As y’all know, I fully support the writers in the strike, but I do miss the humorous insight of my pretend boyfriend Jon. Too bad I don’t have a basement…
So I saw Sweeney Todd last night. As I suspected, I didn’t hate it or find it badly done. Tim Burton and company did a fine job. Was it perfect? No. As a Sondheim fanatic who’s worked on two productions of the show and for whom Sweeney Todd is my second favorite musical (Sunday in the Park with George is #1, also by Sondheim), the chances of me finding absolutely nothing wrong with it is pretty slight.
But it was very faithful to the source material, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter – if less melodramatic in the roles than I’m used to – still did well, both acting-wise and singing-wise. Alan Rickman was, of course, fantastic (then again, in my eyes it would be difficult for him to do wrong). I didn’t care much about the young lovers Anthony and Johanna, but I rarely do anyway – that’s nothing to do with the actors. At least the actress playing Johanna actually looked like a teen – rarely a given.
All of the other characters were nicely acted (including Sasha Baron Cohen as Pirelli). Plus recasting Toby as a child (instead of the simple minded adult in the stage version) worked well and added a chilling dimension to certain scenes. The child actor playing Toby (Ed Sanders) was terrific.
I loved the cinematography and set design, as I tend to do with Burton’s movies, and the way the musical was made purely cinematic pleased me to no end. And the ending? I know this musical like the back of my hand and I was still on the edge of my seat. Well done.
My issues with the movie are actually quite minor. One or two scene transitions could have been more creatively done (especially with an early scene where Sweeney is singing about the past, which then brings us to the past) and there was some graininess in some of the later scenes, which were especially dark. I also had some problems with the loss of some songs and lyrics. In most of the instances I understood why the songs and lyrics were cut (though I felt that, in one instance – the first scene with Anthony and Johanna – it hurt the scene a bit), but I missed them nevertheless, especially since it would have meant that I got to see Christopher Lee sing. Long-time readers know I’ve been a Chistopher Lee fan since I was five.
Still, I’m happy that Anthony Stewart Head still had a cameo, even if his original role as the Ballad Ghost was cut. Sondheim himself was very much involved with the production, which helped to keep it on track. And the thing that makes me really happy about the movie? Having Johnny Depp as the lead will insure that people who are not familiar with Stephen Sondheim or his music will see this and, perhaps, discover a whole new world of brilliant music and lyrics. Since this was a faithful and handsomely mounted adaptation, that can only be of the good.
The movie opens tonight in general release. Go, Sweeney, go!