Music &Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Producers: Nigel Wright &Michael Ball
Associate Producers: Stephen Sondheim, Nicholas Skilbeck
Musical Director: Nicholas Skilbeck
Reviewer: Katy Roberts
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street opened on Broadway in 1979 and in London’s West End the following year. Set in 19th century England, the musical tells the story of Benjamin Barker, alias Sweeney Todd, who returns to London after 15 years’ transportation on trumped-up charges. When he finds out that his wife poisoned herself after being raped by the judge who transported him, he vows revenge on the judge and, later, the whole world. He teams up with a pie-maker, Mrs. Lovett, and opens a barbershop in which he slits the throats of customers and has them baked into pies. This 2012 West End revival stars Michael Ball as the brooding Todd, and Imelda Staunton as the lovesick accomplice to his crimes.
Ball’s strong voice carries off the dark songs with great relish, moving from the softer, whispering tracks such as ‘My Friend/The Ballad of Sweeney Todd’ to the snarling, bellowing ‘Epiphany’ with phenomenal intensity. Staunton is perfect as Mrs Lovett, her voice nervous and fluttering but still remains much stronger than Helena Bonham Carter’s attempt in the 2007 film, ‘By The Sea’ is a humorous daydream, where Mrs Lovett longs to be with Todd. The album’s standout track is ‘A Little Priest’, which remains a darkly funny and macabre classic for a reason, and rightly so.
The sub-plot of the love story between Anthony (Luke Brady) and Todd’s estranged daughter Johanna (Lucy May Barker) is beautifully sung, showcased nowhere better than in the swelling ‘Johanna’ and the romantic and urgent ‘Kiss Me’.
The intermittent inclusions of reprises of ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd’ can feel quite jarring at times when listening to the soundtrack on its’ own, detracting from the intensity of some of the darkest songs, but this is something that would surely go unnoticed when watching the show onstage.
This is a wonderfully refreshing recording of the classic and dark musical, the praise heaped upon Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton for their portrayals appears to be very much justified.