He kept a shop in London town Of fancy clients and good renown And what if none of their souls were saved? They went to their maker impeccably shaved
— the opening number, "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd"
Sweeney Todd (subtitled "The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"), is a highly-regarded musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler. It is based on the Christopher Bond version of the legendary story of an English barber who murdered his customers and, with the help of his neighbor Mrs. Lovett, made them into pies. In this version of the story, Todd is out to get revenge on a corrupt Judge who sent him to prison on false charges, raped his wife, and "adopted" his daughter fifteen years ago. Mrs. Lovett smoothly tries to dissuade him from this goal so that he can settle down with her.The original Broadway production went up in 1979 at the Uris Theatre. It was directed by Harold Prince and starred Len Cariou as Sweeney Todd and Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett. It has since been the subject of many revivals and concerts, and is widely considered Sondheim's masterpiece, and since the latest revival and release of the Tim Burton film version, it has become even more popular than Into the Woods.
The musical provides examples of:
Accidental Pun: Sondheim had Mrs. Lovett sing "Bring Your Chopper" in 'By the Sea' having no idea that 'chopper' is slang for 'penis' in Britain.
Adaptation Distillation / Adaptation Expansion: (a little of both) The characters of Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett come from a Victorian "shilling shocker" titled The String of Pearls. It is only in Christopher Bond's modern version, which Sondheim's musical adapts, that Sweeney has a revenge motivation, and Mrs. Lovett has a crush on him.
Also in the original story, Tobias is employed from the beginning by Sweeney Todd, and he had only very passing interaction with Mrs. Lovett (specifically, stopping by to buy a pie). Instead of Anthony, we had Mark Ingestrie, and he and Johanna have a more unambiguously happy ending. Most of the characters from the play and movie appear, but many have had their roles, relationships, and so on shuffled around, essentially being recast (or using a very, very Alternative Character Interpretation).
Sondheim also fixes one or two weak moments in Bond's version. Now we actually see the lovers meeting for the first time instead of just hearing about it. Likewise, instead of simply developing a taste for blood, Todd sings "Epiphany" in which his mind snaps after the Judge escapes his clutches and he decides that "we all deserve to die".
An Aesop: If you seek vengeance, you will only end up becoming as bad as (if not worse than) the one who wronged you.
The Cast Showoff: Beadle Bamford is usually expected to actually play the harmonium. Not to mention the entire cast of the 2005 Broadway revival - they all played various instruments.
Chekhov's Gun: Senior Pirelli's purse. After Mrs. Lovett pilfers it off his body she pulls it out several more times. When Toby finally sees it and recognizes it, it starts unraveling everything for her and Sweeney.
Todd: In all of the whole human race, Mrs. Lovett, there 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!/ Look at me, Mrs. Lovett — look at you!
Crosscast Role: In the 2005 revival, Pirelli is played by a woman, but as a man.
Cut Song: The Judge's 'Johanna' was cut from the original production because it held up the plot (and is incredibly creepy) but appears on the original cast album and was eventually reinstated. The tooth pulling part of the Contest is also often cut.
Cycle of Revenge: Turpin and Bamford were responsible for the imprisonment of Sweeney, so he went on a quest to hunt them down. Then immediately after he finally achieved his vengeance, Sweeney finds out about Lovett's lies of his wife, whom he killed earlier, so he throws her in the oven, and then he himself was killed by Toby in the end.
Death by Sex: Played straight, subverted, and double subverted. Lucy swallows poison after being raped, and Sweeney wants to kill Turpin for raping her. However neither of them dies immediately. And when all's said and done, it would seem that only the virgins are left alive. Assuming Johanna is at least a technical virgin and that she and Anthony didn't have sex during "Kiss Me."
Dissonant Serenity: Sweeney's part in the Johanna Quartet is this. He murders people in an eerily detached manner, singing a gorgeous song.
Distressed Damsel: Subverted — although her character mostly fits the trope, in a memorable scene, Anthony rescues Johanna from a madhouse where she is being imprisoned, pointing a gun at the asylum keeper. After Anthony admits he can't shoot, Johanna picks up the gun and kills the asylum keeper.
"You will be guaranteed, without a penny's charge...the closest shave you will ever know."
"We'll serve anyone...meaning anyone...and to anyone..."
Downer Ending: By the end, the only cast members alive are Toby, Johanna and Anthony. Johanna and Anthony still have nowhere to go and the guards are likely to take them in for questioning. Toby is completely mad and just committed murder so he's probably heading to the prison or the madhouse.
The Dragon: The Beadle fills this role for Judge Turpin.
Driven to Suicide: Lucy poisoned herself, according to Mrs. Lovett. Except she never said that she died... Some productions may have Sweeney fill this trope after he realizes he killed his wife. Though arguably it'd be assisted suicide. Take the concert production, Sweeney unbuttons his collar so Toby can slit his throat easier.
Drumroll Please: Toby does this himself while presenting "Pirelli's Miracle Elixir".
Due to the Dead: Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett engage in the evil version of this.
Eat the Rich: During "A Little Priest," Sweeney briefly considers exclusively serving the upper classes in Mrs. Lovett's pie shop before discarding the idea as "discriminating."
Epic Rocking: The eponymous Ballad that opens and closes the show fits.
Evil Is Petty: Mrs Lovett. Quite apart from the horrible things she and Sweeney do, which aren't petty at all, she spends a surprisingly large amount of time making spiteful jabs at people. During God That's Good! she gloats that she's put her rival Mrs Mooney out of business. Earlier she'd scoffed at her over the suspicion that she was using cat meat. Considering what Mrs. Lovett is now including in her pies...
Evil Sounds Deep: Sweeney is a bass-baritone and Judge Turpin a bass. On the other hand, the Beadle and Pirelli are both Counter-Tenors. This is countered out with Anthony's high, innocent tones.
Even Evil Has Standards: Sweeney slits people's throats with a straight razor and has the bodies baked into pies, but he won't kill men who have families, which is understandable, since the reason for his Roaring Rampage of Revenge is that he was unjustly taken away from his wife and daughter, who were then raped/Driven to Suicide (well, not exactly) and adopted/implied to be sexually abused by Judge Turpin, respectively. Though it may be more Pragmatic Villainy, families mean witnesses and investigations. The latter explains why it's Played for Laughs in the stage version.
Fauxreigner: Adolfo Pirelli a.k.a. Daniel O'Higgins, and he's Irish.
A Fête Worse than Death: The masked ball in "Poor Thing", which culminates in Judge Turpin raping Sweeney Todd's wife.
Why doesn't Mrs. Lovett want the Beggar Woman near Sweeney? She's Lucy.
"Don't I know you, mister?"
The bird seller talking about how they make the birds sing. "We blind 'em. That's what we always does. We blind 'em and, not knowing night from day, they sing and they sing without stopping. Pretty creatures." This was later echoed by Fogg, talking about Johanna. "She needs so much correction! She sings day and night and leaves the other inmates sleepless!"
Fractured Fairy Tale: Everything about Johanna's situation seems to be taken from a fairy tale, Rapunzel and Allerleirauh, in particular. Most of the main characters seem to be based on fairy tale archetypes (Mrs. Lovett is the deceitful witch, Anthony is the optimistic commoner, Johanna is the princess in distress, Toby is the orphan, and Turpin is the Devil).
Framing Device: In the revival, the events of the play are shown as being the story Toby tells in the insane asylum.
Funny Foreigner: Subverted — Signore Pirelli's exaggerated Italian accent and mannerisms are faked; the character is really an Irishman named Daniel/Davey. This can turn into a Double Subversion, depending on how strong the Irish accent and mannerisms are presented (see the 1982 videotaped stage performance for an example).
Gaining The Will To Kill: The eponymous Sweeney Todd was originally a wronged man looking to get his daughter back from an evil judge, who abducted the girl after raping Sweeney's wife and sending Sweeney himself to Australia on a trumped-up charge. That all changes when a charlatan named Pirelli recognizes Sweeney as an escaped convict and threatens to turn him in, driving Sweeney to kill him. Sweeney has never killed before, but he shows no remorse for this act, having decided it was necessary to protect his cover. When his friend Mrs. Lovett proposes disposing of the body by baking it into meat pies, Sweeney finds he has no qualms about continuing to kill, and launches himself into a frenzied campaign of revenge against the world that wronged him by becoming a Serial Killer and handing the bodies over to Mrs. Lovett for, er, disposal.
Get Out: Sweeney's reaction to Anthony's very untimely foiling of his first attempt to kill Turpin.
Girl in the Tower: Johanna, despite her walking outside. It's implied that Turpin not only forbids her from leaving the house, but also from leaving her room (because the rest of the house must have windows, too). Not to mention other allusions to Rapunzel.
High Pressure Blood: Depending on the production. Can also be done on-stage, but it's very tricky.
Human Resources: The two main characters use human flesh in decidedly resourceful ways.
Hurricane of Puns: The wickedly funny string of allusions to personalities and flavors in the number "A Little Priest", where the two figure out how they'll dispose of the body upstairs (and make a tidy profit out of future customers, at the expense of the rival pie shop across the way).
(after tasting a pie made of a priest) HEAVENLY!
Hypocritical Humor: "Wouldn't do in my shop/why the thought's enough to make you sick/and I'm telling you them pussy cats is quick!"
Johanna is the only member of her family who goes to an insane asylum, but she's also the only member of her family who hasn't gone insane. This really depends on how she's played—sometimes she's already insane, and sometimes she only goes insane after she's put in the insane asylum. The lyrics in "Kiss Me" imply that she is at least very unstable. "It was a gate, it's the gate... - We don't have a gate!"
In pursuit of vengeance for his wife, and wanting his daughter back, Sweeney winds up murdering his wife and almost kills his daughter, who's in disguise.
Lucy wound up in Bedlam instead of a hospital, so technically Johanna isn't the only one of the family to end up in a nut-house
All three of the Barkers end up in their old room together and none of them are aware that the others are there.
Anthony is a sailor who is both young and claims to have "[Sailed] the wold and seen its wonders" yet he's a romantic idealist. He doesn't even quite grasp the magnitude of Johanna's home life situation. Johanna, on the other hand, is a beautiful sixteen-year-old girl raised in wealth and she's extremely nervous and a bit cynical, admitting that she was afraid that Anthony wouldn't come back for her.
"I Want" Song: Mrs Lovett's "By The Sea" song, all about the future she's hoping for.
Kill 'em All: Were you expecting a revenge tragedy to have a happy ending? Sweeney Todd, Judge Turpin, Lucy, and Mrs. Lovett are all dead. Only Toby, Johanna, and Anthony are all alive. The police burst into the bakehouse just after Toby has slit Sweeney's throat, and is deliriously repeating Mrs. Lovett's secret of how to make the pies juicy and tender. "Three times, that's the secret.. three times through the grinder." This suggests that Toby is on his way to a Bedlam House. Anthony and Johanna are also there with the police, Johanna presumably having gone to them about the fact that Todd nearly killed her. Presumably they get a happy ending given that the Judge and Beadle aren't around to have Johanna re-committed, but it's still pretty gruesome...
Lady Macbeth: Mrs. Lovett is arguably more evil than Sweeney Todd. Given that while he has the excuse of having endured terrible tragedy and going crazy, she participates in and encourages his mass-murdering for financial motives, and it was her suggestion to cook the corpses of his victims in the first place. Then, of course, there's Mrs. Lovett's ulterior motive in not telling Sweeney that his wife is alive and is the crazy Beggar Woman; she lets him think his wife is dead because of her crush on Sweeney.
In "A Little Priest", the actor always arrives overdone...
Pirelli, full stop.
George He- excuse me, GEORGE HEARN!!!
And when paired with Patti LuPone, it gets taken to new levels, very effectively.
People who saw Angela Lansbury early in her Broadway run and then later on, around the time of the recorded production, generally say that she was playing a couple jokes much bigger as the show's run went on.
During A Little Priest, if Sweeney and Lovett aren't completely tearing the house down, they're doing it wrong.
Lethal Chef: Subverted - Mrs. Lovett is this before she starts making pies of human flesh; she says because she couldn't afford fresh meat. She's not alone; she snaps that her rival, Mrs. Moony, uses the neighbors' cats for filling. Afterward, in the wake of financial success, Mrs. Lovett's meat pies are delicious (if now lethal in a rather different way), implying that she's actually a good cook, she just needs better ingredients.
Like Mother, Like Daughter: A blink-and-you'll-miss-it example, but at the beginning of "Kiss Me," Johanna's first idea of how to avoid marrying Turpin is to poison herself: "I'll swallow poison on Sunday/That's what I'll do, I'll get some lye..."
Loving a Shadow: Sweeney has a variation in regards to his fatherly love of Johanna. His version of the Johanna quartet is basically him wondering what she's like.
Lured Into a Trap: The "Poor Thing" sequence has Beadle Bamford luring Lucy Barker to a masked ball at Judge Turpin's mansion, telling her that the Judge is remorseful about sending away her husband, Benjamin Barker, for life on a false charge. Turns out he's anything but remorseful, and has used this as a means to get her alone and defenseless.
Mad Love: Depending on the version, Mrs. Lovett's one-sided obsession with Sweeney can be seen as an example of this trope, particularly considering her attempts to keep him from discovering that his wife is still alive.
Also Todd's scheme in Act II, where he helps Anthony to rescue Johanna by setting him up as a wigmaker's apprentice and betrays Anthony to the Judge in order to lure the latter back to his parlour. In particular, the song "The Letter" shows Todd agonizing over the exact words that will manipulate the Judge's lust and sense of inadequacy.
Sweeney quickly goes from desiring only revenge on the Judge and Beadle responsible for his imprisonment and stealing his wife and daughter to a vendetta against all humanity. However, given that in the original Victorian "shilling shocker", Sweeney had no motivation for his crimes, this is undoubtedly an improvement.
There's even a song that illustrates it: his part in the Johanna Quartet.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Nice job busting into Sweeney's barber shop in the middle of his shaving of Turpin so that your plans to rescue Johanna gets blown to hell, Anthony!
Not to mention that you ruining Todd's plans for vengeance has caused him to lapse into a downward spiral of mass murder and unwitting (for the customers of the pie shop, anyway) cannibalism! Well done!
Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Len Cariou in the original production made no attempt at an English accent. Which actually helped sharpen the character's isolation from the rest of the cast, most of whom either were English or affecting Fake Brit accents.
Psycho Supporter: Mrs. Lovett's support of Sweeney's murder sprees and her eagerness to get rid of the corpses in such a disturbed manner make her a prime example of this trope.
Rape as Drama: Lucy Barker. Johanna, maybe. Threat of rape, almost certainly.
Red Herring: In the song "Kiss Me," Johanna makes a big fuss about her reticule (small purse), saying she cannot possibly leave it behind, it's the only thing her mother gave her... quite a bit of set-up. The reticule is never mentioned again.
Reduced to Ratburgers: In the time that the play is set in, there is a meat shortage in London, such that those without means often have to turn to other avenues to get their meat, such as catching animals off the streets to be made into pies. It is this situation which leads to Mrs. Lovett's idea to serve up Sweeney's victims as meat pies. After all...
Sweeney: These are desperate times, Mrs. Lovett, and desperate measures are called for.
Revenge: Sweeney Todd is done in the style of a classical revenge tragedy.
Rule Of Threes: There are three songs called "Johanna", one of them sung by Anthony, the second by Judge Turpin, and the last as a quartet led by Sweeney. The second is cut from some productions, despite it being the Judge's big moment.
Also, Mrs. Lovett's instructions for making the meat pies:
"Three times... that's the secret... three times through the grinder..."
Scare Chord: SWING YOUR RAZOR WIDE, SWEENEY! HOLD IT TO THE SKY! The first two verses were sung with only the singer illuminated. During the music between the second verse and the above line, the entire stage was dark and the entire cast assembled in ranks. The line starts; cue every spotlight in the house going on and Scare Chord. Truly amazing.
The shrill factory whistle that accompanies Sweeney's murders.
The stage version generally has to use a double-level set and depending on the available resources it can get more elaborate from there. On the other hand, John Doyle's 2004 staging in London (later transferred to Broadway) was a minimalist version that had only 10 actors who played instruments when they were not singing themselves, and only suggested its settings.
Also, the concert version performed in New York and San Francisco had no sets whatsoever, the actors performed on platforms surrounded by the orchestra.
Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: Various theater versions of this musical have various takes on this. Some make him a more clear-cut example by highlighting his self-loathing, while others make him more one-dimensional.
So Beautiful, It's a Curse: All of the Barkers. Lucy's beauty is what caused the Judge's attraction to her and kickstarted the plot. The same applies to Johanna once she grows older and the Judge sets his sights on her. Meanwhile, Todd may have been able to reunite with Lucy (or at least not have killed her) if he hadn't attracted Mrs. Lovett.
Sociopathic Hero: Given that he was wrongly imprisoned for more than a decade and has lost his wife and daughter, the audience is encouraged to sympathize with Sweeney Todd. At first.
Soundtrack Dissonance: One of the best scores in musical theatre belongs to a play about a guy who slits people's throats and has them baked into pies. A beautifully executed example in the "Johanna" sequence near the beginning of Act II, where Sweeney's steady, gentle, romantic theme is at odds with the atrocities he is simultaneously committing, showing how disassociated he has become.
If Mrs Lovett is played as having waited specifically for Todd to return a single man, then this certainly applies.
Stalking Is Love: Anthony's infatuation with Johanna and Mrs. Lovett's obsession with Sweeney Todd can both come across like this. Judge Turpin appears this way at first, but this is horribly subverted when a few minutes later it's revealed that he rapes Lucy after seemingly attempting to court her.
Straw Nihilist: In the songs "Epiphany" and "A Little Priest", Sweeney justifies his actions based upon the utter corruption of the world. He even states that all Humans Are Bastards who deserve to die.
There's a hole in the world, like a great black pit, And it's filled with people who are filled with shit And the vermin of the world inhabit it... But not for long! They all deserve to die!
Stepford Smiler: Mrs. Lovett is an example of the facade being the true personality with a bit of Yandere thrown in, always almost always cheerful and kindly, but having no qualms about chopping up and cooking Todd's victims, motivated by obsessive love for Sweeney Todd and a desire to improve her economic standing.
Tragic Dream: She may be a sociopath, but Lovett's enthusiastic dream of marrying Todd and living a blissful life in a seaside Stepford Suburbia is never going to happen. As everything starts falling apart she seems to grow desperate to cling to this.
Wide-Eyed Idealist: Anthony Hope sees evil only when it's being rubbed in his face (example: any interaction he has with the Beadle). Even then, he believes that good will win.
Wife Husbandry: Judge Turpin attempts this in regards to Johanna. It fails.
Willing Suspension of Disbelief: We are asked to accept that a serial killer can operate so openly for so long before people realize that very few customers of Todd's are ever seen again after their appointments. However, it seems that the plan is only to dispose of visiting foreigners and other people who have no close acquaintances in the city, which makes it slightly more believable.
Would Hurt a Child: After Todd kills Pirelli, Mrs. Lovett asks what she should do about Toby. He tells her to "send him up."
Wrong Genre Savvy: Anthony believes himself to be the romantic hero of a love story between him and Johanna and is completely naive to how corrupt and evil the other characters are (including his "friend" Sweeney Todd). Johanna seems much less naive than him as she grew up with the Judge and knows how awful he is. Similarly, in different ways, both Toby and Mrs. Lovett seem to think of themselves as being in a more conventional Victorian rags to riches story, with Lovett planning a better life away from the city, and Toby believing that he can protect and repay her for saving him. Indeed, much of the pathos in the play comes from characters acting as though they are in a rather different kind of story.
Yank the Dog's Chain: At the very end, Todd finally tells Mrs. Lovett everything she's been longing for him to tell her throughout the play, while dancing with her. And then he throws her in the oven and lets her burn to death.
You Never Asked: Mrs. Lovett told Todd that his wife poisoned herself while he was gone, but didn't mention that Lucy was still alive, but had gone crazy and become a street beggar. Lovett keeping this fact from Todd caused him to kill his wife.