Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a 1979 musical thriller with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. The musical is based on the 1973 play Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Christopher Bond and opened on Broadway in 1979 and in the West End in 1980. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical and Olivier Award for Best New Musical. It has since had numerous revivals as well as a film adaptation.
The film production was released in 2007. Directed by Tim Burton and an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Tony Award-winning 1979 musical of the same name. The film re-tells the Victorian melodramatic tale of Sweeney Todd, an English barber and serial killer who murders his customers with a straight razor and, with the help of his accomplice, Mrs. Lovett, processes their corpses into meat pies. The film stars Johnny Depp as the title character and Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett.
The citizens of London, who act as a Greek chorus, throughout the play, drop a body bag into a shallow grave. Sweeney Todd rises forth (“The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”), and introduces the drama.
In 1846, young sailor Anthony Hope and the mysterious Sweeney Todd, whom Anthony has recently rescued at sea and befriended, dock in London. A crazed Beggar Woman sexually solicits them, appearing to recognize Todd for a moment (“No Place Like London”), and Todd shoos her away. Todd relates some of his troubled past to Anthony: he was a naive barber, banished by a crooked judge who lusted after Todd’s wife (“The Barber and His Wife”). Leaving Anthony, Todd enters a meat pie shop on Fleet Street, where the owner, the slatternly widow, Mrs. Lovett, laments the scarcity of meat and customers (“Worst Pies in London”). When Todd asks after her empty upstairs apartment, she reveals that its former tenant, Benjamin Barker, was transported on false charges by Judge Turpin, who, along with his servant, Beadle Bamford, then lured Barker’s wife Lucy to the Judge’s home and raped her (“Poor Thing”).
Todd’s reaction reveals that he is himself Benjamin Barker. Promising to keep his secret, Lovett explains that Lucy poisoned herself and that their then-infant daughter, Johanna, became a ward of the Judge. Todd swears revenge on the Judge and Beadle, and Mrs. Lovett presents Todd with his old collection of sterling silver straight razors, which persuades Todd to take up his old profession (“My Friends” and “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd – Reprise”). Elsewhere, Anthony spies a beautiful girl singing at her window (“Green Finch and Linnet Bird”), and the Beggar Woman tells him that her name is Johanna. Unaware that Johanna is his friend Todd’s daughter, Anthony is immediately enamored (“Ah, Miss”) and he pledges to return for her, even after the Judge and Beadle chase him away (“Johanna”).
In the crowded London marketplace, flamboyant Italian barber Adolfo Pirelli and his simple-minded young assistant Tobias Ragg, pitch a dramatic cure-all for hair loss (“Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir”). Todd and Lovett soon arrive; Todd exposes the elixir as a sham, challenges Pirelli to a shaving competition, and easily wins (“The Contest”), inviting the impressed Beadle for a free shave (“The Ballad of Sweeney Todd – Reprise 2”). Several days later, Judge Turpin flagellates himself in a frenzy over a growing lust for Johanna, but instead resolves to marry her himself. (“Johanna – Mea Culpa”).
Todd awaits the Beadle’s arrival with mounting impatience, but Mrs. Lovett tries to soothe him (“Wait”). When Anthony tells Todd of his plan to ask Johanna to elope with him, Todd, eager to reunite with his daughter, agrees to let them use his barbershop as a safehouse. As Anthony leaves, Pirelli and Tobias enter, and Mrs. Lovett takes Toby downstairs for a pie. Alone with Todd, Pirelli drops his Italian accent and persona and reveals that he is Daniel O’Higgins, Benjamin Barker’s former assistant, and knows Todd’s true identity. When O’Higgins attempts to blackmail his former employer, however, Todd injures and hides him, later slitting his throat (“Pirelli’s Death” and “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd – Reprise 3”). Meanwhile, Johanna and Anthony plan their elopement (“Kiss Me”), while the Beadle recommends Todd’s services to the Judge, so that he can better win Johanna’s affections (“Ladies in Their Sensitivities”).
Panicked at first on learning of Pirelli’s murder, Mrs. Lovett swipes his leftover coin purse and then asks Todd how he plans to dispose of the body. Suddenly, the Judge enters; Todd quickly seats him and lulls him with a relaxing conversation (“Pretty Women”). Before Todd can kill the Judge, however, Anthony re-enters and blurts his elopement plan to Todd, accidentally informing the Judge, who storms out and vows never to return. Todd drives Anthony away in a fit of fury, resolving that he will murder his future customers, since all people deserve to die: the rich to be punished for their corruption, and the poor to be relieved of their misery (“Epiphany”). Mrs. Lovett slyly suggests that they use the flesh of Todd’s victims in her meat pies, and Todd joyously agrees (“A Little Priest”).
Several weeks later, Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop has become a thriving business, and Toby is now working there as a waiter (“God, That’s Good!”). Todd and Mrs. Lovett acquire a specially-designed mechanical barber’s chair that allows Todd to kill his clients and then send their bodies directly through a chute into the pie shop’s basement bakehouse. Casually slitting his customers’ necks, Todd despairs of ever seeing Johanna, while Anthony discovers that Johanna is missing (“Johanna–Quartet”), locked away in a madhouse by the Judge. After a day of hard work, Mrs. Lovett envisions a seaside retirement (“By the Sea”), but Todd remains fixated on his revenge. Anthony arrives to beg Todd for help to free Johanna, and Todd, revitalized, devises a plan to rescue her by having Anthony pose as a wigmaker intent on purchasing inmates’ hair (“Wigmaker Sequence” and “The Ballad… – Reprise 4”). Todd later sends a secret letter to notify the Judge of Anthony’s plot, hoping to lure the Judge back to his shop (“The Letter”).
In the pie shop, Toby tells Mrs. Lovett of his uneasiness with Todd and his own desire to protect her (“Not While I’m Around”). When he recognizes Pirelli’s coin purse in Mrs. Lovett’s hands, she distracts him by showing him the bakehouse, instructing him how to work the meat grinder and the oven, before locking him in. Upstairs, she encounters the Beadle at her harmonium. He has been asked by Lovett’s neighbors to investigate the strange smoke and stench from the pie shop’s chimney. Mrs. Lovett stalls the Beadle with “Parlor Songs” until Todd returns to offer the Beadle his promised “free shave”; Mrs. Lovett loudly plays her harmonium to cover the Beadle’s screams above, as Todd dispatches him. In the basement, Toby discovers human remains in a pie, just as the Beadle’s fresh corpse comes tumbling through the chute. Maddened, he descends into the sewers of London. Mrs. Lovett then informs Todd that Toby has discovered their secret, and they resolve to kill Toby.
Anthony arrives at the asylum to rescue Johanna, but cannot bring himself to shoot Jonas Fogg, the asylum owner; Johanna grabs Anthony’s pistol and murders him herself. The asylum’s freed inmates pour out into the streets, prophesying the end of the world, while Todd and Mrs. Lovett hunt for Toby and the Beggar Woman fears what has become of the Beadle (“City on Fire/Searching”). Anthony and Johanna (now disguised as a sailor) arrive to find Todd’s shop empty. Anthony leaves to seek a coach after he and Johanna reaffirm their love (“Ah Miss – Reprise”). Left alone, Johanna hears the Beggar Woman enter and hides in the barbershop. The Beggar Woman seems to recognize the room, singing a lullaby, but the frantic Todd lethally cuts her, sending her down the chute just a moment before the Judge bursts in (“Beggar Woman’s Lullaby”). Todd assures the Judge that Johanna is repentant and the Judge asks for a quick splash of cologne. Once he has the Judge in his chair, Todd soothes him with another conversation on women, but this time he alludes to their “fellow tastes, in women at least”. The Judge recognizes him as “Benjamin Barker!” just before Todd slashes his throat and sends him hurtling down the chute (“The Judge’s Return”). The disguised Johanna finally rises, horrified, from her hiding place, surprising Todd. Todd next decides to kill her too, before Mrs. Lovett shrieks from the bakehouse below, providing a distraction for Johanna to escape. Downstairs, Mrs. Lovett is struggling with the dying Judge, who claws at her. She then attempts to drag the Beggar Woman’s body into the oven, but Todd arrives and sees the lifeless face clearly for the first time: the Beggar Woman is his wife Lucy. Todd is shocked, accusing Lovett of lying to him. Lovett frantically explains that indeed, Lucy did poison herself–but she lived, though the attempt left her insane. Lovett confesses she loves Todd. Todd then feigns forgiveness, dancing manically with Lovett until pushing her into the raging fires of the oven, burning her alive. Full of despair, Todd embraces the dead Lucy. Toby, now quite mad and white-haired from shock, crawls up from the sewer babbling nursery rhymes to himself,. He picks up Todd’s fallen razor, and cuts Todd’s throat. As Anthony, Johanna, and some constables break into the bakehouse, Todd falls dead and Toby drops the razor, heedless of the others, while absentmindedly turning the meat grinder (“Final Scene”).