I’ll never forget the night I watched Sweeney Todd the first time. I was home on break from college and had borrowed the VHS tape (heh, anyone?) from the library, figuring that I might as well give this musical a viewing. I hadn’t heard that much about it, except for what I’d read about it in the MTI licensing catalogue in my high school drama teacher’s classroom. It was the dark one about the people being turned into meat pies. Plus, there was a girl on our drama executive board who wanted us to do it. However, the director was adamant – he would never do Sondheim. I didn’t think much of it until my first spring break a year later and figured with little else to do aside from some homework, why not?
I popped it into the VCR late at night after everyone else had gone to bed and settled in. Within minutes I was entranced – by the prologue, the dark, gritty quality of the set and costume design. Everything. However that night I ended up watching only the first act. I was so mesmerized by “Epiphany” and “A Little Priest” I ended up rewinding and rewatching those 12 minutes for almost two hours. My mind blown at the genius, especially in the structure of the act one finale, but in it’s brilliant word play, it’s bouncing waltz melody and the duplicitous music hall entertainment provided (we are loving it; all the while we’re accepting what they’re actually singing about – genius).
“A Little Priest” may very well be my favorite Sondheim song. It’s certainly one of the best list songs I’ve ever heard. When I was a guest lecturer in New Paltz and gave my talk on Sondheim, I would make it a point to show the entire sequence. It was always fascinating to see; the last time I did it, the theatre students and some of the more literate really understood the underlying Juvenalean tone of the number, while I had others who were disgusted, including two girls who actually had to leave the room. Truth be told, it was one of the most memorable moments of my collegiate life. I loved it!
Anyway, here are Tony winners Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou in Hal Prince’s original Tony winning staging of the 1979 Tony winning Best Musical Sweeney Todd giving the act one finale that darkly delicious spin: