Monday, December 10, 2007

Black & White & Red All Over

I've just returned from a special advance screening of Tim Burton's new film of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall and Sacha Baron Cohen. The movie will open on December 21.
Depp stars in the title role as a man unjustly sent to prison who vows revenge, not only for that cruel punishment, but for the devastating consequences of what happened to his wife and daughter. When he returns to reopen his barber shop, Sweeney Todd becomes the Demon Barber of Fleet Street who "shaved the heads of gentlemen who never thereafter were heard from again."
Since the mid-19th century many versions of the legend of Sweeney Todd have appeared first in literature and then on stage, in recordings and on film and television. In 1979 producer/director Harold Prince and composer Stephen Sondheim brought Sweeney Todd to Broadway as a musical. I was in the audience then and had the great pleasure of seeing Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou in the title roles. The show was an audacious and groundbreaking triumph on all counts and ran for more than a year.
No two versions of this great musical are ever quite the same. This Tim Burton version is very dark - and very bloody. Though it's filmed in color, whole parts of it are largely black and white and grey and brown. As you might expect, the performances are excellent and Tim Burton's distinctly imaginative (and Gothic) touch is evident throughout. But always, what makes Sweeney Todd so compelling is Stephen's Sondheim's music. Above all, this show is the music -- soaring, haunting, searing, beguiling, frightening, beautiful and ultimately unforgettable. Thankfully, all of the music is intact and the filmmakers deserve great credit and our sincere thanks.
By the way, special thanks to my friend (and former student) Jesse Cute of Terry Hines & Associates and the Philadelphia Film Office for arranging this special screening of Sweeney Todd.

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