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Stephen Sondheim: Sweeney Todd

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  • Posted March 15, 2013

    A Cut Below the Rest This 2012 adaptation recording of the ┬┐Swe

    A Cut Below the Rest

    This 2012 adaptation recording of the “Sweeney Todd” musical play recycles the dregs of the butcher shop from Stephen Sondheim’s repertoire. Acclaimed throughout the musical world complete with awards and multiple revivals, this macabre production is re-ground again in the twenty-first century. This composition emerged during a time of numerous grisly stage presentations, but its revival still drips.

    The voices of the players, however, reflect their training; Jane Henschel, Mark Stone, and the other performers bring beautiful voices to their characters. Some warbly textures may be characteristic of musical projection on the stage. But the story is neither appealing nor credible; the tunes are lacking in melody, and the characters are not convincing. An exception is the character of Mrs. Lovett, which provides much-needed comic relief with frenetic humor and hysteria.

    The Münchner Rundfunkorchester supports the performance with fine quality of sound. The jacket and cover caution the unwary to don plastic gloves before opening. The booklet explanation clearly describes the ghastly setting and synopsis of scenes, so the listener is forewarned. The recording must be paired with a visual performance, however, or much understanding of the story will be lost.

    The thoughtful audience could possibly consider a Dickensian similarity of oppression and hopelessness as the driving force of the story. Is Sondheim trying to portray kinds of love which survive despair and hate? Is the underlying message “Revenge will consume and destroy you”? Does Sondheim allude to these themes of love and revenge which are the basis of so many operas in performance today?

    To be sure, very famous stars appearing in this musical have generated past success and may now renew interest. Audiences and reviewers may be attracted by the macabre and appalling. It is astounding that such a tale and composition would again attract the support of underwriters, producers, performers, and audiences.

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