Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

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I need to qualify this review. I saw the 1979-1980 Broadway production of Sweeney Todd:The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen. When I left the theater, I was a jumble of nerves, and I didn’t eat any meat for a month. That said, Tim Burton‘s movie is pretty good, just not so terrifying.

Obviously, a director can do more with special effects in a movie than on the stage. Anyone who has ever seen a movie by Tim Burton knows that he brings a certain look to each of his films. Tim Burton also has a rather warped world view; so he and Sweeney Todd are like a match made in heaven.

The tale of Sweeney Todd is based on a nineteenth century London urban legend. The London in the movie appears dark and ominous. It is a dirty, smelly, dangerous place. As the movie opens, Sweeney Todd is sailing into London in the company of a naive, young sailor named Anthony. He thanks Anthony for rescuing him, and they part company for the time being. Anthony will, however, play an important role in the film. I don’t want to say much more about how the plot develops. I don’t enjoy being the spoiler.

This is quite a good movie. The story is very tight, and moves along quickly. The movie uses the Stephen Sondheim music and lyrics from the Broadway show; but some songs have been deleted entirely and some made shorter. This is no problem for a viewer who is not familiar with the songs. While I do admit that I liked the songs that were cut, the Broadway show was too long and I think the movie benefits from this editing.

Although Johnny Depp is certainly a good actor, taking him seriously is difficult. He seems as if he is dressed for Halloween. He seems more comic than menacing. Neither Depp not Helena Bonham Carter have very good singing voices; I think a musical would benefit from more accomplished vocalists.

If blood and guts on the screen are not your thing, then avoid this movie. Or do what I did and cover your eyes during the gross parts. Otherwise, I would recommend this, if only to have an informed opinion when awards season comes along.

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979 Original Broadway Cast)

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