In the 1970s Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler made the ‘dramatic’ experiment. They dared to stray from the safe path to the success of the play and wrote a musical about a “demon barber” and his pie-making partner in business. This play took the Victorian England by storm. The play appealed to the psyche of the viewers and turned to be a blockbuster. The plot is simple yet profound. In 1846, when a ship anchors in the London docks, it brings along with it a sailor, a part of the ancient history of London.
He is the ex–prisoner, who is behind the bars on cooked up charge, by a corrupt, lustful dispenser of justice, who ruins his family life totally. Unable to bear the humiliation, ‘his wife has poisoned herself’ and the daughter is kidnapped and held in his private custody by the same judge. How should the human being react when God condemns one from all ends of life? Under grim circumstances Sweeney Todd decides to restart his life. Destiny has been utterly cruel to him; he has something tangible to settle with it.
He meets Lovett, who makes very special meat pies on Fleet Street. Sweeney opens his tonsorial parlor on the first floor. Sweeney’s enemies come to shave, never to return. He disposes of the bodies, with the assistance of Mrs. Lovett, who needs fresh meat for her pies. “Sweeney Todd was the “hero” of a play by George Dibdin Pitt called The String of Pearls, which Pitt adapted from his own novel. But when Stephen Sondheim wanted to base a musical on some “bloody tub” Victorian melodrama, people were skeptical.
But when Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street opened on Broadway, the show was such a hit that it won 8 Tonys (including Best Musical)” (Monsters…) Nothing succeeds like success. Encouraged, the company goes on tour. More fame is in store. “In 1982, their performance at Los Angeles’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is recorded for the Entertainment Channel. ” (Monsters…)Warner Home Video releases the DVD, twenty-two years later. The perspective of the two authors as for the character of Sweeney is entirely different, but both appeal to the emotions of the reader/audience.
Pitt views Sweeney’s life in continuation of the mind-set of a hardened prisoner; he has turned a psychopath and seeks aggrandizement of wealth, without being grabbed by the arms of law. He once suffered prison terms, for no fault, and this is his style of seeking the revenge against the cruel system. Sondheim and Wheeler portray the character in a different perspective, as per the changing situations and the likings of the society. He robs the rich to help the poor. “ In the song “Epiphany,” Sweeney exclaims: “[T]here are two kinds of men, and only two.
There’s the one staying put in his proper place, and the one with his foot in the other one’s face…no, we all deserve to die. “(Monsters…)The law of divine retribution takes a full circle, and one day Judge Turpin stops by his shop, and Sweeney exclaims, “Providence is kind! ” Singing dominates the short opera (play) and the role of the open dialogues is limited. The songs seem to emerge from the soul-force of the characters, and there is a divine beauty about them. The characters also seem to sing under some strange pressure, and their psychological circuit seems to fuse due to overloading.
“From the Annual Register of London in 1785, the entry read: “A most remarkable murder was perpetrated in the following manner by a journeyman barber that lived near Hyde Park Corner …. the barber concluding it to be his wife, in the height of his frenzy, cut the young gentleman’s throat from ear to ear and absconded” (Haining, 1993, p, 34). This play has ruled over the heart of the audience and left deep impact over their psyche for the last well over 200 years, which means the audience identify the traits of Sweeney somewhere within them. They are inclined to accept as the reality of life.
Sweeney has been crowned as the king of melodramatic villains. Sweeney’s murder weapon would mislead and confuse any top crime detective—it was a wonderful theatrical device of thb1800s. “….. his disappearing barber chair. Bolted to a trap door in the floor, the chair would flip over, sending its human contents plummeting into the basement, while a duplicate chair would swing up to take its place. This melodramatic device, resembling the childlike fun of a magician’s trick and the spookiness of a haunted house, was a delight to spectators …. ”(Sweeney…)