Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Angela Lansbury 
and George Hearn

The 1982 Television Adaptation of 
STEPHEN SONDHEIM’S 1979 Broadway Musical 
with book by
Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett, Len Cariou as Sweeney Todd


  1. One of my favorite musicals! I'm not an Angela Lansberry fan, but she does do a convincing "crazy".

  2. If I'm going to waste two hours watching a show about a barber, it's not going to be Sondheim's.

    Try this one:

    And yes, I know it's not Rossini.

  3. APENECK SWEENEY spreads his knees
    Letting his arms hang down to laugh,
    The zebra stripes along his jaw
    Swelling to maculate giraffe.

    The circles of the stormy moon
    Slide westward toward the River Plate,
    Death and the Raven drift above
    And Sweeney guards the horned gate.

    Gloomy Orion and the Dog
    Are veiled; and hushed the shrunken seas;
    The person in the Spanish cape
    Tries to sit on Sweeney’s knees

    Slips and pulls the table cloth
    Overturns a coffee-cup,
    Reorganized upon the floor
    She yawns and draws a stocking up;

    The silent man in mocha brown
    Sprawls at the window-sill and gapes;
    The waiter brings in oranges
    Bananas figs and hothouse grapes;

    The silent vertebrate in brown
    Contracts and concentrates, withdraws;
    Rachel née Rabinovitch
    Tears at the grapes with murderous paws;

    She and the lady in the cape
    Are suspect, thought to be in league;
    Therefore the man with heavy eyes
    Declines the gambit, shows fatigue,

    Leaves the room and reappears
    Outside the window, leaning in,
    Branches of wistaria
    Circumscribe a golden grin;

    The host with someone indistinct
    Converses at the door apart,
    The nightingales are singing near
    The Convent of the Sacred Heart,

    And sang within the bloody wood
    When Agamemnon cried aloud,
    And let their liquid droppings fall
    To stain the stiff dishonoured shroud.

    ts eliot, "Sweeney among the Nightingales"

  4. And the trees about me,
    Let them be dry and leafless; let the rocks
    Groan with continual surges; and behind me,
    Make all a desolation. Look, look, wenches!

    PAINT me a cavernous waste shore
    Cast in the unstilled Cyclades,
    Paint me the bold anfractuous rocks
    Faced by the snarled and yelping seas.

    Display me Aeolus above
    Reviewing the insurgent gales
    Which tangle Ariadne’s hair
    And swell with haste the perjured sails.

    Morning stirs the feet and hands
    (Nausicaa and Polypheme),
    Gesture of orang-outang
    Rises from the sheets in steam.

    This withered root of knots of hair
    Slitted below and gashed with eyes,
    This oval O cropped out with teeth:
    The sickle motion from the thighs

    Jackknifes upward at the knees
    Then straightens out from heel to hip
    Pushing the framework of the bed
    And clawing at the pillow slip.

    Sweeney addressed full length to shave
    Broadbottomed, pink from nape to base,
    Knows the female temperament
    And wipes the suds around his face.

    (The lengthened shadow of a man
    Is history, said Emerson
    Who had not seen the silhouette
    Of Sweeney straddled in the sun).

    Tests the razor on his leg
    Waiting until the shriek subsides.
    The epileptic on the bed
    Curves backward, clutching at her sides.

    The ladies of the corridor
    Find themselves involved, disgraced,
    Call witness to their principles
    And deprecate the lack of taste

    Observing that hysteria
    Might easily be misunderstood;
    Mrs. Turner intimates
    It does the house no sort of good.

    But Doris, towelled from the bath,
    Enters padding on broad feet,
    Bringing sal volatile
    And a glass of brandy neat.

    -ts eliot, "Sweeney Erect"

  5. White bodies naked on the low damp ground
    And bones cast in a little low dry garret,
    Rattled by the rat’s foot only, year to year. 195
    But at my back from time to time I hear
    The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring
    Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.
    O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter.

    ts eliot, "Wasteland"

  6. You might as well know I posted this, because, I saw the latest production of Sweeney Todd, Live from Lincoln Center Friday night.

    I'm mad for Bryn Terfel, a very great operatic singer and actor who was playing the title role I've admired for many years, so I didn't want to miss his turn as Sweeney Todd. Also, I was intensely curious to see what Emma Thompson would bring to the role of Mrs. Lovett.

    Terfel is never less than great. He could sing Mary Had a Little Lamb, and make it a spine-tingling delight. He did not disappoint, his portray of Sweeney's darkly complex character was compelling. Unfortunately, I just couldn't buy Emma Thompson as Mrs. L. She managed to act more than sufficiently vulgar, and her Body English, often amusing, could be downright eloquent, but her voice, itself, just wasn't shrill enough.

    I had no idea the woman could sing at all. As it turns out, Emma Thompson is a passing fair contralto, but Mrs. Lovett must sound like Angela Lansbury or she isn't Mrs. Lovett.

    I saw the original Broadway production with Lansbury and Len Cariou, then I saw Sweeney Todd again in London at the Drury Lane Theatre with a different cast. Both were terrific, but I sorely missed Lansbury's presence in the London production, even though to be fair the woman there was more than adequate as Mrs. L.

    At any rate, this televised adaptation, made three years after the Broadway opening, is so far superior to Friday night's Live from Lincoln Center "concert" version, despite Bryn Terfel's remarkably penetrating understanding and larger-than-life portrayal of the role, I just had to share it in order to "clear the air."

  7. I do have to admit, it was a mistake for the makers of the recent Todd movie to eliminate the chorus.

    It'a so un-Greek w/o them.

  8. Sorry Farmer but a revenge driven barber doesn't have much of a linkage to Eliot's Sweeney who is probably better seen as an example of the vulgarity of bourgeois culture.

  9. I haven't seen the movie version, because I didn't want to. Helena and Johnny are much too young for the parts, and I doubt if either could sing more than passing fair at best. Sweeney, himself MUST be an well-trained, orotund bass-baritone capable of singing with deep expression and a wide variety of vocal colors.

    It's not quite opera, but it certainly is "operatic."

    The chorus of narrators is the very thing that MAKES Sweeney Todd the marvel that it is. Without that element, the piece would fall flat, I'm sure.

    Hollywood adapatation of stage works are rarely anywhere near as good as the original.

    I've seen it produced onstage five times, and frankly would rather see a less than stellar cast live than any "canned" movie version. The 1982 version presented here is a notable exception. It wears exremey well, and is unsurpassable in my opinion.

  10. I can't pretend to understand the Eliot, Thersites, though I appreciate the "music" in it very much. A kind of literary surrealism, I suppose?. I would have to study authoritative articles written ABOUT it before it could begin to fathom its meaning.

    Eliot is not my favorite poet. Perhaps that's because I can't quite get over his having been brought into the world in ST. LOUIS, MIssouri. (:-o Althug the great violinist, Maude Powell, who gave the world premiere of the Sibelius violin concerto in Carnegie Hall before WWI, came from a little nowhere prairie town in Iowa or western IIlinois, or was it Nebraska? -- one of those places anyway -- and was simply a BORN virtuoso on the instrument. She played all over the world and got excellent reviews.

    There is no accounting for genius. It can erupt anywhere, it seems, and no amount of dedicated effort can begin to make up for its absence.

  11. The mystery of genius is one of the many reasons I maintain a firm belief in Almighty God.

    The Academy may HOUSE and make USE of geniuses, but it cannot PRODUCE them.

  12. Surprised you didn't mention St. Louis native Helen Traubel, FT. Pretty good Brünnhilde.

    Not surprised you didn't mention Chuck Berry.

  13. Why is it, Ducky, that if the topic happens to be apples, you always want to start talking about oranges? ;-}

  14. Bourgeois culture, Thersites?

    Are you referring to Eliot's "Sweeney" poems?

    Do you, perchance, equate Bourgeois culture with Philistinism as so many have done?

    Tut tut! I wouldn't, myself.

    It's long past time that Bashing the Bourgeoisie was put out of fashion -- at leas till the poor beleaguered middle class has a chance to revive itself.

    As for me a possible motto might well be:


    Or would you like to see your wife and daughters scurrying about the streets crying, "Alms! Alms, for a desperate woman?"

  15. Bourgeoisie, as in Middle Class Shop Owners like Benjamin Barker and Mrs. Lovett... not proletarian factory workers paid a corporate wage.

    And I take the term not as something "derogatory", but as an "Ideal".

  16. I see. well, Mrs. Lovett is a decidedly "low" character, so she would have to represent the bas Bourgeoisie at best.

    Sweeney (Barker), is an enigma --certainly singular -- almost unique -- impossible to pigeonhole. An operatic bass-baritone with poetic sensibilities and masculine sex appeal must portray him, or the piece quickly falls apart.

    Despite his grisly deeds, Sweeney appeals to us. We somehow empathize with him -- even find him oddly attractive.

    Judge Turpin and the Beadle are the true villains in the piece, of course. What is it they represent? Venality? Abuse of power? Excessive cupidity? Sadism at its worst?

    Because of the judge's supreme wickedness, we feel Sweeney's mad endeavors largely justified. Even so, he gets his comeuppance when not recognizing her in her degraded condition he kills his poor wife, then realize -- too late -- what he has done.

    Are we to believe Mrs. Lovett is truly wicked, or is she motivated by something more complicated than malice and extreme selfishness? On the one hand she is a clown -- The Worst Pies in London -- a startling opus when first encountered -- never ceases to amuse as it amazes. On the other she appears oddly touching. She appears more amoral than amoral -- like most of us a victim of circumstances, who seizes the opportunity to fulfill a dormant erotic dream when the brooding Sweeney falls into her hands.

    She claims to "love" Sweeney. What is this supposed to mean mean in the context of the play?

    Was she purely selfish in preventing Sweeney from knowing his wife was still alive -- or was she possibly trying to spare him the anguish of seeing poor Lucy (the wife) in her desperate, degraded, surely irredeemable condition?

    Is Sweeney Todd an example of satirical comedy, grotesque farce. social criticism, mere sensationalistic melodrama or does it qualify as an example of classic tragedy?

    I think it may qualify in all those categories.

    I know a few people who have steadfastly refused to see it or even to allow me to discuss it. To them the piece represents nothing more than a depraved celebration of mass murder and cannibalism run amok.

    I mourn for the shriveled souls of those who would hold such an ill opinion when its based purely on pre-conceived notions derived from the slimmest, shallowest hearsay evidence.

  17. I meant "bourgeoisie" soley as a class description within the framework of a capitalist system, not a moral judgement as to their character. Every class has members of "low-high" character.

    In this case, Mrs. Lovett's station as a "propertied" member of her class, who can rent space to Barker, should be acknowledged (indicating a "higher" class, despite her lower "moral" standing).

  18. Character and Class are two distinctively different things. Take Hugh Boone of Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Man with the Twisted Lip", for one.

  19. As for Mrs Lovett, who could blame her. For as they say, "A good man is hard to find". ;)

  20. You mean a HARD man is s good to find, don't you?

    Angela Loonsberry

  21. Those were in the days "B.V." Angela.

    Before Viagra

  22. Paisiello was already 15 or 16 when Mozart was born in 1756. Superficially, their styles are remarkably similar. While both were certainly influenced both by Stamitz and by Haydn, Mozart was certainly superior to all but Haydn, who had nothing but the most extravagant praise for the young Mozart.

    The play by Beaumarchais, on which the "barber" operas of Paisiello, Mozart and Rossini were based enjoyed great popularity -- probably because it portrayed an appealing member of the servant class as a great deal smarter than his master.

    Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro is the greatest of the three operatic versions of Beaumarchais's play, but Rossini's Il barbiere di Seviglia rivals -- and may excel -- Mozart's work in popularity.

    Sondheim's Sweeney Todd is based on a serialized novel of the same name, and it too has appeared in many varied incarnations -- Sondheim's quasi-operatic version being the latest and -- I'd venture to say the best.

    The only similarity between Sweeney and Figaro is that both target and bring down powerful, domineering members of the upper crust. The Figaro operas by gentle mockery -- Sweeney by elegantly staged, bravura throat cutting.

    Sweeney Todd, as presented in this 1982 taped version, though hardly comparable to Mozart or Rossini, is, nevertheless, a very great achievement.



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