Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lift your razor high

Tonight I attend the tale of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which, thank the Lord Almighty, was not renamed Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd during its first transfer from stage to silver screen. For the uninitiated, "Sweeney Todd" is a 1979 Stephen Sondheim musical based on a penny dreadful about a barber who avenges the death of his wife and kidnapping of his daughter by slitting the "less honorable throats" of his customers. It's a grand guignol masterpiece about how the meek and wronged rise up to devour (literally) the arrogant and rich. It's thrilling, gruesome, hysterical and utterly moving.

Suffice to say: I am nervous about this adaptation. Right off the bat, Depp is too young and, from leaked footage, appears to be doing his Captain Jack Sparrow accent. Said footage also hints at the disinterested and waif-like performance of Helen Bonham Carter, who should be playing Todd's accomplice Mrs. Lovett with muscular, caterwauling brio (I love HBC, but this was a part for Emma Thompson or Toni Collette). However, based on the trailer, Sondheim's score -- perhaps the grandest and most accomplished of the entire musical theatre canon -- seems largely unaltered or diluted by its blockbusterization. This gives me hope.

I will report back with a review tonight or tomorrow. Til then, do yourself a favor and sit down with the original Broadway recording of Sweeney Todd, starring Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury (who I would've cast in a second, despite her age). Or watch these clips of Lansbury and George Hearn (who surpasses Cariou) in this filmed-for-television production. The first scene is when Sweeney misses an opportunity to kill his nemesis; the second is the first-act finale, in which Mrs. Lovett comes up with the brilliant idea to grind and bake their victims into meat pies. It's a triumph of punnery.