English Horn.
Reed 5: Bassoon.
Percussion: (2 Players) 3 Timpani, Bass Drum, Xylophone, Vibraphone, Snare Drum, Tom Toms, Bass Drum with Pedal, Orchestra Bells, Tam-Tam, Chimes, 4 Suspended Cymbals, Wood Block, Crash Cymbals, Bell Tree, Tambourine, Washtub
An alternate orchestration is available from Music Theatre International for a 9 piece orchestra. It was written by Jonathan Tunick for the 1993 London Production.Strings: 1 Violin, 1 Cello, 1 Double Bass
Brass: 1 Trumpet in Bb, 1 French Horn
Woodwinds: Reed 1: Clarinet; Reed 2: Bassoon
Percussion: Bass Drum, Bell Tree, Bells, Chimes, Crotales, Rachet, Side Drum, Snare Drum, Swiss Bell, Tam-Tam, Tambourine, Temple Blocks, Triangle, Tympani, Vibraphone, Whistle, Wood Block, Xylophone
Original orchestrator Jonathan Tunick revised his large orchestration for the 1993 London revival, adding a dirtier, grittier texture to the score's arrangements.
2012 London Revival: 15 piece orchestra.Strings: 2 Violins, 1 Viola, 1 Cello, 1 Double Bass
Brass: 1 French Horn, 2 Trumpets, 1 Trombone
Reed 1: Flute, Clarinet.
Reed 2: Oboe, Cor Anglais.
Reed 3: Clarinet.
Reed 4: Bassoon.
An original Broadway cast recording was released in 1979. It included the Judge's "Johanna" and the tooth-pulling contest from Act I, which had been cut in previews.
A performance of the 1980 touring company was taped before an audience at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles during the first national tour, with additional taping done in an empty theatre. It was televised on September 12, 1982, on The Entertainment Channel and broadcast on PBS. It was later released on both VHS and DVD.
In July 1994, the Royal National Theatre revival production starring Denis Quilley and Julia McKenzie was broadcast by the BBC. Opera North's production was also broadcast by the BBC on March 30, 1998 as was the Royal Opera House production in 2003.
In 1995, the Barcelona cast recorded a cast album sung in Catalan. This production was also broadcast on Spanish television.
The 2000 New York City Concert was recorded and released in a deluxe 2-CD set. This recording was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album.
In 2001, the same concert was held in San Francisco with the same leads and minor cast changes. It was also videotaped and broadcast on PBS, and then was released to VHS and DVD in 2001.
The 2005 Broadway revival also was recorded. The producers originally planned only a single-disk "highlights" version; however, they soon realized that they had recorded more music than could fit on one disk and it was not financially feasible to bring the performers back in to re-record. The followings songs were cut: "Wigmaker Sequence", "The Letter", "Parlor Songs", "City on Fire", and half of the final sequence (which includes "The Judge's Return"). This recording was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album.
The 2012 London revival was recorded and released on April 2, 2012 in the UK and April 10, 2012 in the United States.