Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Music & Lyrics By:  Stephen Sondheim

Produced By: Nonesuch Records

Reviewed by Melissa Minners



           Sweeney Todd began his life as Benjamin Barker, a successful barber with a beautiful wife and daughter.  Judge Turpin, an arrogant and deceitful man, took a fancy to Barker’s wife and, with the help of his friends, arranged for Barker to be transported to Australia to serve time for a trumped up charge.  When Barker finds his way back to London, he is a changed man, filled with hate and a desire for revenge.  Changing his name to Sweeney Todd, he seeks out his enemies one by one.  Aided by Mrs. Lovett, the owner of a floundering pie shop who has a secret passion for the barber, Sweeney Todd sets out to rid London of its deceitful lot.  However, the thirst for blood is great and Todd soon discovers that he won’t be satisfied with that of Judge Turpin alone.  His path to vengeance leads him further and further away from what he once loved and, in the end, it is Todd that causes the destruction of what he once held dear.

            Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has been performed on the stage as early as the 19th Century.  However, this particular production of the thriller is unique in that it is minimally staged.  Cast members do double duty as musicians for the show.  Therefore, there is no orchestral accompaniment – rare for a Broadway musical indeed.  Stephen Sondheim has outdone himself, creating music and lyrics that evoke a mixture of contrasting emotions from his listeners.  At first, listeners are frightened by the spookiness of the tale.  They are then caught up in the vision of a love at first site.  Shortly afterward, they find themselves cheering on the murder of one of Todd’s enemies, relishing in the fact that someone of such an evil nature has finally been laid to rest.  Laughter abounds as they listen to Todd and Lovett come up with a way to dispose of the bodies of Todd’s enemies.  Finally, the audience trembles as Todd loses control of his thirst for blood and vengeance.

            The performances are amazingly strong.  The harsh, angry tones of Sweeney Todd are ably handled by Tony Award winner Michael Cerveris.  The selection of Patti Lapone (also a Tony Award winner) as Mrs. Lovett provides a perfect contrast to the voice of Cerveris.  The two compliment each other brilliantly.  Lauren Molina provides a standout performance as Todd’s daughter Johanna, whose voice rivals the beauty of that of the birds she sings about.  Manoel Feliciano and Benjamin Magnuson also provide enjoyable performances as Tobias, Mrs. Lovett’s son, and Anthony, the sailor who rescues a shipwrecked Todd and brings him to London in the first place.  The lack of a large orchestra takes nothing away from the musical.  What little accompaniment that is provided by the actors is quite enough to assist the vocals in stirring the emotions of the listeners.

            Prior to receiving the Nonesuch Records release of this cast album, I had only heard brief mention of the tale of Sweeney Todd.  Upon listening to the first couple of tracks, I knew I had stumbled upon something special, and wanted to learn more about the production.  Fortunately, this release of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street contains a small book in addition to the 2 music CDs.  The book contains a synopsis of the story, the lyrics of each track, the origins of the tale, photos, and more.  It is, in my opinion, the most complete soundtrack release I have come across in some time.

            The soundtrack of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street tells a tale full of deceit, anguish, and revenge with surprising twists and brilliant performances that leave the listener wanting more.  After listening to the album, one discovers a growing desire to see the Broadway production of the musical.  Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a soundtrack not to be missed!

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