Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd. He served a dark and a vengeful God!
October 14, 2007 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Quick, before Tim Burton's "re-imagining dark gems of the 1970s" spree continues with the film version that will obliterate all recollection of the original musical thriller's style! Check out 1982's Emmy-winning televised performance of Sweeney Todd, with George Hearn and the inimitable Angela Lansbury. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15. Or, just skip to the highlights, A Little Priest, Epiphany. Also, check out the style of the inventive, minimalist revival or read the original penny dreadful!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur (42 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I take it you're not a fan of Tim Burton...
posted by Pendragon at 1:25 PM on October 14, 2007

I take it you're not a fan of Tim Burton...

No one really should be.
posted by squink at 1:37 PM on October 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

When I took theater in high school, I was in a really small class. Six of us. One day, Mr Smith decided to show us the 1982 Sweeney Todd. I loved it, but you know, I was a weird kid and it was high school, so I didn't want to get in trouble by laughing at the morbid parts.

He turned it off half-way because he didn't think we were enjoying it enough.

Revenge was mine when I went to college and joined the RHPS troupe and in the high school alumni magazine thanked him for introducing me to legitimate theater.
posted by cobaltnine at 1:39 PM on October 14, 2007

I love this music almost as much as I loath Tim Burton.
posted by nola at 1:40 PM on October 14, 2007

15 parts?!? YFKM. Youtube's 10-minute limit is shite. Google Video does it in 1, 2, 3. And you can download it in avi, flv, or mp4. I'm still impressed that Google Video lost out so badly to Youtube - it was yet another example that superior features often don't win out over herd-friendly simplicity. See also: ipod.
posted by meehawl at 1:42 PM on October 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

If that opening act doesn't sell you on this musical nothing will. Thanks for posting.
posted by nola at 1:52 PM on October 14, 2007

Aw, Google Video! I should have checked around. I'm an idiot! Thanks, meehawl. Isn't is sort of irritating that yt doesn't cross-index Google Video though? I wonder why.

Also, I love early Tim Burton. Beetlejuice is perfect, imo. Unfortunately, I think he's been slathering everything with the same popgoth glop lately, and fear that this adaptation will be little more than a Corpse Bride/Sleepy Hollow 200 minute Hot Topic merchandising setup, devoid of inspiration.

While this is actually the best role for Helena I've seen in a long while, and I've got major fangirl feelings for her (in web 1.0 I had the one-and-only website dedicated to Lady Jane, complete with .wavs!) as well as Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen, I'd have cast Russell Crowe as Sweeney or somebody else capable of being scary while singing. Johnny Depp can't do everything...
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:00 PM on October 14, 2007

Isn't is sort of irritating that yt doesn't cross-index Google Video though?

Yes. And yet Google Video cross-indexes Youtube. I think I see some rivalry and some intra-corporate wrangling going on there! You can easily screen out all the YT entries by selecting the ">20 minute" drop-down.
posted by meehawl at 2:04 PM on October 14, 2007

Haven't seen the 1982 version since, well, 1982. I'd forgotten how much I loved it.
posted by sfred at 2:07 PM on October 14, 2007

I'm really skeptical that the leads are going to be able to handle the challenging music, but will be sure to check it out when it's released. I've heard they aren't cutting any songs and are not readapting the lyrics at all.

I saw a musical production of this while in college and it was really fantastic. Since then I saw the production at the Kennedy Center a few years ago several times as well. I love Angela Landsbury in the youtube video -- she really walks the line between dottily in love and creepy practicality.
posted by onlyconnect at 2:24 PM on October 14, 2007

Don't forget the almost-20-years-later -- circa 2001? -- staged concert version of "Sweeney Todd" performed at Carnegie Hall, with George Hearn (from the '82 video version) with Patti LuPone (who later went on to star in the '06 revival). It was shown on PBS and is available on DVD.

Opera star Bryn Terfel was supposed to play Sweeney, but had to bow out due to illness at almost the last minute, so they called in Hearn, knowing that he already knew the part well. A lot of the audience were opera fans who had never seen the show before, and you can hear the delight in their reaction as they realize that this Sondheim show and its terrific cast were something dark and special and wonderful, whether or not their beloved Terfel showed up.

Also, as much as I like Lansbury, LuPone is a better natural comedienne and can really sell a song (and pies).
posted by Asparagirl at 2:34 PM on October 14, 2007

(To be clear: the original three-night run of "Sweeney Todd in Concert" was done in 2000 with the New York Philharmonic, and that version is available on two-disc CD. But they staged it again in 2001 with the the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and a slightly different cast [no Audra McDonald, boooo!] and that's the version available on DVD and, by extension, YouTube.)
posted by Asparagirl at 2:41 PM on October 14, 2007

I have no real beef with Tim Burton (not a huge fan, either), but I'm worried about (a) how well the cast is going to handle the music and (b) how Burton is going to inject his gingerbread-house-via-Hot-Topic aesthetic into a Grand Guignol piece like this. Also, there's a Burton vet with strong musical theatre chops and above-the-title name recognition that I wish Li'l Timmy had instead cast in the title role.

Alas, the saccharine violins and Elfman-osity of the arrangements in the trailer are leaving me with a slightly queasy feeling.
posted by pxe2000 at 2:47 PM on October 14, 2007

My wife and I progressed down the aisle at our wedding to LITTLE PRIEST. We called it The Pie Song in the programme just in case the registrar objected (no religious items allowed at civil marriages in England). It's our favourite song, the one we sung to each while courting. Ah, me!
posted by alasdair at 3:37 PM on October 14, 2007

having watched the trailers for the burton version, i think HBC may be inspired casting. i find myself charmed at the idea that she allegedly took both singing and baking lessons to prepare for the role.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:29 PM on October 14, 2007

I directed a production of Sweeney Todd when I was in college. One of the most difficult things I've ever done. The music is amazingly difficult, with 7 part harmonies, and I had a cast of about 45....

Somehow we pulled it off, but I didn't sleep much for about half a year.

I'm not sure how I feel about the Tim Burton version. My fear is that he's going to water it down, make it safe. It a violent story about cannibalism, madness, and revenge. With brilliant music.

I'd rather see the David Cronenberg version.
posted by MythMaker at 4:38 PM on October 14, 2007

I would say that Burton was making good films as recently as Sleepy Hollow, but after that...results mixed to outright poor. Couldn't get through Corpse Bride, no interest in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, thought Big Fish had moments (and moments of twee suckery), kinda...liked Planet of the Apes? Mostly he seems to be going through the motions, though, and the remake frenzy seems to represent an ongoing failure of imagination. Ah well.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:55 PM on October 14, 2007

When I went to New York last summer, I saw Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris in "Sweeney Todd" on Broadway. The cast played their own musical accompaniment. Brilliant! I can die at any time because nothing will ever top that.
posted by ColdChef at 4:57 PM on October 14, 2007

The casting of Alan Rickman gets a thumbs up from me.
posted by Poolio at 5:15 PM on October 14, 2007

Hey! No props to Len Cariou? I don't think anyone's topped Cariou's performance as the original S. Todd in the 1979 Broadway version. Cariou gives us a beat-down and yet epic, almost Miltonic Sweeny Todd, with a kind of inhuman integrity. One almost wonders why mammoth Cariou's Sweeney bothered with the razor instead of simply tearing his victims limb-from-limb.

Anyway here's reccomending the 1979 Lansbury/Cariou soundtrack, which is for me the definitive S. Todd. I'd be shocked if the Burton steamquirk version was worth the cost of a video rental.
posted by washburn at 5:41 PM on October 14, 2007

I'd rather see the David Cronenberg version.

Yes. If anyone needs to remake Sweeney Todd, Cronenberg is that person. I'm sick of Burton. And Depp and Carter as well.
posted by puke & cry at 5:47 PM on October 14, 2007

mammoth Cariou's Sweeney

Umm, whoops. I meant "Cariou's mammoth Sweeney." I'm not sure, actually, just how mammoth Mr. Cariou happens to be.

Depp was great in Dead Man, I have to say.
posted by washburn at 5:56 PM on October 14, 2007

I like Johnny Depp-- he's a good, intelligent, adventurous actor-- but one thing he cannot do is sing. And the role of Sweeney demands a singer. That passage from "Epiphany" we hear Depp sing in a breathy, poppish style in the trailer needs to have the balls sung off it by the most virile baritone imaginable. Sweeney has so much to sing, you really need a voice capable of telling a story, a voice the audience will still love hearing after two hours.

I so want to like this movie, but after that trailer I'm having serious doubts.
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:24 PM on October 14, 2007

I'd never seen Sweeney Todd before, but I've just spent the last 2-1/2 hours watching the 1982 performance linked above. It's fantastic; what a show, what a cast. The Burton trailer, in comparison, looks just abysmal. It's entirely charmless, which is a shame, because it's clearly a hell of a show. And I say that as someone who really liked Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:36 PM on October 14, 2007

I remember back in '85 - Burton was gold, then. I don't understand why he's insisted on making the same film once a year with different titles since then, though. And there are other actors in the world besides Johnny Depp, Wynona Ryder and, um... his wife.
posted by mr_book at 7:06 PM on October 14, 2007

I have my doubts as well, but I'm somewhat disappointed by the rush to judgment here on the basis of one trailer. Doesn't anybody else think there's at least the potential for an interesting (if, perhaps, inadequately sung) movie with these ingredients?

In any event, the film needn't be the last word when there exist three very full cast albums and a video of the original show.
posted by Epenthesis at 7:27 PM on October 14, 2007

I have my doubts as well, but I'm somewhat disappointed by the rush to judgment here on the basis of one trailer. Doesn't anybody else think there's at least the potential for an interesting (if, perhaps, inadequately sung) movie with these ingredients?

I guess you've never seen a Tim Burton movie?
posted by puke & cry at 7:47 PM on October 14, 2007

That 1982 version is available on Netflix, by the way, or at least it was a few years ago.

Cool trivia: in Cockney rhyming slang, the flying squad (sort of like the SWAT team) is called The Sweeney.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:31 PM on October 14, 2007

Epenthesis, unfortunately, I think in one sense, "the last word" is had by the widest release, and in another, "the first word" - the first exposure to content. For many people, Burton's will be the first or the only Sweeney Todd they know. I don't happen to think that's catastrophic, but I can relate to the feeling that it is. I just have a jones for compararing adaptaions. Lolita, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Little Shop... etc. etc. etc.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:37 PM on October 14, 2007

Tim Burton jumped the shark with....say, Mars Attacks!, and it's been diminishing returns since. I love Pee Wee's Big Adventure and Beetle Juice, and Ed Wood is not only his best work but one of the best films of the 90s.

I don't understand why people like the loathesome Big Fish, either.
posted by zardoz at 9:30 PM on October 14, 2007

I remember seeing the '82 version when I was a kid. All of 8 or 9 years old. Creeped me the fuck out. (No shit, right?) There were nightmares, and much confusion about the world of adults.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:40 PM on October 14, 2007

Then again, I just watched Haneke's The Piano Teacher for the first time tonight, and I guess I'm still pretty confused about the world of adults.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:44 PM on October 14, 2007

Yeah, I have mixed feelings about this after the trailer. I don't have the Tim Burton hate that everyone else seems to share. But on the other hand, I think Sondheim demands better voices on the big screen, and Depp delivers the lines like reciting Shakespeare. Alan Rickman doesn't strike me as having much musical experience either, leading me to want Jonathan Pryce in that key role.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:43 AM on October 15, 2007

And I have to say, I don't mind Tim Burton giving this one a shot. Sweeny demands either stark minimalism or unapologetic excess. Even his failures are more interesting than most of the swill released in theatres these days.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:57 AM on October 15, 2007

I heard Alan Rickman sing in a production of Noel Coward's Private lives a couple of years ago, and he was actually pretty good.

Only time I've heard Depp sing was onscreen in Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You, and I thought "Well, he can't really sing, but it's brave of him to give it a try." Not Sweeney Todd material, sadly.
posted by Pallas Athena at 8:50 AM on October 15, 2007

I agree with those who are wary of whether the casting gives sufficient credit for how demanding the singing parts really are. They have the acting covered, certainly, but both leads really need to be able to belt out powerful performances and the trailer doesn't suggest that they can. (I do love the technicolor of the "by the sea" sequence in the trailer.)

Also, I really prefer Lansbury to Lupone here, and I saw Lupone's version live several times at the Kennedy. I think Lupone tried to play the part as smart and practical rather than crazy and practical, and I think the crazy works much better.

And wow, I love pxe2000's idea for Christopher Walken as Todd. That would have rocked hard.
posted by onlyconnect at 9:41 AM on October 15, 2007

Tim Burton jumped the shark with....say, Mars Attacks!, and it's been diminishing returns since. I love Pee Wee's Big Adventure and Beetle Juice, and Ed Wood is not only his best work but one of the best films of the 90s.

Mars Attacks is -- and I say this as objectively as one person can -- completely unwatchable. It is precisely, inarguably, where Burton jumped the shark. As far as I'm concerned, "Tim Burton" means Pee Wee, Beetle Juice, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood... and nothing since.

If there's one good thing to be said about Sweeney Todd, though, it's that at the very least it's not another superfluous remake of a movie. (Unless you count Jersey Girl.)
posted by Reggie Digest at 9:46 AM on October 15, 2007

Oh god, I remember this!!! I was 10 years old and decided that this was my favorite musical and I actually developed a mini-crush on Angela Lansbury. Then again, when I was a child, I remember having quasi-sexual nightmares about being captured and eaten by cannibals in a sort of neo-King Kong jungle setting. I mean, up until then my favorite musical was Xanadu... which is now an actual, uh, musical-musical.

Now let's play six degrees:

Angela Lansbury was in Sweeney Todd, which is being remade by Tim Burton.

Tim Burton is using Johnny Depp in the remake of Sweeney Todd; previously, he directed him in Sleepy Hollow.

Johnny Depp modeled his character in Sleepy Hollow from...

wait for it... Angela Lansbury!

Sorry to all the Burton-haters. It could be worse... you could be Helena Bonham Carter.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:33 AM on October 15, 2007

I've always wanted to see this whole thing. Thanks! :)
posted by miss lynnster at 12:45 PM on October 15, 2007

Speaking in the minority here -- I actually kind of like Mars Attacks! and Big Fish -- but if Burton was going to make a film version of any Sondheim musical, I do dearly wish it had been Into the Woods. There's more whimsy, it fits more within his aesthetic, and the singing isn't as challenging as that of Todd. (Granted, it's still Sondheim, but still.)
posted by pxe2000 at 3:06 PM on October 15, 2007

Into the Woods = Giant Floppy Wolf Penis

you know what i'm talking about.

oh yes... you know.
posted by mr_book at 8:47 PM on October 15, 2007

I think a basic problem comes down to the way the market has worked since the death of musicals and the overproduction of pop music since the 1970s. The double and triple-threat actors are sticking to Broadway, and Hollywood deals with the problem either by giving Madonna and Ewan McGregor voice lessons, or by getting Elvis Costello and Alanis Morissette (perhaps the most surprising performance in De-lovely) in the background.

Then again, Hairspray was a hit, but The Producers a bit disappointing in terms of BO.

I'll probably go to see it because Burton at his worst is still pretty good. But good music causes the hairs on my neck to tingle, and really good music brings tears to my eyes. This trailer looks cool but does neither.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:21 AM on October 16, 2007

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