Think of it as a crash course for Sondheim newbies.
The recent release of Tim Burton’s version of Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is a streamlined version that has managed to translate beautifully to the screen, but not without its faults. As of yesterday, it has won two of the four golden globe nominations for Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy and Best Performance by an Actor Johnny Depp in a Motion Picture – Musical Or Comedy. Now, the Oscar speculation begins. Not bad for a dark story about revenge, murder, and human meat pies—all set, of course, to music.

It’s been said that his music is an acquired taste. And I suppose that it is true. I say the movie version is not without its faults, but I’m strictly speaking as an avid Sondheim fan, a purist, if you will. As a colleague said to me, “It has all the things I liked about the Broadway show and none of what I didn’t like.” I, on the other hand, would have preferred even just a little of what she didn’t like—mainly, the Ballad of Sweeney Todd (which only ever made its way into the film as an instrumental version in the opening credits and throughout the film) and an extended version of deliciously comic A Little Priest. Sondheim understood this, and warned his most hardened fans not to expect a reproduction of the original Hal Prince production. While the latter took an almost detached approach to the themes, the film is a much darker, up-close look at a madman’s obsession with revenge. Whatever the case may be, a curiosity about his work will be keeping fingers busily clicking away at everything Sweeney on the Internet.

The story follows Benjamin Barker’s return to London after being banished to Australia on a trumped up charge. He arrives with a new name, Sweeney Todd, and with vengeance on his mind. He sets up shop in his old shop above Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop, and together, they develop a devilish relationship.

For Southern Californians this spring, the Internet is not the only source for getting acquainted with Sondheim and his Tony Award winning musical thriller. In March, UCLA is hosting A Little Night Conversation – An interview with Stephen Sondheim, hosted by New York Times columnist Frank Rich. The interview will take place on Thursday, March 13th 2008 at 8.00 pm at Royce Hall, on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles.

Later that month, Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre will present the new production of Sweeney Todd. This production originated in London. It was winner of the 2006 Tony Awards for Best Direction of a Musical and Best Orchestrations, and is directed by Tony Award®-winner John Doyle. This production is a reinvention of the original, in which the actors play their own instruments. More information is available at Center Theatre Group.

More information will be posted here as it becomes available. And check back here tomorrow for a comparison analysis of Sweeney Todd: The original 1979 production, the 2007 film version, and the 2005 re-envisioned revival.

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