Digging Deeper into Sweeney Todd
Sweeney Todd: a fictional character who made his first appearance in 1846 in a Victorian penny dreadful entitled “The String of Pearls.” The story of the demonic barber quickly became a popular urban legend. The most famous retelling of the tale is definitely Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Sondheim’s brilliant and macabre musical opened on Broadway in 1979 and on the West End in 1980, winning both the Tony Award and the Olivier Award for Best New Musical. In addition to the numerous stage revivals, there was also a blockbuster movie version released in 2007.
For me, the brilliance of the show is found in the way Sondheim handles a bizarre and dark topic. On paper, one would think that this musical would have to be an over the top comedy to make such a “gross” topic work, but due to Sondheim’s lyrical genius, ability to use subtlety where others might have been ham-fisted, and storytelling through song, the audience member often forgets that she is watching a show about a barber who murders his clients and then uses their flesh as pie meat in partnership with a local baker.
The opening number in the musical, "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd," which we are presenting at this concert, is absolutely brilliant. Sondheim sets the stage for the entire show through his choice of time signature, key signature, tonal and harmonic structure, and poetry. The audience is captivated immediately by what this song suggests might be awaiting them over the next few hours. Never one to shy away from making his actors sing ludicrously difficult passages, especially in regards to vocal range, this song sees the sopranos singing high D’s (above high C). The role of Sweeney himself is widely considered one of the most difficult roles to sing due to the wide vocal range it requires.
Sweeney Todd is a masterpiece, and one that CoroAllegro eagerly anticipates sharing with you. Following our concert, I encourage you to seek out an opportunity to see the musical in its entirety – you won’t be disappointed!
CoroAllegro Artistic Director and Broadway musicals connoisseur
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