Sunday, June 3, 2012

'Sweeney Todd' - My favourite Sondheim

I am sure lots of people with an interest in musical theatre and otherwise have seen the Tim Burton film, starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. The film is based on this Stephen Sondheim musical which was first performed on Broadway in 1979. 

Sweeney Todd at Adelphi Theatre
Performance: Friday 18th May at 19:30
Seat: Rear left Dress Circle, £30
Cast included: Michael Ball (Sweeney Todd), Imelda Staunton (Mrs Lovett), John Bowe (Judge Turpin), Peter Polycarpou (Beadle Bamford), Robert Burt (Pirelli), James McConville (Tobias), Lucy May Barker (Johanna), Luke Brady (Anthony), Gillian Kirkpatrick (Beggar Woman)

This always reminds me of a film poster.
This production transferred to the West End after a successful run at the Chichester Festival Theatre. Its popularity does not surprise me. After all, the film has made Sweeney Todd the musical more popular, and it stars Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton. I would happily have paid fora ticket just to see the two of them perform. Michael Ball has done a lengthy career both as a stage actor and a solo singer having played, amongst others, Marius in the original London cast of Les Misérables, Alex in Aspects of Love in both West End and on Broadway as well as more recently Edna in Hairspray. Imelda Staunton is perhaps nowadays best known for her portrayal of Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films but she has also participated in a large number of stage productions.

Photo: Jonathan Hordle/Rex Features
Staunton pretty much stole the show: she acted the part of Mrs Lovett brilliantly and her comic timing was excellent. I had had a difficult time imagining Professor Umbridge as Mrs Lovett to be honest but as it turned out, Staunton's portrayal of Mrs Lovett was nothing like Umbridge. You could not tell it was the same person behind the two characters! She also sang well: her voice was rough and focused on acting and character rather than attempting to make it sound pretty.
Michael Ball did a great job of Sweeney. He also had a 'Sweeney voice' - his singing as the character sounded very different to the sound I have learnt to associate him with and I was very much in agreement with the choice he had made there as it suited the character.
The third special mention goes to Gillian Kirkpatrick for her portrayal of the Beggar Woman. In comparison to the film, the part of the Beggar Woman had been given much more weight in the stage version throughout.

Having just made a comparison between this stage production and the film (because you do that automatically if the film is the reason behind being acquainted with Sweeney Todd in the first place), I feel obliged to point out that they are completely different from each other and that one probably would not get very far if they went to the theatre expecting to see a replica of the film. The characterisations are totally different and obviously that famous artistic touch Tim Burton tends to add to all his work is naturally not there. You will get much more out of it if you go and treat the two as separate things.

Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Visually Sweeney Todd was amazing. The overall darkness and gloom had been brilliantly captured. I did not expect there to be as much fake blood as there was as well. I thought Todd would be cutting the throats open out of view but with a bit of blood you could well do it in front of the audience. There was even a chair which tipped the body down the passageway in the floor. All this was very believable! I should not even need to comment on the music - it is magnificently powerful. This one is now definitely my favourite Sondheim musical.

Sweeney Todd is only doing a limited run, until 22nd September 2012 so get your tickets booked!
Official website:


  1. I saw this when I visited London last month - and I agree, it was amazing! I had seen movie, but also the DVD with Angela Lansbury, so I knew to expect something not quite like the movie... But I think I liked this production better than both of the versions I'd already seen!

    1. I did not know there was a DVD with Angela Lansbury (although I have heard her do Mrs Lovett on the soundtrack). I will keep a look-out for that now.
      This new production was just incredible. As stated, I didn't expect it to be as visually satisfying as it was and obviously the vocals were stunning.

  2. Thanks for the review! I've only seen the movie, too, but I'd love to see the musical on stage someday, I find it's the most interesting of Sondheim's works. There's a Finnish translation by Juice Leskinen but I'm not sure if it's even been performed on stage yet, or then it was a short run in the National Opera.

    1. Yeah, definitely go and see it on stage if you get the chance.
      I am rather intrigued as to how the whole musical would work in Finnish and in Finland due to the setting being so very London and obviously with the variations in the way they speak and such (then again, I thought the same thing about 'My Fair Lady' and that has been performed in Finland numerous times). I should think they'd do a production in Finland at some point.

  3. Interesting views on the actors. I particularly liked your mention of the beggar woman, which I didn't in my review of the same production on my review blog.

    I imagine the show would sound very different in Finnish if it went over there sometime. Would the whole production be done in Finnish or just the acting? It would be interesting to see!

    1. I felt the need to mention the Beggar Woman because, after the two leads she was the one who stood out to me! Her acting was brilliant.

      In Finland theatre is generally done in Finnish so I am pretty certain both the songs and the script would be translated. They have done some great productions of famous musicals in Finland in the past so 'Sweeney Todd' would definitely be an interesting one to see there.

    2. Hi and sorry to be so very late with my comment on this... As Laura mentioned before, there has been a Sweeney Todd production in Finnish National Opera back in 1997. It was both sung and acted in Finnish with the translation by famous Finnish rock musician Juice Leskinen. Sweeney's part was played by operatic singer Sauli Tiilikainen and Mrs Lovett by Ritva Auvinen. And I've actually seen the show! (Though I don't remember much about it as being 12 yrs old at the time... :)) As a Sondheim-lover I was sad that I didn't have the opportunity to see this Sweeney with Ball and Staunton but I'm still wishing I could somehow and someday see the version on screen. Lucky you who saw it on the stage! :)