One of the darkest musicals to hit the Broadway stage is now on the big screen, thanks to director Tim Burton. It’s Stephen Sondheim’s dark masterpiece, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Johnny Depp plays Sweeney, a man sent to prison by a pious, yet corrupt judge who did so to get to Sweeney’s wife. Sweeney’s back and thirsty for revenge. Thanks to his barber’s razor blades, saved for Sweeney by pie shop owner, Mrs. Lovett, he may have it.
But, there’s no sense in rushing. Sweeney needs some practice and he and Mrs. Lovett need some money. So, they hatch a scheme in which Sweeney kills a few customers here and there and then Mrs. Lovett serves them up in meat pies.
Needless to say, this isn’t your typical Broadway show. In fact, it barely falls into the category of Broadway, thanks to the master Broadway composer, Stephen Sondheim. This work, arguably his strongest, is often produced by light opera companies, it’s that good. The score is one of the most moving, demanding an emotional response from you, whether you want to give one or not. And, the lyrics are so well crafted, you’ll walk away knowing you’ve heard something of significance, but thinking it over, trying to figure out exactly what it is.
Sweeney Todd is one of my favorite Broadway musicals. And, Tim Burton is one of my favorite film directors. Unfortunately, Burton usually messes with his source material, when he’s not working on one of his original stories. His dabbling usually diminishes the final product. Not here. Thankfully, Burton decided not to add back stories or mess too much with Sondheim’s work. While songs are reduced in length for time’s sake, the spirit of the stage show is still very much intact.
And, let me warn you again, this is not The Sound of Music type of Broadway. People are murdered, chopped up and served in meat pies. There’s blood. Lot’s of blood. And, the themes are quite dark. This isn’t really horror, though. It’s social commentary. To help drive that home, there’s also a lot of humor in the mix, which really messes with your senses, as you’re repulsed and yet enjoying yourself at the same time.