I Attended The Tale Of Sweeney Todd
|First let me say I’m a purist. I don’t often enjoy “concept” theatre. Opera or musical. The last worst concept piece I walked out of was a Rambo gun toting, black shades wearing Julio Ceasare. For my pure heart, I enjoy a piece as it was written. But one must step back and separate the magic of theatre and the magic of cinema.|
First, Sweeney Todd does not work on the stage without the Greek chorus. The music is sublime and powerful and I WANT to hear about Sweeney’s pale skin and his odd eye. But, cinematic magic can sufficiently remove the need for a Greek chorus and move the plot and tell the story through images that are impossible for the stage. For that I will forgive Heir Burton the removal of that important part of Sondheim’s masterpiece.
On the same level of purity, Sweeney should be a virile baritone, not a rock star tenor which is Johnny Depp, and Mrs. Lovett should be a frumpy older bug-eyed homely maid, not a hot chick with chiseled features like Helena Bonham Carter. But type casting aside, this movie works extremely well.
The acting is superb in Tim Burton’s interpretation of the Demon Barber. Johnny Depp, though resembling a shade of Edward Scissorhands with his pale skin & wild hair, gives us the right amount of brooding and need for revenge. His temper is restrained but snaps at the right moments. We are provided a very satisfying climactic revenge with Judge Turpin, played hideously well by the master of brooders, Alan Rickman. There is hushed talk that Johnny is “too young” to be portraying Sweeney Todd. But as someone who recently sang the role myself I say he is not too young, but just the right age! Let’s analyze Sweeney’s proper age: Sweeney was a new father of 20-ish when we was whisked away to the prisons of Australia. He returns 15 years later when Johanna is 15 years of age and Sweeney would be proper to be 35-40 years old. The stereotypical grandfather image of Sweeney is, in my opinion, a wrong casting type and I applaud Burton for casting an age appropriate revengeful father.
Bonham Carter shows us a simple but doting Mrs. Lovett. Her entrepreneurial spirit is enhanced by her biting wit and pushy A-Type personality. She has the biggest laugh in the show when Burton splits from his usual monochromatic palate of dirty London and jumps to a Technicolor world “Down By The Sea” with Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney dressed in vintage horizontal striped bathing suits strolling along a sunny seaside beach. Brilliant.
Burton fills the secondary cast mostly of unknowns but stellar none the less. Toby, played and sung by they young Ed Sanders, is the epitome of a Dickensian orphan boy. Anthony, played by Jamie Campbell Bower, is an almost too young strapping sailor who looks more like a cabin boy than a deckhand. Pretty little Johanna is Jayne Wisener who is a perfect 15 year old ward of the state. Lucy/Begger Woman is Laura Michelle Kelly, who’s role was practically slashed for this movie. The Beadle is Timothy Spall who we remember as Peter Pettigrew, or Wormtail, in the Harry Potter series.
Above all, Tim Burton paints a dirty 19th Century London with monochromatic black and white, which gives stark contrast to the blood red spilled liberally throughout the movie. The traditional Sondheim story is all there regardless of the cuts, and is stunningly shown in gory detail. Don’t bring the kids to this big screen masterpiece, soon to be a traditional holiday favorite! Big thumbs up and you can be sure I’ll be owning this one on DVD.