Today we’re walking a whole new branch of nerdiness–musicals. We’ve all been raised on musicals to a certain degree thanks to musical films, especially Walt Disney Classics. But then there’s musical theatre, another side to the mixture of story and the emotional context that music can provide.
So, when they make a movie of a theatre musical, does that make it musical film or musical theatre? That’s right, I ask the deep questions here.
Well, regardless, we’re touching on one of my favorite musicals and one of its great pieces for Tuesday Tunes. I’d like to forever thank my best friend, Laurelyn, for introducing me to this musical back in 2008–it’s remained a favorite to this day.
If you aren’t familiar with Sweeney Todd, he’s a character that was first written into existence in 1846 in a Victorian penny dreadful. He eventually went on to become a sort of London urban legend, and his tale was later adapted for the musical stage by Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim’s adaptation, titled Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, went on to be a Tony-winning Broadway musical, and was later adapted for film by Tim Burton in 2007.
Sweeney Todd‘s story follows a man named Benjamin Barker, a barber with a lovely wife, Lucy, and daughter. A judge named Turpin, lusting after Lucy, falsely convicts Benjamin of a crime that puts him away for fifteen years.
Upon Benjamin’s return to London, he finds his old barber shop on Fleet Street turned into a pie shop run by Mrs. Nellie Lovett. She reveals to him the fate of his wife: raped by Judge Turpin, she poisons herself with arsenic. Benjamin’s daughter, Johanna, is now in the care of the same judge who essentially orphaned her.
Mrs. Lovett, who has always loved Benjamin, quickly realizes who he is. She helps him to take the new identity of Sweeney Todd and reopen the barber shop in order to seek his revenge on Judge Turpin.
Sweeney Todd is insanely star-studded, including Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, and Sacha Baron Cohen. While I usually find that film adaptations of musicals full of well-known faces seem to include an ear-splitting addition (I’m looking at you, Les Misérables and Mama Mia!), but not Sweeney Todd.
I always knew that Bonham Carter and Cohen were experienced musically, but I was surprised by the effective portrayals by the rest of the cast. Really, the 2007 film is a fantastic rendition of the original musical. For me, Depp adds a lot to scenes that I previously wasn’t super into in the original musical, like him and Rickman’s “Pretty Women“.
However, it’s the chemistry between Todd and Mrs. Lovett that kicks this adaptation into overdrive. The way they play off each other (and harmonize) beautifully. Depp and Bonham Carter have worked together multiple times before, but they work the unique relationship between Todd and Mrs. Lovett in a naturally convincing and heart wrenching way.
Mrs. Lovett’s unrequited and illusory love for Todd is sad in multiple ways. She is utterly devoted to his cause for revenge, especially as it further draws them together. Her delusional admiration in conjunction with Todd’s now dry heart provides a lot of humor to what’s otherwise a very dark tale.
It’s this very dynamic that places “A Little Priest” as one of my favorite tunes from Sweeney Todd. After his attempt at murdering Turpin is thwarted, Todd vows to never let anyone get in his way again. Basically, he’s pledging to murder as many people as it takes to get his hands on Turpin again. Mrs. Lovett then spurs an idea: bake Todd’s victims into delicious pies.
“A Little Priest” displays the dark humor of Sweeney Todd in all its glory, as Todd and Mrs. Lovett discuss the business enterprise that would be the flavors of different victims. It’s wonderfully silly even within it’s unholy premise.
If you haven’t seen Sweeney Todd, it’s currently streaming on Netflix. It’s rated R for, well, tons of death scenes, and so worth the watch. Otherwise, sample the entire soundtrack on YouTube. (For me, I didn’t actually enjoy the soundtrack until I saw it in action–and then, you know, I totally loved all of it–so I recommend watching the movie first.)
What are some of your favorite musicals?