Saturday, July 23, 2011

Stephen Sondheim: Sweeney Todd

     Before I get into the review, I hope you've noticed the brand spanking new look of the blog! I think it gives the site a lot more warmth and personality,and hope you enjoy it too! Sweeney Todd is one of the longest running characters ever imagined. First brought to life in 1847, there have been numerous reinventions of this famously dark man. This review however, is on the musical version. Not the 2009 movie soundtrack, which is the main Google search result, but rather the original cast recording of Stephen Sondheim's 1979 stage masterpiece. Running for just under two hours, this double disc collection is simply astounding, with it's length helping that complete envelopment which makes musicals so good, and this one of my favourite. If you've seen Tim Burton's movie, which I have, you'll understand this better, but lots of individual numbers have been understandably missed out. The main one being the short ballads of Sweeney Todd. The first of these is the prelude, and not wanting to ruin the story for you, I've put that as the embedded mp3 down below. In short, I never get bored of this and I'm sure you wouldn't either. It's one of the darkest and most fantastic musicals ever written.
     That being said, the dark theme based around revenge, murder and hatred is offset by lighter tracks. The deuteragonist Mrs Lovett in particular has a few happier tracks, but ultimately falls into the pit of despair as the musical comes to it's dramatic ending. With that line of the play running straight and true, another weaves it's way in and out of the protagonist's. A tale of love and youth contrasts with Sweeny's loss of such things. All of these varying matters might make the musical sound busy and complicated, but the storylines all intertwine from the very beginning to the very end, making for a very gripping and interesting story that you're required to follow. Also, unlike other musicals, where the voices sound alike, thus making a solely audible experience flawed, each character here has a unique sound, making this a uniquely brilliant affair. Frankly, you just need to listen.
     Without giving too much of the story away then, here are a few stand-out tracks. Of the most subtly oustanding elements here for me, are the ballads of Sweeney Todd. These poke up four times throughout the musical, and are sang from the point of view of people standing by. This not only gives the sense of a story being told, but carries that story along magnificently. They're the interludes between acts in a way, and as well as being exceptionally performed, the music in them is orchestrated beautifully. The acting from Len Caribou is also excellent. He sounds decidedly older than Johnny Depp if you've seen that film, but that's a good thing. There is a sense of a man, broken and treated terribly throughout his life, and in a way there is something a lot darker about a man your father's age killing people. Mrs Lovett also sounds more like a poor Londoner and Judge Turpin a dirty old man. Song-wise, each and every one is written with a passion that comes across and makes this a polished work worthy of it's acclaim. From the catchy 'Green Finch And Linnet Bird' to the hilarious 'Pirelli's miracle elixir' and 'Parlor Songs', they are all absolutely inspiring, and true theatrical classics.
     It's quite hard to write about the songs when you don't want to spoil the story, or it's exceptional surprise ending. And I really don't. You need to listen through the whole twenty-nine tracks yourself in order to truly experience the impression it leaves. I've listened to most of the great musicals, and this is on par with the likes of 'Les Miserables' and 'Phantom of the Opera', if not better. It's gripping and ever-fresh sound draws you back to it again and again. It's a dark and thought-provoking mix of both the humorous, catchy and serious, all of which fuse to create something varied and attention grabbing. This isn't like one of our usual reviews, but needs proclaiming. This is  must, so check out Stephen Sondheim's musical epic, 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street'.