I’ve had several acquaintances like our odd Mr. Todd, but they never hovered in my life very long. They always had somewhere else to go–in a hurry–that I often thought they were bigwigs in some dark commerce or the arts, surgeons or maybe even lawyers at the least. So that when they changed their addresses, my letters to them returned unopened, I assumed they sold their properties and were living off another adventure across the salty seas. Actually, that’s not all together fair. One letter, from a Mac Z. Thumb was returned t’me, opened, with a perfectly formed bloodstain and a smear or two on the flap–a lovely souvenir. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is one of those shady characters. He has a past that would toss you about at night. Your fingernails gauging the bedpost in the moonlight for fear you might never sleep t’dream again. T’is good t’pity and fear the man.
The history of the Barber of Fleet Street is as long a winding road as any title character has ventured. Todd himself first appeared in 1846 as a villain of a popular “penny dreadful” (so coined because of the cost & the content) magazine serial entitled The String of Pearls. It was a hit. In 1920 he surfaced on the boards in a melodrama penned by George Dibdin-Pitt simply entitled Sweeney Todd. Then our Mr. Todd made several film appearances in English fare until he landed back on the boards in an American Broadway Musical, music and lyrics by the Great White Way icon Stephen Sondheim. That production transformed the dastardly Todd into a forlorn anti-hero instead of the murderous robber he truly was. Who could complain, really? It starred two titans of the stage Len Cariou as the deranged Sweeney and Angela Lansbury as the scene-stealing, love-starved Mrs. Lovett. And fun was had by all. Sweeney has seen several stage revivals until the Demon Barber waited patiently to be brought back to life by a super star, pretty-boy, actor extraordinaire named mister Johnny Depp–thank you very much.
A Gothic treat, a naughty piece of eye candy that seldom disappoints, Mr. Burton’s blood ballet is a lovely slice of art. It is not the penny magazine or the stage play or even the musical it was based upon, but an entirely new beast. A terrifying opera with fangs where Depp sings his bloody heart out. He holds it up for all to see, still beating, dripping crimson-goo as he rock-stars all over the celluloid screen. Wonderful. See it on DVD in a Deluxe set with all the pomp and circumstance affordable for the price. Just remember to pay homage to a villain on equal footing as The Ripper, play it at the witching hour with the lights out, a few candles burning around the house. A glass of red wine, a potpie perhaps, and, oh yes… there will be blood.