Posted by: Mish | January 7, 2008

Sweeney Todd: Stage to Screen

A friend and fellow musical theatre lover asked my thoughts on the new film version of Sweeney Todd. She remembered it was the first production I worked on in college and felt I “would be in a better place to judge than most film-flockers”, to which I humbly say thank you and good memory. It received quite a few thumbs down from the general masses. I watched somewhat amused as at least 4 people, having figured out it included lots of singing, left the theatre. I guess they missed the memo about it being a musical. Of course it’s bloody, it’s about a barber wreaking vengeance and a Tim Burton film. Plus, it’s easier to use gallons of messy red corn syrup and get the desired effect in film than on stage. Cleaning it up is a royal pain in the tuchas, but anyway…

(Burton + Depp + Carter) + Sondheim = High expectations

If it had been anyone else bringing Stephen Sondheim’s infamous Sweeney Todd to the silver screen (again) I would have passed. Tim Burton is one of my favourite directors so thanks to him and everyone involved, the film surpassed expectation.

For not having musical backgrounds, Johnny Depp and fellow cast members surprised me. Johnny Depp is a perfect Ben Barker. Helena Bonham Carter stands beside Angela Lansbury, who originated the role of Mrs. Lovett. Alan Rickman just fits the role of a lecherous villain. I instantly thought Edward Sanders who plays the young Toby would be an excellent orphan Oliver. Anthony Stewart Head is the only one I know of off the top of my head who has an extensive musical theatre background, which is most likely why he has a brief role. It has an all around stellar cast.

The cinematography and designs are phenomenal. The camera movements aren’t excessive, which allows one to focus on the characters, the lines, and the emotions. The lens captures the look in Ben Barker’s eye and gleam of the sharpened straight razor with a capital “M”, for murder. The scene between Mrs. Lovett and Toby was absolutely beautiful and got to the heart of Sondheim’s song “Not While I’m Around”. On stage, facial expressions and tones can’t always be seen or heard clearly.

Sweeney Todd received some rave reviews from the critics. Variety said:

Both sharp and fleet, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street proves a satisfying screen version of Stephen Sondheim’s landmark 1979 theatrical musical. Where much could have gone wrong, things have turned out uniformly right thanks to highly focused direction by Tim Burton, expert screw-tightening by scenarist John Logan, and haunted and musically adept lead performances from Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Assembled artistic combo assures the film will reap by far the biggest audience to see a pure Sondheim musical, although just how big depends on the upscale crowd’s tolerance for buckets of blood, and the degree to which the masses stay away due to the whiff of the highbrow. In all events, DreamWorks-Paramount and Warner Bros. have a classy and reasonably commercial delicacy on their hands.

I’ll be adding the movie and the soundtrack to my musical collection. I don’t feel ripped off or that Stephen Sondheim sold out to Hollywood like I did with Phantom of the Opera. Andrew Lloyd Webber fell out of favor with a lot of long-time fans with that butchered production. Too bad Burton didn’t direct it, he would have done it properly- including get a good cast with musical talent.




  1. I agree with your critique wholeheartedly! Being a singer, I went to see the movie with no hopes of being impressed with Depp or Bonham Carter, but I was! Those two are such top notch actors, and I thought Toby was phenomenal. I was sad that Anthony Stewart Head didn’t have a featured role, knowing how well he sings.
    Great movie, Tim Burton is amazing! And I will be buying the soundtrack to complement the original soundtrack.

  2. I agree about Anthony, but there weren’t any roles he would have really fit. At least he made the chorus. In case you don’t know, his album Music for Elevators is excellent for just chilling.

    Surprisingly, I don’t own the original soundtrack. It’s been one of those “I’ll get it eventually…” There’s just too much good music out there.

    Thanks for visiting. Cheers to good casting!

  3. This is not very often a film comes from stage to screen…

    But Tim Burton & Johnny Depp are talented enough to make it brilliant!

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