Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sweeney Todd

A Broadway Salute

Sweeney Todd received a huge boost to his popularity with the creation of Stephen Sondheim's musical thriller, Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street," which combines some of Pit's version of String of Pearls with a touch of black humor.

In Sondheim's play, Sweeney Todd is the alias of a man wrongfully accused of a crime and transported to Australia. The barber returns to Fleet Street, only to find that his wife and daughter have disappeared. His wife, the target of the lust of a judge, was driven to insanity, while his daughter was adopted by the judge out of a sense of remorse.

Todd meets up with Mrs. Lovett, who makes "the worst pies in London" and together they plot his revenge against the judge and a Beadle who assisted the judge in his nefarious plans. Made mad by his anger, Sweeney Todd begins killing as many of his customers as possible, which Mrs. Lovett uses for her pies.

Anthony, the hero of the play, falls in love with the ward of the judge, and is determined to reveal the heinous crimes of Sweeney Todd. In classic tragic formula, Sweeney Todd's desire for revenge proves to be his undoing.

The play premiered on Broadway with Angela Lansbury taking the role of Mrs. Lovett and Len Cariou as the Demon Barber. Sweeney Todd was directed by Harold Prince. It won a slew of Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book, Best Music, and Best Actor and Actress awards. The musical also won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical. Across the ocean, the musical premiered a year later and won Best Musical Award from the London Standard Drama Awards, and the Society of West End Theatre Awards for best musical and best actor in a musical.

But it is in the streets and playgrounds were Sweeney Todd is best remembered. Anywhere children gather to tell spooky stories and scare each other, the legend of Sweeney Todd is sure to delight. As Anna Pavord of the London Observer wrote in 1979, "Sweeney Todd will never die. We all need bogeymen and he was bogier than most."


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