Casting is a funny thing. For every role on screen or stage we see there have been numerous, oftentimes hundreds of choices. You often hear about so-and-so being in the running for a part, or a big star turning down a role that will go onto win an Oscar with some else, etc. The most notable being the search for Scarlett O’Hara in the 1939 adaptation of Gone with the Wind.
There’s so much going in the business that makes casting a curious environment: timing, money, talent, etc. For example, take Mary Martin. She had her due on stage in One Touch of Venus, South Pacific, Kiss Me Kate, Peter Pan and The Sound of Music, but now consider if she had also starred in Oklahoma!, Kiss Me Kate, Fanny, My Fair Lady, Funny Girl and Mame. All those were roles she was originally considered for, and for one reason or another she turned them down or wasn’t available.
Two of my all-time favorite musical theatre leading ladies, Angela Lansbury and Patricia Routledge, are linked to one another through their performances in NYSF’s The Pirates of Penzance (Pat played Central Park in 1980, Angie did the film version in 1983 – both are preserved on video). But here is something you’ve probably never heard before, regarding the original production of Sweeney Todd (taken from Balancing Act: The Authorized Biography of Angela Lansbury by Martin Gottfriend, which is out of print but worth seeking out):
“Despite Sondheim’s preference for Angela, Patricia Routledge remained Harold Prince’s actress of choice to co star with Len Cariou in Sweeney Todd. The director even arranged for Cariou and Routledge to confer by telephone, while he was in Vienna making the movie version of A Little Night Music. In fact, that was the one reason why Sweeney Todd wasn’t being produced in 1976.
Routledge, a splendid actress and a good singer, was not entirely sold on the show, and in fact, had the creeps just thinking about it. “You don’t know what it’s like,” she told Cariou on the phone. “I was raised on that story. I’m not kidding you, it’s scary having anything to do with it. For us that ‘penny dreadful’ is like Grimm’s Fairy Tales. When we were kids, it was always something to be afraid of. Even my parents would say to me, ‘You’d better be careful or we’ll get Sweeney Todd after you.'”
The rest is, as they say, history. I’ve heard the Routledge was offered the opportunity to star in the London production but politely declined (Sheila Hancock did the honors). That said, wouldn’t it be fun to get both Lansbury and Routledge in a vehicle together? They are both solid actresses (and singers) and barring some similarities have very unique personalities that I think would mesh well. The most obvious seems a revival/remake of Arsenic and Old Lace?