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.