Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. The musical is based on the 19th century legend of Sweeney Todd, and specifically upon the 1973 play by Christopher Bond.
"Sweeney Todd" begins as the company, Citizens of London, gather for a no-frills burial, dumping a body in a bag and a can of human ashes into a shallow grave. The company sings the first BALLAD OF SWEENEY TODD, a thematic song which will appear several times during the course of the Musical. The Ballad asks the audience to "attend the tale" of "the demon barber of Fleet Street," who "served a dark and a vengeful god." After Todd himself rises from his grave and joins the chorus, the story begins.
It is London, 1845. At the docks of the city, a small ship returns bearing two men: Anthony Hope and Sweeney Todd. Anthony is a cheerful young sailor, Todd a grim, hulking figure in his late 40s. Anthony is excited to see his home again and joyfully exclaims that there's NO PLACE LIKE LONDON, but Mr. Todd is despondent and oddly distracted. "You are young," he tells Anthony. "Life has been kind to you. You will learn." They are accosted by a ragged, half-mad beggar woman, who alternately begs for money and offers herself for prostitution. Todd drives her off when she thinks she recognizes him. When Anthony questions him on his melancholy, Todd replies that London is the source of it. It is the pit of the world, and he has seen terrible things. For example, many years ago, a young barber was destroyed by the city, whose only crime was having a beautiful wife (THE BARBER AND HIS WIFE). It is a terrible, sad story, and one without an end. The two men part ways, Todd telling Anthony that he can find him in Fleet Street.
Todd travels to Fleet Street, and enters the empty Meat Pie Shop run by Mrs. Nellie Lovett, a vigorous, slatternly woman of 40. Mrs. Lovett is understandably surprised to see a customer, given that her pies are the self-admitted WORST PIES IN LONDON, because she can’t afford the meat. When she stops to take a breath, Todd asks her about the empty room above the shop. If times are so hard, why doesn't she rent it out. People won't go near it, she says. "Years ago, something happened up there, something... not very nice." It seems that fifteen years earlier a talented young barber, Benjamin Barker, had lived with his wife and baby daughter in the room above, but one day the beautiful Mrs. Barker attracted the attentions of the wealthy Judge Turpin. The Judge and his assistant, the Beadle pursued the Wife, but she remained obstinate. So the Judge had her husband arrested on a false charge, after which he raped the POOR THING.
At this, Todd can take no more and he cries out, confirming Mrs. Lovett’s suspicions. "So it is you, Benjamin Barker," she says. He has returned from the penal camps in Australia after fifteen years to find his wife and child. But Mrs. Lovett has only bad news. His wife, Lucy, took poison, and his daughter, Johanna, was adopted by the selfsame Judge who raped her mother and destroyed her father. Todd swears revenge, but the practical Mrs. Lovett is more concerned with Todd's survival in the city and a source of income for him. But she has a way for him to keep himself afloat. She has kept his razors, the finest in England. He can be a barber again. Todd clutches the instruments and sings softly to "MY FRIENDS" of the ruby-red that will soon adorn their silver sheen, while Mrs. Lovett quietly reminds him that she is his friend as well. Todd stands up, a mad gleam in his eye, and holds his razor aloft. "At last," he cries, "my arm is complete again!" The company returns to the stage to sing the BALLAD OF SWEENEY TODD: LIFT YOUR RAZOR HIGH, SWEENEY!.
The Scene changes to the street outside Judge Turpin’s house. Fifteen years have passed, and Benjamin Barker’s daughter has grown into a stunningly beautiful young woman. As Johanna stands at her window, looking at the wares of a bird seller and wondering why the caged GREEN FINCH AND LINNET BIRD still sing, Anthony Hope wanders past and is immediately struck by the girl’s beauty, crying out "AH, MISS." After finding out who she is from the passing beggar woman (who again offers herself to him), he buys a bird for her, and she comes down to retrieve it. Their hands touch, and it is love at first sight (JOHANNA). But their youthful passion is interrupted by the return of the Judge, who sends Anthony packing and whose affectionate attitude towards Johanna is not entirely fatherly. But Anthony has fallen hard, and he swears to free Johanna from the tyrannical rule of her guardian.
The next day, Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett visit the town square, where the "king of the barbers, and barber of kings," Adolfo Pirelli, has set up shop. Outside Pirelli’s caravan, his maltreated assistant, Tobias Ragg, a lame and simple boy, drums up trade to sell PIRELLI’S MIRACLE ELIXIR. Todd sniffs a bottle of the wonderful hair-restorer and declares it a mixture of urine and ink. Pirelli himself, a very flamboyant Italian, comes out to quiet down the crowd, and Todd takes the opportunity to challenge him to a shaving contest, with the just-arrived Beadle Bamford as the judge. Pirelli puts on a fine show, filled with operatic high notes, but Todd shaves his man in two shakes of a lamb’s tail and wins THE CONTEST. Pirelli pulls out five pounds from a gaudy purse and departs with his tail between his legs. The contest has an added bonus: the Beadle has promised to stop by Todd’s shop before the week is out and be treated to "the closest shave you will ever know". Once more, the company comes out, this time to sing THE BALLAD OF SWEENEY TODD: SWEENEY PONDERED AND SWEENEY PLANNED.
In his rooms, the Judge wrestles with his lust for his young ward JOHANNA as he clutches a bible and flagellates himself. The Judge, whose pious, righteous exterior cannot hide the perverted love for the daughter of the woman he destroyed, loses the battle with his own lust and decides that he will marry her.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Lovett drives the old beggar woman from her door as Todd paces his room, eager for the Beadle to come under his razor, though Mrs. Lovett encourages him to WAIT. Anthony arrives, fairly bursting with the tale of his new-found love and his plans for elopement. When Sweeney realizes that Anthony is talking about his daughter, he agrees to let the girl stay in his rooms while Anthony hires the coach to Plymouth. Anthony rushes out to visit his love, but before Mrs. Lovett can begin talking again, the couple is interrupted by Pirelli, accompanied by young Tobias. As Mrs. Lovett takes the boy downstairs Pirelli reveals his true colors and tries to blackmail Todd. Pirelli is a stage name--he used to be Danny O'Higgins, an Irish down-and-out who Mr. Benjamin Barker hired to sweep up hair and clean the shop. He has recognized Todd’s razors and the barber himself, and now demands half of Todd’s weekly earnings to keep his silence. Todd is roused to action, and as Mrs. Lovett smothers Tobias with motherly affection downstairs, he slits the throat of the blackmailer. Again, the company fills the stage to sing THE BALLAD OF SWEENEY TODD: HIS HANDS WERE QUICK, HIS FINGERS STRONG.
Anthony discovers Johanna in a state of panic about her upcoming marriage. He calms her down, kisses her, and tells her of his plans to elope and his name, which she doesn’t know, and asks her to KISS ME. She agrees and they rapturously duet. Meanwhile The Judge is heading home early, accompanied by the Beadle. Turpin is perplexed about Johanna’s reluctance to marry. The Beadle advises that it is a simple matter of his personal appearance, and tells him all about LADIES IN THEIR SENSITIVITIES. The Judge agrees to get a shave, and The Beadle recommends a miraculous barber: Sweeney Todd.
The selfsame barber is still cleaning his razor of blood and Mrs. Lovett, always practical, is taking Pirelli’s gaudy purse off the body, which has been dumped in a large chest in the corner, when the Judge arrives. Todd’s moment has come, and he takes his time, easing the Judge into the chair and giving him a last shave. Victim and murderer join in song in praise of PRETTY WOMEN. But just as the razor is about to swing down over the Judge’s throat, Anthony Hope bursts into the tonsorial parlor and shouts joyfully that Johanna will marry him. The Judge flies into anger, promising to "lock Johanna in some osbcure retreat, where neither you nor any other vile, corrupting youth shall ever lay eyes on her again." He also promises, given the company Todd keeps, to never use his services again. He storms out. Anthony follows him, not about to argue with Sweeney's command to get out.
Todd’s sanity, which has been sorely tested for fifteen years, finally snaps and he has an EPIPHANY: "They all deserve to die," "because the lives of the wicked should be made brief; for the rest of us death will be a relief." He swears that he will get the Judge back, and in the meantime he will practice his craft upon every customer who comes his way. His wife lies in ashes and he will never see his daughter again, but he has a new purpose in life and he is full of joy.
Mrs. Lovett is unfazed by this outburst. "That’s all very well," she says, "but what are we going to do about the Italian?" The obvious solution is to bury it. But Mrs. Lovett has an epiphany of her own: Her business needs a lift, and with the price of meat being what it is, and the corpse being so plump and tender, and with all the customers Todd will be getting, why not use them? The psychotic couple go into hysterics at the thought of the taste of their pies, based on society, starting with A LITTLE PRIEST.
Several months later, business is booming at Mrs. Lovett’s old-fashioned meat pie shop (with one key secret ingredient). Tobias is now drumming up business for his new mistress to the same tune he hawked Pirelli’s elixir. Mrs. Lovett flits around the garden in a fancy new dress, serving and chatting, while the crowd yells out "GOD, THAT'S GOOD." Todd’s establishment, too, has flourished, though he does not have much repeat business. He has made enough money to buy a very special chair, one that when a lever is pulled turns into a slide that connects with a chute leading down to Mrs. Lovett’s bake house.
Todd lives his days in a fog. He cuts the throats of his customers mindlessly, thinking only of JOHANNA. Anthony also thinks of her as he wanders the streets, looking for her and hearing her voice everywhere . And the Beggar woman is still creeping about, screaming of the foul-smelling smoke issuing from Mrs. Lovett’s bake house each night.
Anthony finds his love under terrible circumstances: he hears her voice singing from inside Mr. Fogg’s asylum for the Mentally Deranged. The Judge has had her committed. When he makes a scene trying to get in The Beadle drives him away.
After a long week’s work, Mrs. Lovett and Todd sit down to relax in Mrs. Lovett’s refurnished parlor, complete with second-hand harmonium. While Mrs. Lovett dreams of matrimony and domesticity BY THE SEA, Todd broods on nothing but the wrongs done to him and how to get to the Judge. Opportunity knocks when Anthony rushes in with Johanna’s whereabouts. Todd has a solution: the wigmakers of the city get the human hair for their wigs from the lunatics at Bedlam. He dresses Anthony as a wigmaker and sends him off with a pistol to set Johanna free, with instructions to bring her back to his shop (WIGMAKER SEQUENCE), interrupted briefly by members of the company, singing THE BALLAD OF SWEENEY TODD: SWEENEY WAITED TO LONG. After the young man leaves, he puts the second half of his plan in motion and writes THE LETTER to the Judge, telling him to come to his parlor if he wants to see the girl again.
But a wrench is thrown into Todd’s plan. Tobias has grown very fond of Mrs. Lovett, but he does not trust Todd, and tells Lovett that "Nothing's gonna harm you, NOT WHILE I'M AROUND." His suspicions are confirmed when he spots Pirelli’s gaudy purse, which Mrs. Lovett has kept, and the simple boy puts two and two together and realizes that it was in Todd’s parlor that his last master disappeared. Mrs. Lovett distracts him by taking him into the bake house where she promises that he can help her make the pies. He must put the meat through the grinder three times, she says, slowly and evenly. While he is trying out the meat grinder she locks him in.
She returns upstairs to find another surprise: the Beadle has come for an inspection, and is seated at her harmonium singing old PARLOR SONGS. When Todd returns, she sends the Beadle upstairs for a free shave. Meanwhile, Tobias has discovered a hair in a pie, "black as a rock" and obviously not Mrs. Lovett's. Then a fingernail. Just as he realizes that he is locked in, the bloody body of Beadle Bamford comes down the chute.
Anthony, in his wigmaker disguise, is being given a tour of the asylum by its owner, Jonas Fogg, who seems just as mad as the lunatics under his care. When Anthony finds Johanna among the crowd, he pulls his gun on Fogg. But he cannot fire, and it is the desperate Johanna who grabs the pistol and shoots him down. As the lunatics run amok on the streets of London and Anthony and Johanna run, Mrs. Lovett and Todd search for Tobias in the cellars beneath the bake house and the beggar woman shouts warnings to the Beadle, whom she has seen entering Todd's parlor.
Anthony and Johanna arrive at the barber shop to find it empty. Anthony leaves to hire a coach to Plymouth while Johanna waits at the parlor disguised in sailor's clothes. Johanna hears the voice of the beggar woman, calling for the Beadle and, frightened, hides in the same chest Pirelli’s body was hidden in. The Beggar woman enters the room, and she seems to recognize the place. She opens the window, and sings a lullaby to an imaginary child. But the mad crone has little time to sort out her addled thoughts for suddenly Todd is there, and he has no time to waste with a mad crone’s warnings of the "Devil’s Wife" who lives below him, for the Judge is coming. He slits her throat and sends her tumbling down the chute just as the Judge storms in.
Todd’s moment of revenge has come. He assures the Judge that Johanna is waiting for him downstairs, and he should make himself presentable. As the Judge sits Todd finally reveals himself as the barber he had wronged so many years ago. Judge Turpin dies with the name of Benjamin Barker on his lips.
It is only after his revenge has been completed that Todd remembers Tobias. He heads down the stairs but must go back for his razor. He discovers Johanna who, thinking him gone, has climbed out of the chest. But Sweeney Todd’s eyes do not see his beloved daughter. All he sees is a young sailor boy who may have seen too much. Johanna is forced into the chair and the razor is posed over her throat when Mrs. Lovett screams from the bake house and the girl uses the opportunity to escape.
Todd rushes downstairs to find his partner dragging the Beggar woman to the huge oven in which she cooks her pies. The Judge had held onto her skirt as he died. Now there is nothing left to do but drag the bodies into the oven. She cries out to stop Todd as he reaches for the Beggar woman. A shaft of light crosses the crone’s face and Todd recognizes her. "'Don’t I know you?' she said!," he cries out. She was his wife - his Lucy. And Mrs. Lovett knew she was alive, knew that the poison didn’t kill her, and she let him think she was dead. And because of her lies, he killed the only person he ever really loved.
Mrs. Lovett defends herself frantically, saying she did it for him. Would he have wanted to know that his beloved Lucy had gone mad? And besides, she would have made twice a wife as Lucy, and now they can be together. Her justifications reach a frantic level and Todd howls over his wife's body. But Mr. Todd will have none of it, and as Mrs. Lovett is singing of her love for him he hurls her into the same oven where she baked her terrible pies. Todd cradles the body of his wife as Tobias creeps out of the shadows. What he has seen has taken the boy’s mind and his hair has turned completely white. He is reciting nursery rhymes, "Patty cake, patty cake, baker's man. Bake me a cake... no, no, bake me a pie." He approaches Mr. Todd, picking up the razor from where the barber dropped it reciting "Razor, razor. Cut, cut, cut, cadougan. Watch me grind me corn." Todd opens his collar. He offers no resistance. "Pat him, and prick him, and mark him with a "B"", Tobias chants unthinkinging, "and Put him in the oven for Baby and me!". Tobias cuts his throat and Sweeney Todd dies over the body of Lucy. All of this happens in the FINAL SEQUENCE.
Johanna and Anthony, accompanied by the police, burst in to find the boy and the bloody corpses of the Judge, the Beadle, Lucy, and Todd. "Pardon me, Ladies and Gentlemen," he tells them. "But You may not enter here. My mistress don't let nobody in here. There's work to be done. So much work to be done." He smiles vacently and begins to madly turn the handle of the meat grinder, just as Mrs. Lovett showed him how. "Three times," he says. "That's the secret. Three times through the Grinder for the meat to be all tender and juicy. Smoothly. Smoothly."
The whole company, dead and alive, comes around to tell the audience to ATTEND THE TALE OF SWEENEY TODD, that "to seek revenge may lead to hell, but everyone does it, and seldom as well," and guesses that "perhaps today you gave a nod to Sweeney Todd: the demon barber of Fleet Street."
The original production opened on Broadway at the Uris Theatre on March 1, 1979 and starred Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou. It won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and the Tony Award for Best Musical of 1979. The original Broadway production played 557 performances. A DVD of the original touring company is now available, with George Hearn playing the demon barber. A Broadway revival was staged in 1989.
In the early 2000s, Sweeney Todd gained acceptance with opera companies throughout the United States and the United Kingdom. Bryn Terfel, the popular Welsh bass-baritone performed the title role at Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2002. It was performed at the Royal Opera House in London as part of its 2003-2004 season. Sweeney Todd also enjoyed two major concert productions - one with the New York Philharmonic in 2000, and one with the San Francisco Symphony in 2001. Both versions starred George Hearn and Patti LuPone.
A second revival opened on September 14, 1989. The production starred Bob Gunton and Beth Fowler.
In Spring 2005, the John Doyle production of the show (that opened at London's Trafalgar Studios on July 9th 2004, before transferring to the New Ambassadors from 11th October 2004) transferred to Broadway. The same production toured the UK with Jason Donovan in the title role. This Broadway revival opened on November 3, 2005. The production stars Tony Award winners Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone. This version of Sweeney is smaller than the original Broadway production, with a 10 person cast. Instead of a full orchestra, each member of the cast plays at least one instrument, with the instrumentation adding additional representation and development to the characters. It was nominated for the 2005 Tony for Best Musical Revival. It has been announced that this production of Sweeney Todd will close September 3rd, 2006 (at that time, it will have played 349 performances), with a tour set for 2007.
At one point Sam Mendes was planning to direct a film adaptation. On October 13, movie studio RJ Blindside announced it was looking to adapt the musical for the big screen.citation needed Tim Burton is set to direct a DreamWorks Studios film version for release in late 2007. Johnny Depp will star in the adaptation scripted by Walter Parkes, Laurie MacDonald, Richard Zanuck and John Logan.
Kevin Smith's film Jersey Girl (2004) and the BBC Telefilm Tomorrow la Scala! use Sondheim's Sweeney Todd as a major plot device.
Original Broadway Cast - 1979
There is a cast recording of this cast.
Touring Cast - 1982
This cast was filmed for television.
Circle in the Square Revival Cast - 1989
New York Philharmonic Concert Version - 2000
There is a cast recording of this cast.
San Francisco Symphony Concert Version - 2001
This cast was filmed for television.
Kennedy Center Production - 2002
Watermill Theatre Production 2004
The Watermill Theatre is the origin of the current Broadway production and they share the same creative team.
Current Broadway Revival - 2005
There is a cast recording of this cast.
Judy Kaye played the role of Mrs. Lovett from July 27, 2006 until August 13, 2006 while Patti LuPone was on vacation.
Creative - 2005
Sondheim's score to Sweeney is one of his most complex to date. He relies heavily on counterpoint and rich, "angular" harmonies in the show. The compositional style of Sweeney has been compared to that of Maurice Ravel, Sergei Prokofiev, and Bernard Herrmann, whom Sondheim admits to be an influence (he has specifically cited Herrmann's score to Hangover Square, with its "always unresolved" harmonies).  Sondheim also quotes the ancient Dies Irae Gregorian chant, both as part of the eponymous ballad that runs throughout the score ("Swing your razor wide, Sweeney!") in an inversion later on ("These are my friends..."), and in the accompaniment to Epiphany. Sondheim also relies heavily on leitmotif - at least twenty distinct ones can be identified throughout the score.
Awards and nominations
At the 1979 Tony Awards, the original Broadway production of Sweeney Todd was nominated for nine awards and won in each of those categories with the exception of Ken Billington's lighting design, which was nominated, but lost to Roger Morgan and The Crucifer of Blood.
Additionally in 1979, Ken Jennings and Sarah Rice were honored with Theatre World Awards for their work with Sweeney Todd and the show was extended the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award.
The 1989 Broadway revival was nominated in the 1990 Tony Awards in:
Additionally in 1994 Alun Armstrong won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance as Sweeney Todd at the Royal National Theatre.
The 2005 Broadway Revival was nominated for the following Tony Awards: