An Open Letter to Emma Thompson

Dear Ms. Thompson,

This past week, I had the unmitigated pleasure of witnessing you make your New York stage debut in the exciting New York Philharmonic concert of Sweeney Todd. I have long been an admirer of your work, ever since I first saw the 1993 film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing in high school. Not long afterward, I fell head-over-heels for your Oscar-winning Margaret Schlegel in Howards Endwhich I stumbled upon on Bravo one weekend, back when that station had a more artistic bent.

In the years since, I have come to admire your work as an actress, writer, humanitarian and activist. Your appearances at awards ceremonies and on talk shows show us a smart, genuine Brit with unfailing wit. You seem like you’d make a great friend as well as the best kind of drinking buddy, but that’s another matter entirely. As someone with a vested interest in musical theatre, I also became aware of your presence in the smash-hit West End revival of Me and My Girl opposite Robert Lindsay, which I acquired immediately and have enjoyed many, many times. (I have also watched a charming video of you singing and tap dancing on a giant LP).

I had seen the acclaimed London revival of Sweeney Todd only two years ago, so I wasn’t entirely bowled over by the NY Philharmonic’s initial announcement. However, when it was later announced that you were going to play Mrs. Lovett, the concert immediately jumped to the top of my must-see list, so much so that I made the early decision to see it twice.

One thing that was certain from the two performances I attended was the great love and affection pouring across the footlights in both directions. For someone who hasn’t appeared in a musical in 27 years, you seemed quite at home and at ease in the role. Mrs. Lovett is nothing if not daunting, with unforgiving musical and dramatic demands, and it was delightful to hear how you used your voice to your best advantage through some of the score’s most difficult passages. I laughed in the most unexpected places, the result of your manic energy, wit, and side-splitting physical comedy. However, you were also very careful to make Mrs. Lovett a real individual, someone who has starved, suffered and been down on her luck. I was mesmerized by you from start to finish.

While I enjoyed myself immensely, I had some quibbles with the production. If I were casting, I would have had Mr. Terfel and Mr. Quast switch roles, and would have cast Mr. Johnson as Tobias. I also missed the organ prelude and certain elements of the book and score (I never realized how much I missed the line “How many bells are there?” until it was gone!) However, it was a thrill to hear Jonathan Tunick’s arrangements so expertly played by the Philharmonic, I could hardly contain my excitement. I was so pleased at what you were able to accomplish with such limited rehearsal time that a few minor problems ultimately don’t matter. For a NY debut, I don’t think it could get more memorable than this.

I do hope that the rapturous reception of your appearance with the Philharmonic will entice you to return to the New York stage, and sooner rather than later. Play, musical, Broadway, off-Broadway; whatever you chose, it would certainly be a welcome experience. Personally, I would love to see you tackle the role of Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music. I think you have the right comic sensibility, depth and voice to play her.  You and Mr. Sondheim suit each other quite well.

Please come back to us soon. In the meanwhile, I look forward to revisiting your performance on the Live from Lincoln Center broadcast.

Warmest regards,

~Kevin D. Daly
Theatre Aficionado (at Large)

My Favorite Performances, 2012

Bertie Carvel – Matilda. Hearing Carvel’s performance on the original cast recording was my main impetus in making sure I got to London to see the show while he was still in the cast. As Agatha Trunchbull, the grotesque headmistress at war with Matilda Wormwood, Carvel creates one of the great comic villains in music theatre, a domineering physical presence whose second act anti-child number “The Smell of Rebellion” is a show-stopper. There are panto elements in the performance, but he plays Miss Trunchbull without winking or leering, showing shades of the insecure bully who resorts to all sorts of nasty business. I’m so thrilled NY will have a chance to see his performance in the upcoming Broadway transfer.

James Corden – One Man, Two Guvnors. The most brilliant comic creation I’ve seen since Mark Rylance took Broadway by storm with Boeing Boeing, Corden’s Francis Henshall – portly, silly, lovable – was a delight from start to finish. It’s rare that pure silliness can beget pure joy. Corden managed to do this through the mix of high and low (mostly low) brow humor in Richard Bean’s updating of A Servant of Two Masters. I saw the show a total of three times, including opening night and the utter free-for-all that was the closing night (hijinks, pranks, nudity, and all sorts of glorious hijinks in the spirit of the show) and I consistently laughed until my sides ached every time. Much of this is due to Corden’s brilliance. I do wish the play had continued after his scheduled departure, but fortunately it’s still running in London for those who want some breathless hilarity.

Linda Lavin – The Lyons. Lavin gave up supporting roles in Broadway transfers of Follies and Other Desert Cities to play this leading role off-Broadway, and with good reason. Rita Lyon is one of the most fascinating mothers in American drama since Violet Weston went nuts on her family. Lavin was able to turn a magazine page turn into a comic gold mine, and constantly surprised. Her exit speech was so brilliantly delivered that she received two back to back showstopping ovations.

Tracy Letts – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Albee’s play is one of my favorites and I would gladly see any production of it anywhere. This Steppenwolf import is an intense, visceral experience that makes the battle for the upper-hand one of the games along the way. Intense work by a superb ensemble, but Letts comes out on top in this reimagined look at the fascinating George. He is terrifying, hilarious, charming, dangerous and unsettling making a role seem new. Everyone else in the ensemble is the better for this searing portrayal. A must-see performance.

Donna Murphy – Into the Woods. Critics were mixed on this production (and having seen it three times throughout its run, I think it was a mistake to let them in early), but Murphy’s portrayal of the Witch was one of the most galvanizing performances I have ever seen. Playing up the character’s pragmatism and relationship to Rapunzel, it was as though I understood a maternal need for the character that either I missed before, or just wasn’t present in other performances I have seen. Her “Last Midnight” was nothing short of legendary; one of then most terrifying and devastating showstoppers of the year.

Imelda Staunton – Sweeney Todd. I made it a point to catch this highly-acclaimed revival while in London, and I am so glad that I did. Michael Ball was Sweeney Todd, and while he was better than I expected, it was Imelda Staunton’s searing, gritty portrayal of the enterprising, conniving Mrs. Lovett that I left thinking about. Practically every facet of her performance is seared in my memory – from her reaction to Pirelli’s dead body, to the chilling look out front while James McConville finished singing “Not While I’m Around,” to the spectacular work she did in the show’s searing final scene. Apparently Ms. Staunton is uninterested in a Broadway transfer, and that is truly New York theatre’s loss.

Katie Thompson – Giant. There was much to admire in the Public Theater’s presentation of Michael John La Chiusa’s Giant, including the winning lead performances of Brian d’Arcy James and Kate Baldwin, but as Vashti Hake, the jilted cowgirl heiress turned tycoon’s wife, Katie Thompson took me completely by surprise. Ms. Thompson got two of the best songs in the show,”He Wanted a Girl” and “Midnight Blues” and delivered a featured performance so striking I want to see her star in her own musical.

Anthony Warlow – Annie. This Australian powerhouse made his Broadway debut as Daddy Warbucks the current revival, recreating a role he has played several times before. Much to my surprise, Mr. Warlow managed to steal this classic musical about that orphan from both of its leading ladies, with his gruff but sincere demeanor and a voice that is nothing short of spectacular. His rendition of “Something Was Missing” brought down the house, something I wouldn’t have thought previously. He is the heart and soul of this uneven, but entertaining production.

Eleanor Worthington-Cox – Matilda. In the past year I have seen an inordinate amount of child performances. In the past I haven’t taken too well to kids on stage – not unlike the stage manager in Gypsy – but for the most part I saw real children giving strong performances that weren’t overly precocious or cloying. And while I was in London, I so loved Matilda that I saw it twice. While the Matilda I covered was the exceptional Sophia Kiely, I think Eleanor Worthington-Cox gave the greatest child performance I have ever seen in my life. (With all respect to Ms. Kiely, who was superb). It felt like I was watching the perfect embodiment of Dahl’s character.

In a category all its own was the sublime reunion concert of Assassins, which brought back almost the entire 2004 cast at Studio 54. A sterling ensemble, it’s a shame they couldn’t have a revival of the revival as they are all still so extraordinary.

Also worth mentioning: Victoria Clark and Christopher Fitzgerald who both walked away with the Collegiate Chorale’s concert presentation of The Mikado. Clark entered like a virago, stopping the show before she even opened her mouth. She and Fitzgerald created pandemonium with their eleven o’clock performance of “There is Beauty in the Bellow of the Blast.”

“Sweeney Todd” – West End

Sweeney Todd 2012

There is a revival of Sweeney Todd currently playing London’s West End. If that news alone isn’t enough to get you on the first plane to England, let me explain further: there is a astounding revival of Stephen Sondheim & Hugh Wheeler’s epic Grand Guignol musical currently playing the Adelphi Theatre starring Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton.

Sweeney Todd is in my top three shows of all time; and I’m excited to see any production. And if I could, I would get on the next plane back to London to see this Jonathan Kent directed production again. Dark, unnerving and anchored by two strong central performances, this is a West End revival not to be missed, and a transfer to Broadway should be a no-brainer. The 1979 musical, considered by many (including yours truly), to be Sondheim’s masterpiece tells the story of a vengeful barber who transforms into a blood-thirsty killer, along with his enterprising accomplice and lover, Mrs. Lovett.

Ball is virtually unrecognizable as the deadly barber, both physically and vocally. In fact when he made his first appearance I wasn’t sure whether or not I was seeing an understudy. Admittedly, he wasn’t the draw for me to see the show and my expectations were low but I was more than surprised: Ball is astonishingly good. In the first scenes, we see the “bleeding nobody” brooding with rage, making his mental snap at the end of the first act quite chilling. His “Epiphany” was so intense that for the first time I wasn’t so sure if Mrs. Lovett was going to live to the end of the first act.

Peter Polycarpou plays the Beadle as a social climbing kiss-up rather than some bizarro creep. Peter Howe offers an unsettling portrait of warped piety and deviant sexuality as the Judge. James McConville is absolutely devastating as Toby. Gillian Kirkpatrick scores big as the Beggar Woman. Less effective are Lucy May Barker (think about the name) and Luke Brady as Johanna and Anthony, with lackluster renditions of “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” and “Johanna.”

However, for as good as Ball is in the title role, it is Imelda Staunton who makes this production a must-see. I knew we were in for something different when Staunton whipped out a dirty, empty glass bottle to use as a rolling pin in “The Worst Pies in London.” Her Lovett is unlike any other I’ve ever seen, more naturalistic and pragmatic. She didn’t play up the more comic aspects of the character, but still managed to be funny and find laughs in the most unexpected places. I know the show by heart, and Staunton kept surprising me right to the very end; a performance so indelible I can vividly replay it in my mind. Moments come to mind: her reaction to opening the trunk (which made a delighted audience applaud), the terror on her face during “Epiphany,” the chilling look on her face at the end of “Not While I’m Around,” and the master class of her final scene.

The dynamic between Staunton and Ball was extraordinary, with their scenes together the most memorable. Charged with sexual energy, their showstopping rendition of “A Little Priest” was less music hall romp than full out foreplay. This chemistry makes the finale all the more tragic. When the orchestra played the final chord, I sat there in awe for a good beat before bursting into euphoric applause.

Director Jonathan Kent has set this Sweeney in the 1930s. I’m not sure that the change in time period really adds anything to the piece, but it definitely doesn’t detract. The staging is much more traditional than John Doyle’s recent revival, but I knew as the opening “Ballad” was sung among the characters to each other as working class workplace gossip around London, that we were in for an stellar evening. His production is dark, stark and deliciously violent. Anthony Ward’s set is appropriate dark and eerie, and places the famed factory whistle right on stage. Ward’s costumes evoke the dirt and grime of a seedier side of Fleet Street, and serving the director’s vision quite well.

This production is billed as a strictly limited season, running six months through September 10th. It must be seen to be believed.

A cast album was recorded before performances start and was released in the theatre at or around opening night. Since it wasn’t available anyplace else, I made it a point before seeing the show to pick up a copy. It’s an impressive account of the production, specifically preserving many of Staunton’s finest moments – both spoken and sung. The recording sounds incredible, with some of the show’s sound effects audible (particular the furnace crackling in the final scene, and some truly hair-raising throat slittings). The major flaw is that for some reason the album is one disc. That’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t prevent the album from being a must-have.

Walking Among My Yesterdays: Sweeney Todd (2005)

Another revival of Sweeney Todd looms on the horizon, this time poised to start performances in the West End next month. I’ll be in London, and have plans to take in a preview of the production which stars Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball (and has sights set on Broadway). In the meanwhile, I thought it would be a fun opportunity to look back on my thoughts from the 2005 Broadway revival, itself a transfer of the previous London revival, directed by John Doyle.

A Day at the Asylum: The Revival of Sweeney Todd

One of my top three musicals, Sweeney Todd, is currently in revival at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. The show has been re-conceived and economized for 10 actor-musician-singers in what may be the riskiest undertaking of a musical I’ve ever seen. The company never leaves the stage, except for the 15 minute intermission. They are a part of the staging at every given moment, always in character whether playing their instruments, singing/acting in their scenes or just being part of the general atmosphere. Starring Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris, the show is an overwhelming theatrical event.

The show is told from Tobias’ perspective, with the events of his incarceration being retold by him and other members of the asylum. The show continues in a very abstract, eerie style playing up the intimacy of the story in a way that is entirely unsettling. The Victorian oppressiveness of the Industrial Revolution is not to be seen in the unit set or costumes, especially Mrs. Lovett’s riotous barmaid/slut getup. (God love her, but Patti could’ve been mistaken for Alan Cumming in Cabaret).

I definitely missed the full sweep of the Jonathan Tunick orchestrations, but admired the musicianship and the way the score has been adapted, though I don’t love that buttons have been dropped from the end of some songs (the first break for applause comes 40 minutes into the show). Patti LuPone, who played the role in the 2000 NY Philharmonic concert has gone back to the drawing boards and done a complete overhaul of the character from her broader, more lovable characterization (which can be seen on the DVD of the 2001 San Francisco Phil concert). This Lovett is dryer and not nearly as likable, with an almost catatonic line delivery in most of her scenes. Her costuming adds a great deal to the evening, with her leather miniskirt and torn fishnets. It didn’t happen nearly as much as I would have liked it, but everytime she started on the tuba, the audience went nuts. She also held back on a lot of music, not always brandishing that famous belt voice of hers, but singing in a low-key style that occasionally reached her stratospheric heights. Her acting in the final scene is absolutely breathtaking.

While I loved Patti’s Lovett immensely, I confess that Michael’s Sweeney had to grow on me, but I was singing his praises by the curtain call.  Though both actors clearly are carrying the evening, this particular production is played as an ensemble piece. Everyone is working toward the same goal, and two star turns are really just pronounced ensemble turns. The entire company is worthy of note, but in particular Manoel Felciano’s Tobias was just staggering, taking the character in a direction I never thought possible.

Another thing about the actors playing their own instruments, they had several musical gags during the dialogue. The musicianship was stellar, no one missed a beat or a note. (Props for memorizing that entire score). There is no conductor for the show, but the one actress playing accordion would occasionally guide the musicians along from time to time.

The actual throat slitting scenes created some of the most indelible images of the evening, with the stage lighting suddenly hitting a red glare as that famous factory whistle, a staple of this musical, blew. Each time a murder would take place, an actor (usually Mrs. Lovett) would pour a bucket of blood into another white bucket slowly, and the audience could hear the liquid building inside the buckets. Grotesque symbolic imagery, and it added so much to the experience.

Overall, I have to say I admired the production more than I loved it. I almost felt that the concept itself distracted me just a bit from the character development and exposition, particularly during act one. I found myself early on remarking during scenes and songs “Wow look at how that actor has memorized the lines, lyrics & the instrumental music.” as opposed to keeping focused on the story. However, by the second act I was completely mesmerized. I can easily see how someone unfamiliar with the show might have difficulty following the show (one of the complaints I have seen on the message boards lately).

It’s amazing to see this show work so well with only ten people and no orchestra or conductor (astounding for a work that is performed at opera houses around the world). It’s a tough ticket right now; it was an enthusiastic and sold out house tonight. They’ve recorded a cast album of this particular production, which makes me wonder if it will hold up well on disc as it does in the Eugene O’Neill. This is one not to be missed.

Are you old Mrs. Lovett?

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?

"A Little Priest"

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:

Julia McKenzie’s "The Worst Pies in London"

We often think about our Angie or Patti (or Elaine or Sheila or Judy, et al), but here’s another solid interpretation of the great Mrs. L. offered by one of the premiere interpreters of Sondheim in the London theatre scene, Julia McKenzie. McKenzie was a lead in Side By Side By Sondheim, a fetching Sally in the London premiere of Follies in 1987 and was the Witch in the original London cast of Follies. She was also the person behind the early 90s revue, a follow-up of sorts to Side By Side called Putting it Together. She won the Olivier award for her performance in the RNT revival of Sweeney Todd and here the awards telecast performance, including the “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd, followed by her rendition of “The Worst Pies in London.”

Stream of Consciousness: Tidbits & "Sweeney Todd" the Movie Musical

Okay, so I haven’t written in a spell. (SarahB was quick to remind me of that this afternoon, in a strange psychic moment where I had been thinking it myself). Anyway, the holidays were as mindblowingly mediocre as always but at least work didn’t get to me this year. Customers were actually nice for a change (I’m a Barnes & Noble head cashier for those not in the know). It amazes me to see people smiling and accommodating and not being complete morons insipidly worrying more about the shopping aspect of Christmas (which overshadows everything else; and is likely to remain so). Plus New Year’s. I don’t celebrate New Year’s Eve. I haven’t as a rule. However, I did watch the new documentary Words and Music by Jerry Herman on PBS. While it doesn’t present us with any sort of information that isn’t already known, it was fascinating to see all the footage of the original productions of Hello, Dolly!, Mame, Dear World, Mack and Mabel, The Grand Tour and La Cage. Wow, the only one lacking footage was Milk and Honey (represented in still photos).

I’ve not been to NY since I saw the revival of Pygmalion last month (stellar presentation; Claire Danes was good, if shrill; Jefferson Mays, Boyd Gaines and Jay O. Sanders were absolutely brilliant); however, I’m attending my first opera at the Met this Tuesday. The Barber of Seville. I am incredibly psyched for it and will try not to go nuts. To add to the excitement, I will be at the first preview of Sunday in the Park With George on Friday. Oh, let the good times roll.

I saw the film version of Sweeney Todd. As it ranks as one of my favorite musicals, I was incredibly wary of a Tim Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration of the project. However, as production stills were made available and then clips leaked online – and then that trailer. I knew it was going to be something special. In spite of those purists I know who lamented the vocal quality, the cuts and adaptations between stage and screen; I was completely devastated by the piece. That in itself is mind blowing as I’m usually the purist who cannot concede to change especially in a piece that’s especially close to my heart. I think, too, that part of my enjoyment of the film came from having accepted prior that it was not going to be the stage show but the film version of the stage show. That makes a world of difference from a fan perspective. From the opening Dies Irae on organ to the jovial “A Little Priest” that played out the end of the credits, I was mesmerized and captivated by the stylized direction of Burton and the acting. Depp and Helena Bonham aren’t exactly the sturdiest singers I’ve heard (especially tackling this difficult material). Okay, that’s been established. However, both characterizations impressed me. Depp’s brooding Sweeney made the more operatic moments especially chilling with a gravelly understatement of his delivery; his singing worked, as the lyrics were from a character perspective; carefully prepared and thoughtfully delivered. Carter has come under considerably scrutiny for her vocal performance and her characterization. I am in the belief that she created a wholly original Mrs. Lovett for the screen, understated as well, but also finding something more realistic and human inside; this was made especially evident in her relationship with Tobias (raising the stakes by being portrayed by an actual boy). Her Lovett is less a Dickensian caricature (which is sure a helluva lot of fun onstage) and more a woman who is indeed tempered by desperate times and desperate emotions. I don’t think a performance akin to Angela Lansbury, Dorothy Loudon or Sheila Hancock in the original New York and London companies would transfer well onscreen without some sort of concept or satiric take on the material. Treading new ground, Carter found what little there is of Lovett’s heart; though still a manipulative monster who is essentially the true villain of the piece. As for the violence? I loved it. I’m not big on graphic scenes of people getting chopped up or blown up or slashed away or tortured. I don’t do the “torture porn” movies like Saw or Hostel (besides, the scariest are the ones like Don’t Look Now and Halloween where the director creates sensations of unease and suspense in every shot. Anyway, I digress. The sensationally impressionistic bloodletting had me giggling like a horror fanboy. And though I cringed, I have to say I admired the revision on how the chair disposes the bodies. I sat in the theatre numb after the credits rolled. (An added bonus, the woman behind me got so involved in the story, she gasped an incredibly audible “Oh, no!” when Sweeney threw Johanna into his chair. Anyway, it’s a marvel in its production design (particularly the makeup and costumes); for the first time Sweeney has, for me, genuinely looked like something out of mid-Victorian England. I was okay with the cuts; I was okay with the changes. It’s an adaptation; not a taping of the original Broadway production. Since we already have that available with the national tour of Lansbury and George Hearn, why would we want that replicated on screen? With its judicious and carefully approached preparations, the director, screenwriter and entire creative team worked diligently on respecting the original while finding their own way about it. (A special kudos for the riotous montages of “By the Sea”). Would this Sweeney work onstage? Maybe in a garage in Soho. Probably not. But does it work as a film? Absolutely.

I’ve also since discovered what I adore most about the Hal Prince staging: the very last moment where everyone is robotically exiting the stage during the final ballad reprise and Sweeney goes upstage and slams that door. What a way to end it!

Anyway, kids, go see Sweeney Todd.