The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
A Musical Thriller
Music and Lyrics by STEPHEN SONDHEIM and Book by HUGH WHEELER
From an Adaptation by CHRISTOPHER BOND
Originally Directed on Broadway by HAROLD PRINCE
Orchestrations by JONATHAN TUNICK
Originally Produced on Broadway by RICHARD BARR, CHARLES WOODWARD, ROBERT FRYER, MARY LEA JOHNSON, MARTIN RICHARDS
In Association with DEAN and JUDY MANOS
Directed by JACKIE MAXWELL
Musical direction by PAUL SPORTELLI
Choreography by VALERIE MOORE
Designed by JUDITH BOWDEN
Lighting designed by ALAN BRODIE
Sound designed by JOHN LOTT
“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd!”
Two men arrive in London, one young and hopeful, the other dark and brooding. Anthony Hope and Sweeney Todd – a barber by trade – are about to become inextricably linked in a tale of love and revenge, with a beautiful girl who sings through her barred window, a beggar woman with a mysterious secret and the irrepressible Mrs Lovett whose pie shop becomes the surprising scene of the crime. Darkly comic and brilliantly unsettling – one of Stephen Sondheim’s most celebrated musicals.
“We have a great relationship with Stephen Sondheim’s work here at The Shaw. The literate genius behind works such as A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park with George and Follies is a perfect match for our mastery of texts of all kinds and the music is a glorious challenge that we always revel in. Sweeney Todd is a perfect fit for us on so many levels and I have given it to myself to direct as my ultimate goodbye present!” —JM
This show is recommended for ages 14+.
Running time is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes including one intermission.
Assistant Stage Manager
Jenny L Wright
“I’ve never understood why Sweeney Todd is considered ‘controversial.’ The incidents in the plot may be lurid, but the show’s themes are primarily injustice, morality and greed. More important, it’s a wonderful, scary story — what Sweeney Todd is really about is having a good time.” – Stephen Sondheim
An unlikely Broadway hit in 1979, Sweeney Todd blends elements of comedy and horror and is based on a story that has been thrilling audiences since it was first published in the 1800s. In London, Edward Lloyd began publishing ‘penny dreadfuls’ – cheap weekly serials aimed at the working poor with titles like The Calendar of Horrors and Varney the Vampire. He also specialized in pirated versions of Dickens, like Oliver Twiss and Nikelas Nickelbery. In 1846, he published The String of Pearls – set in 1785, it featured a character called Sweeney Todd as the principal villain (“a long, low-jointed, ill-put-together sort of fellow”) and it includes all of the plot elements used by Sondheim and others ever since. Even then, the vengeful barber’s story proved instantly popular: it was turned into a play before the ending had even been published. An expanded edition appeared in 1850, an American version in 1852, a new play in 1865. By the 1870s, Sweeney Todd was a familiar character to most Victorians.
Forward 100 years or so, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a play by Christopher Bond, opened at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1973. It was seen by composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who recruited book writer Hugh Wheeler to collaborate with him on a musical treatment of Bond’s play. By 1979, Sondheim and Wheeler’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street opened at Broadway’s Uris Theatre in a production directed by Harold Prince and starring Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou. The winner of eight Tony Awards, it was instantly recognized as a landmark in musical theatre, inspiring productions in both theatre and opera companies around the world.
From The New York Times review of the original production: “The musical and dramatic achievements of Stephen Sondheim’s black and bloody Sweeney Todd are so numerous and so clamorous that they trample and jam each other in that invisible but finite doorway that connects a stage and its audience … There is more artistic energy, creative personality and plain excitement in Sweeney Todd … than in a dozen average musicals.” Michael Billington, theatre critic for The Guardian, recalls seeing this production: “I remember being blown away by the work when I first saw it at New York’s cavernous, 1700-seat Uris Theatre in 1979. Yet it seemed a strange anachronism in a Broadway dominated by musicals like Annie, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Bob Fosse’s Dancin’.”
In his book Finishing the Hat, Sondheim recounts his early influences and how and why he thought the story of Sweeney Todd should be a musical. Growing up, he loved movies – particularly, as he writes, “romantic melodramas and suspense pieces like Casablanca and the Hitchcock movies … movies in which the music was as important to the storytelling as the actors were.” His particular favourite was a movie called Hangover Square, an “Edwardian thriller about a sweet-natured, gifted composer who, when he hears a certain high-pitched sound, clicks into a schizophrenic state and becomes a serial killer.” Years later, when Sondheim saw Christopher Bond’s play, he was inspired by its possibilities as a musical: “It immediately struck me as material for a musical horror story, one which would not be sung-through but which would be held together by ceaseless underscoring that would keep an audience in suspense and maybe even scare the hell out of them … What Sweeney Todd really is is a movie for the stage.”
Sondheim Songs and Stories
August 17, 25 | 11am
Stephen Sondheim – composer, lyricist, musical theatre’s most fiercely intelligent voice. Join Paul Sportelli, Shaw Music Director, to learn about the man and his groundbreaking songs. $20/person.
May 18-20 and September 28-30
Calling all theatre lovers! Meet the creative minds behind theatre-making at the Shaw Festival, from play selection to play direction. Includes: four plays, three lunches, presentations, and parking. From $395.
Book Beyond the Stage events at 1.800.511.7429.
The Razor’s Edge
Stellar vocal performances in particular by Marcus Nance, Jeff Irving and Kristi Frank. Strong characterizations by Benedict Campbell and Corrine Koslo and well supported by a terrific ensemble. The orchestra was spot on with this complex score. A wonderful evening.
Saw Sweeney Todd … it was AMAZING. From start to finish I was hooked. I’d give that 6 stars if I could.
… absolutely thrilling and brilliantly staged.
We thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Judging from the comments of the people around us The Shaw has a huge hit on their hands … For me it had everything, lots of chuckles, fast pace, and a musical
score which must of been difficult to perform yet so rewarding because they pulled it off perfectly.
Bravo to the cast of Sweeney Todd … your first preview today was INCREDIBLE!
You guys BLEW ME AWAY today at Sweeney Todd. Excellent job.
Just saw Sweeney Todd and loved it from beginning to end! From sets to lighting to each performers singing I believe this was recently the most flawless well done show I’ve seen. Thank you Jackie Maxwell for taking a chance with this dark subject and bringing it to life for our sheer enjoyment.
This is a fantastic production. Go.