26 January, 2006

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd . . .

    Sweeney Todd -- a musical filled with rampant vengeance, murder, and cannibalism.  Why, then, do I love it so much?  I often call it one of my favorite musicals and people will say, "Eww.  How can you like a musical about people eating people?"
    Perhaps because Sweeney Todd isn't about that at all.
    At it's core, Sweeney Todd is a marvelously worked tragedy.  The fact that Mrs. Lovett bakes Sweeney's victims into pies and sells them to the unsuspecting London population is simply a bit of disgusting humor so the audience members don't feel like slitting their wrists during or after the show.  Shakespeare did it with sexual humor (Macbeth's porter scene) and witty humor (Hamlet's gravedigger scene), so why can't Sondheim do it with disgusting humor?
    The fact remains that Sweeney Todd is a tragedy in the classic sense.  We have our hero (or anti-hero, if you like), Sweeney Todd, who has a tragic flaw: an insatiable desire for vengeance. Sweeney was a good man (perhaps still is), but he was terribly wronged.  A depraved judge sent him off to Australia on a trumped up charge just so he could have Sweeney's wife.  When Sweeney returns, he understandably seeks revenge on the judge and, by extension, London: the city that has given up on justice.  So he exacts his revenge by once again taking up his barber's razor and sending Londoners to their maker "impeccably shaved".  Because carrying a dead body away in the middle of the night could be tricky, Sweeney's partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett, suggests, "what with times so hard as these," they should use the bodies for her meat pies.  And thus begins Sweeney's downfall.  Eventually everything unravels in the most perfect way and justice is served to all, including Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett.
    Perhaps the most interesting thing about Sweeney Todd is that the viewer finds himself sympathizing with the title character, while, at the same time, finding Sweeney's actions thoroughly revolting (why many call him an anti-hero.)  But what man wouldn't be infuriated by an unjust imprisonment, the rape of his wife, her subsequent death, and the adoption of his daughter by the very man who caused such sorrow?  As a fellow human, the viewer wants justice just as much as Sweeney does, but in classic tragic fashion, Sweeney takes it too far.
    Sweeney's range of emotion in this tale is sweeping.  One moment he's angry at the injustice in London, the next he's mourning for his wife, then rejoicing over his long-lost razors and dreaming of what he can do with them, then poking fun at a phony barber, and again scaring the pants off of you with his oaths of vengeance.  By the end of the show (for some reasons I cannot tell for fear of spoiling it for those of you who haven't see it) you truly feel sad about his demise.  Justice is certainly served, but you can't help wishing he did things differently.
    Give it a chance.  It will be worth your while.


  1. *applauds*

    have you ever thought of critiquing theatre?

  2. Why, yes, I have. Haven't done anything beyond thinking though, other than posting on here. :-)