Sweeney Todd: A Musical Thriller

Sweeney Todd: A Musical Thriller

4.5 7
by Patti LuPone
Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd has often been acclaimed his masterpiece, and if ever there was a production to prove it, it’s the 2005 revival. Stripped down in musical arrangement from a fully orchestrated version to a chamber score (with the instruments played primarily by the actors themselves!), the musical reveals itself even more fully as a brilliant


Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd has often been acclaimed his masterpiece, and if ever there was a production to prove it, it’s the 2005 revival. Stripped down in musical arrangement from a fully orchestrated version to a chamber score (with the instruments played primarily by the actors themselves!), the musical reveals itself even more fully as a brilliant mating of words and music. The minimal yet exquisitely scored arrangements highlight Sondheim’s dark drama and black comedy by bringing his noted wordcraft to center stage, while keeping an equally bright spotlight on the nuances and elegance of his expert musical compositions. The celebrated melodious jewels of the work shine as ever -- “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” “Pretty Women,” “Not While I’m Around” -- but each song has its delights of attention-grabbing melody and strikingly clever lyrics. The cast, led by Michael Cerveris as Sweeney and Patti LuPone as Mrs. Lovett, is up to the demands of the grand score, relishing the ingenious swings of mood and melody. Reduced in scale but not in vision, this Sweeney is indeed a masterwork.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - William Ruhlmann
Composer Stephen Sondheim and librettist Hugh Wheeler's 1979 musical Sweeney Todd, based on Christopher Bond's modern version of the bloody revenge play originally written by George Dibdin-Pitt in 1847, has had two kinds of revivals since the initial Broadway production, ones like that staged in repertoire by the New York City Opera since 1984, which perform it on a large scale and treat it virtually as an accepted classical work, and ones like that staged by the Off-Off-Broadway York Theatre Company (with a transfer to Broadway in 1989), which take a minimalist approach and emphasize the drama (an approach dismissed by some critics as "Teeny Todd"). Director John Doyle hewed more to the latter when he first staged the show at a small theater in northern England, even to the point of requiring a reduced cast of actors to do double duty as musicians. At the same time, he only added to the work's disturbing nature by making the characters genuinely disturbed in a show-within-a-show structure that had it being put on by the inmates of an insane asylum. ("Marat/Todd!" crowed those same critics, recalling the 1965 play Marat/Sade that took a similar approach.) The result gained enough attention to transfer to London's West End and inspire the second Broadway revival in 2005. The American recasting presents two lead performers who had already been specializing in Stephen Sondheim: Michael Cerveris, in the title role, had been John Wilkes Booth in Assassins on Broadway the previous season and also starred in a regional production of Passion with Patti LuPone, here cast as Mrs. Lovett. LuPone, in turn, had previously played that same part in a lavish concert version of Sweeney Todd produced and recorded by the New York Philharmonic in 2000. A comparison with that earlier performance is instructive. At that time, working with a full orchestra, she fully characterized Mrs. Lovett as written, a broad Cockney full of charm and humor, despite the blackness of the story. Five years later, her portrayal was entirely different. Playing a mental patient who is playing Mrs. Lovett (and playing the tuba, too!), LuPone largely dispensed with the accent and gave a dry, distanced performance. Cerveris was much the same, though he retained Todd's overwhelming bitterness (equally appropriate to an insane man, which is what Sweeney Todd is, anyway). On disc, the production's primary staging effect, in which the actors keep going back and forth from playing instruments to playing their parts, is lost. All one can hear is that Sarah Travis' orchestrations are much smaller than Jonathan Tunick's were in 1979. But the performances come through clearly enough. It's easy to tell that the production was intended to put an emotional distance between the performers and the play when, for example, the male role of Pirelli turns out to be played by a woman, Donna Lynne Champlin. The effect is interesting, particularly for those already familiar with the work, but purely as an audio effort, Sweeney Todd still works better when done on a larger scale, as on the Original Broadway Cast album.

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Album Credits

Performance Credits

Patti LuPone   Primary Artist,Percussion,Tuba,Vocals
John Arbo   Bass,Vocals
Michael Cerveris   Guitar,Vocals
Hugh Wheeler   Dialogue
Mark Jacoby   Percussion,Trumpet,Vocals
Diana DiMarzio   Clarinet,Vocals
Donna Lynne Champlin   Flute,Piano,Accordion,Vocals
Alexander Gemignani   Piano,Trumpet,Vocals
Benjamin Magnuson   Piano,Cello,Vocals
Lauren Molina   Cello,Vocals
Manoel Felciano   Clarinet,Piano,Violin,Vocals

Technical Credits

Stephen Sondheim   Composer,Lyricist
Christopher Bond   Adaptation
John Doyle   Liner Notes,Stage Design,Stage Direction
Robert Hurwitz   Executive Producer
Tommy Krasker   Producer
Tom Lazarus   Engineer
Hugh Wheeler   Book
Jeremy Sams   Liner Notes
Sarah Eagle Feather Travis   Liner Notes
Sean Patrick Flahaven   Synopsis
Sarah Travis   Liner Notes
Robert Edridge-Waks   Editorial Coordinator
Christopher K. Bond   Adaptation

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Sweeney Todd: A Musical Thriller 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My girlfriend wanted to buy a version of Sweeney Todd after I took her to see the show in San Diego. I told her to get the revival CD because I often enjoy the beefed up scores, an added song, or just more contemporary singers. My mistake. Not only are many numbers not included on the CD, they also messed with the structure of the two acts by moving around some songs. Lastly, the show falls flat. The "distanced" approach comes across as slow direction. The witty banter in "Have a Little Priest" is slowed down to embarrassing terms. The elixer song is painfully slow as well, making the last measure where it speeds up seem incredibly odd. I'm all for alternative theatre, but only when the text can handle it. And its very clear that this approach stretched the show too thin.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This recording of Sondheim's masterpiece is truly my favorite yet. It's truly found the purpose of this piece and has worked beautifully without any force. Each song is beautiful with its simple orchestrations, making it much clearer to listen to and not having layer upon layer of sound drown out the vocalists. A must for any theatre lover's collection. This is a true piece of art.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I saw the current production on Broadway. It was an astonishing performance both for the virtuosity of the musician-cast as well as for the emotional jolt of the play itself. The spare arrangement focuses attention on the singers and the songs and less on the spectacle of theatre. Listening to this CD always reminds me of the excitement I felt seeing it in person.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have seen this show and it is great! The music, everything is fantasic. Michael Cerveris who portrays Sweeney Todd and Patti Lupone who portrays Mrs.Lovett do an amazing job. Patti Lupone is very funny in the show. If you haven't seen the show you should go to New York and See it for yourself it is amazing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Michael Cerveris is great as Sweeney Todd! I saw him in new York city when it was previewing. The show was fantasic. I want to see it again. There was only ten people on stage. When I first heard about that I was afriad that I wouldn't like it. Starring: Michael Cerveris,Sweeney Todd Patti Lupone,Mrs.Lovett (Order of apperance): Mark Jacoby, Judge Turpin Donna Lynne Champlin, Pirelli Manoel Felciano, Tobias Alexander Gemignani, Beadle John Arbo, Jonas Fogg Diana DiMarzio, Beggar Woman Lauren Molina, Johanna - Broadway Debut Benjamin Magnuson, Anthony - Broadway Debut
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