|Sweeney Todd in Concert: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: The Legend of Sweeney Todd|
The Legend of Sweeney Todd -- The Man, The Myth, The Musical!
(the following is a mix of fact, fiction, lore, rumor and innuendo)
Sweeney Todd is born the son of silk industry laborers.
Abandoned by his parents, a local parish takes responsibility for Todd finding him an apprenticeship to cutler John Crook.
Sweeney Todd is arrested and convicted of petty larceny. At age 14, Todd is sentenced to five years at Newgate Prison. In Newgate, Todd uses his experience as a cutler’s apprentice to land himself an apprenticeship under the Prison Barber. Reportedly, he and his mentor manage to make an additional income picking the pockets of the customers.)
Released from Newgate Prison at age 19, Todd now has a trade to practice as a gypsy barber. Circumstantial evidence points to his first murder during this time: while getting a shave from Todd at Hyde Park Corner, a young male customer tells him of a sexual encounter with a woman matching the physical description of Todd's current lover. In a jealous rage, he slits the throat of the young man. While the murder was reported in the local newspapers, Todd managed to escape the police. Later in life, he went on record as saying "My first 'un was a young gent at Hyde Park Corner. Slit him from ear to ear, I did."
Todd sets up shop on the north side of Fleet Street between St. Dunstan's Church and Hen and Chicken Court. He hung a shingle declaring "Easy shaving for a penny -- As good as you will find ant." His shop was located on the ground floor, and his apartment was on the upper level. Todd designs a notorious trap in the floor below his barber's chair. When a lever is released, the trap door rotates, sending another chair strapped to the bottom up to the floor level. The unwitting victim would tumble down to the basement floor. If the fall does not do the job, Todd runs down to the basement level to finish him off. Through his basement, Todd can access the crypts below the church where he disposes of his victims' remains. It is reported that people enter Todd's shop and are never seen again. While rumors begin to circulate and even the local press goes on record to accuse Todd of murder, the police do not get involved.
With no room left to dispose of his victims, it is believed that Todd begins to collaborate with his lover Mrs. (Margery or Sarah) Lovett, a widow whose husband died under mysterious circumstances. Lovett runs a bakery at Bell Yard by Carey Street. Todd can make discrete delivery of meat pie fillings to Lovett's basement-level ovens via the catacombs below Fleet Street.
The stench coming from the remains of Todd's victims below the church finally prompts a police investigation. The Beadle of St. Dunston (and also a constable), Mr. Otten and Police chief Sir Richard Blunt discover the remains below the church. Bloody footprints lead them from the crypts to the back entrance of Lovett's bakery. Todd and Lovett are immediately arrested.
Lovett confesses all to the governor of Newgate Prison. Shortly thereafter, Lovett takes poison and dies. Todd is tried for the murder of just one seaman, Francis Thornhill. The trial utilizes one of the earliest recorded uses of forensic evidence in identifying Thornhill's remains. Todd pleads not guilty, and the defense attempts to disregard the evidence and pin the crime on Lovett. In less than 10 minutes, the jury deliberates and sentences Todd to the gallows.
January 25, 1802
Sweeney Todd is hung from the gallows of Newgate Prison, where he apprenticed as an adolescent. After the execution, Todd's body is handed over to "learned barber-surgeons" to be dissected and studied.
In the years following his execution, Todd is commonly reincarnated as a ghoulish sub-human barber in the popular one-cent "penny dreadfuls," the popular true crime reports of the day. Through these embellished accounts, the story of the monster barber with his trap door start to reach a new and wide audience.
The French story of a murderous barber appears in London's The Tell Tale Magazine under the title "A Terrible Story of the Rue de la Harpe."
Thomas Peckett Prest serializes the story, now called "The String of Pearls," which is published in one of London's "penny dreadful" newspapers, The Newgate Calendar. The 18 weekly installments of the barber’s terrible acts become immensely popular, especially among the lower classes.
"The String of Pearls" proves so popular that it is quickly adapted for the stage by George Dibdin-Pitt for a performance at the Britannia Theatre. The enormous success of Pitt's play spawns dozens of imitations. These bloody melodramas were continuously produced in and around London throughout the remainder of the 19th century.
A silent film adaptation of "The String of Pearls" reaches the silver screen as "Sweeney Todd."
"Sweeney Todd" returns to the silent screen, this time as a more serious horror adaptation.
"The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," directed by George King, becomes the "talkie" film version of the story.
The Royal Ballet Company at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre produces a ballet version with music by Malcolm Arnold and choreography by John Cranko.
"Sweeney Todd" by Christopher Bond opens at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. This version is seen by composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who recruits book writer Hugh Wheeler to collaborate with him on a musical treatment of Bond's play.
On March 1, "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" opens at Broadway's Uris Theatre with a score by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler and directed by Hal Prince. The cast features Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett, Len Cariou as Sweeney Todd, Victor Garber as Anthony Hope, Edmund Lyndeck as Judge Turpin, Jack Eric Williams as The Beadle, Merle Louise as The Beggar Woman, Ken Jenkins as Tobias and Joaquin Romagueras as Pirelli. "Sweeney Todd" earns seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It also wins the New York Drama Critics Circle and Outer Critics Circle Awards as Best Musical. Sweeney Todd closes after 557 performances with Dorothy Louden and George Hearn having assumed the roles of Lovett and Todd. RCA Victor releases a double LP cast recording of the production. The recording wins two Grammy Awards: "Best Original Cast Show Album" and "Best Engineered Recording, Classical."
The Sondheim-Wheeler-Prince production of "Sweeney Todd" premieres in London's West End at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Denis Quilley and Shelia Hancock star as Todd and Lovett. The production plays 157 performances and wins the London Standard Drama and Society of West End Theatre Awards as Best Musical. A U.S. national tour of the production is launched starring Lansbury and Hearn.
On February 23, a second national tour -- directed by Prince and starring June Havoc as Mrs. Lovett–opens at the Playhouse Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware. On September 12, Sweeney Todd is first televised. The television production was recorded during the Los Angeles engagement of the first national tour starring Lansbury and Hearn.
"Sweeney Todd" first reaches the opera houses. Hal Prince directs a production at Houston Grand Opera starring Timothy Nolan in the title role. In the fall, "Sweeney Todd" returns to New York when New York City Opera presents a production based on the Houston Grand Opera incarnation. Again, Prince directs and Nolan stars.
London sees its first revival of Sondheim-Wheeler's Sweeney Todd. Ironically, the production is directed by a man named Chris Bond.
Off-Broadway's York Theatre Company presents a new, intimate production of the musical. Opening March 31 at The Church of Heavenly Rest, the production plays 24 performances before transferring to Broadway’s Circle in The Square Theatre. Directed by Susan Schulman, the production features Bob Gunton as Todd, Beth Fowler as Lovett, Jim Walton as Anthony Hope and Eddie Korbich as Tobias. On Broadway, the production plays for 189 performances and is nominated for four Tony Awards, including "Outstanding Revival."
Declan Donnellan directs The Royal National Theatre production of the musical. This production features Julia McKenzie as Lovett, Alun Armstrong as Todd and Adrian Lester as Anthony Hope. The production opens June 2 at London's The Cottesloe Theatre and then reopens in repertory on December 16 at the Lyttelton Theatre. Denis Quilley returns to the title role for the re-opening. The production garners four Olivier Awards, including "Best Revival of a Musical."
Two new "Sweeney Todd" recordings are available. Varese Sarabande releases The Trotter Trio performing "Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd in Jazz," a disc of jazz variations based on themes from the score. Horus (Polydor Spain) releases the cast recording of the Barcelona production, Sweeney Todd, El barber diabňlic del carrer Fleet. The entire score is sung in Catalan.
A notable production of the musical is presented at The Goodspeed Opera house in East Haddam, Connecticut. Timothy Nolen returns to the title role. That winter, another London revival of the musical is presented at the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester.
March 12, 1999
Reprise!, a Los Angeles-based musicals-in-concert series, presents five performances of the musical starring Kelsey Grammer as Todd, Christine Baranski as Lovett, Neil Patrick Harris as Anthony Hope, Melissa Manchester as The Beggar Woman, Ken Howard as Judge Turpin, Scott Wara as Pirelli and Dale Kristien as Johanna.
May 4, 2000
In celebration of Sondheim's 70th birthday, The New York Philharmonic presents "Sweeney Todd, in Concert." The all-star cast that includes Patti LuPone as Mrs. Lovett, George Hearn as Sweeney Todd, Audra McDonald as the Beggar Woman, John Aler as The Beadle, Davis Gaines as Anthony Hope, Heidi Grant Murphy as Johanna, Neil Patrick Harris as Tobias, Stanford Olsen as Pirelli, Paul Plishka as Judge Turpin and the New York Choral Artists. Andrew Litton conducts the New York Philharmonic; Lonny Price directs. The concert is recorded for a limited-edition release on New York Philharmonic Special Editions, the Philharmonic's own label, the first complete recording of Stephen Sondheim's musical-theater work since the 1979 original Broadway-cast recording, and the first recording of the work by a symphony orchestra.
July 19, 2001
Lonny Price's concert staging of the musical is mounted again, this time at San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall. With the San Francisco Symphony behind them, LuPone, Hearn and most of the principal performers from the New York Philharmonic concert reprise their roles for the engagement. Broadway veteran Victoria Clark plays the Beggar Woman.
October 31, 2001
On Halloween night, Sweeney returns to television when PBS broadcasts the concert performance taped during San Francisco limited engagement.