God, That's Good! The Bloody History of 'SWEENEY TODD'

In my opinion, Sondheim is one of the greatest geniuses to have ever walked this planet and proof of this doesn't come as blindingly obvious as it comes in the form of his 1979 musical thriller, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. For his work on this amazing show, he took home a Tony for Best Original Score and its clear his work on this project is what makes it so popular to this day.

For those who don't know this classic tale, it's a story based on the 1973 play of  the same name about a barber on Fleet Street in the 1840s who has an eye for murdering all of the people that pose a threat to him by slitting their throats with a shaving razor. Along the way, Sweeney Todd meets Mrs Lovett the piemaker and becomes her ally - together, they kill people that Mrs Lovett then serves up as meat in pies at her shop!

The original production started Broadway performances on March 1st 1979 at the Uris Theatre (now the Gershwin Theatre) before closing on June 29th 1980 after a little over a year and around 570 performances. The original cast included Angela Lansbury as Mrs Lovett and Len Cariou as Sweeney Todd, while the show was directed by Hal Prince and designed by Eugene Lee. The show was nominated for nine Tony Awards in 1979, winning eight of them including the prize for Best Musical. A national tour started after the end of the Broadway run where Lansbury reprised her role as Mrs Lovett. Despite the show's Broadway success, it failed to win the hearts of London theatregoers: the show opened at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London on July 2nd 1980 before closing on November 19th of the same year. The cast was led by Denis Quilley and Sheila Hancock as well as many other theatre actors who are no longer active in the community. The production was given mixed reviews but despite this and the show's rather short run, the production won the Olivier that year for Best New Musical.

The show has, however, enjoyed many highly acclaimed revivals. The first Broadway revival started performances on September 14th 1989 at the Circle in the Square Theatre - just next door to the Uris where the show premiered! The production closed the following February after almost 200 performances and starred Bob Gunton and Beth Fowler - it was often known as "Teeny Todd" as it was a production that started its life Off-Off-Broadway a few years before. The show was nominated for four Tonys including Best Revival of a Musical, but failed to win any. Four years later on June 2nd 1993, the National Theatre staged the shows' first London revival at the Cottesloe before transferring to the Lyttleton where it ran for a year - a remarkable feat for a National Theatre show. The production starred Julia McKenzie and Alun Armstrong as well as Adrian Lester as Anthony. The show was performed by a very small chamber orchestra which was praised by Sondheim personally, for he said that that was what he originally envisioned for the show. The production was nominated for five Oliver's and took home three: Best Musical Revival, Best Actor in a Musical (Armstrong) and Best Actress in a Musical (McKenzie).

The West End and Broadway have also shared a revival of the show, too. In late 2004, the Watermill Theatre production of the show transferred to the West End's Ambassador's Theatre for a few months before closing in February 2005. Paul Hegarty and Karen Mann starred in the production that marked the first West End production of a Sondheim show in a decade, and they were praised alongside the show's 8 other cast members for having no orchestra, but for playing the instruments themselves instead. This revival is better know for its Broadway incarnation though, starring Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone. John Doyle's transfer of the production opened at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on November 3rd 2005 and it ran for over 350 performances. The show only cost $3.5M to create which is relatively small for a Broadway musical, meaning they recouped their investment in just 19 weeks. They were nominated for six Tony Awards but only walked away with two: Best Direction of a Musical for John Doyle and Best Orchestrations. My favourite revival of the production though is the Chichester Festival Theatre production that went to the Adelphi Theatre in 2012, starring both Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton. I was lucky enough to catch the incredible production for which both Ball and Staunton won Olivier's for, as well as the show itself winning Best Musical Revival. It differed from the original though in that it was set in the 1930s instead of the 1840s, strangely giving the show a much more modern feel. Another production ran from March to May last year off-West End - but produced by Cameron Mackintosh - which was staged at a purpose-built pie and mash shop on Shaftesbury Avenue. The revival was a reboot of the London fringe production that had played in an actual pie and mash shop the year before.

Finally, the most iconic version of the show in popular culture to date is the Dreamworks movie starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter which opened in cinemas December 21st 2007. Tim Burton directed the screenplay (a film that won Depp a Golden Globe and an Oscar nod), which also starred Alan Rickman, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Laura Michelle Kelly and Timothy Spall. The film recieved high acclaim from critics and it won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical.

How do you feel about Sweeney Todd, are you a fan? And if you are or you aren't - have you ever seen any of these productions of the show? Now if you don't mind me, I have some baking to attend to...

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