His skin was pale and his eye was odd
He shaved the faces of gentlemen
Who never thereafter were heard of again
He trod a path that few have trod
Did Sweeney Todd
The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."
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 enables Todd's bloodlust as it helps out her business, but also 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. Since the release of the Tim Burton film version, it has become even more popular than Into the Woods.
A Broadway revival — the first full-scale version on Broadway since the original productionnote — opened on March 26, 2023 (after beginning previews on February 26) and features Josh Groban as Sweeney, with Kinky Boots and Masters of Sex star Annaleigh Ashford as Mrs. Lovett, Jordan Fisher as Anthony, and Stranger Things's Gaten Matarazzo as Toby.
The musical provides examples of:
- Accidental Pun: Sondheim had Mrs. Lovett sing "bring along your chopper"—referring to Sweeney's beloved razors—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".
- Adaptational Protagonist: The play turns Sweeney Todd into its Villain Protagonist thanks to a good helping of Adaptational Sympathy —which includes the loss of his daughter, the Damsel in Distress Joanna. This is a far cry from the original Sweeney Todd story, The String of Pearls, where Joanna is the protagonist trying to save her boyfriend from the villainous Todd, with whom she has no familial connection.
- An Aesop: Seeking vengeance, even against a monster, can very easily lead to becoming a monster in turn, and will never really heal the pain.Sweeney: (During the final song) To seek revenge may lead to Hell.
- Alliterative Name: Benjamin Barker, Beadle Bamford.
- Alto Villainess: Mrs. Lovett is usually played by a contralto. Averted, however, in the 2023 Broadway production, where she's played by soprano Annaleigh Ashford.
- Ambiguous Situation: Are Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett sleeping together, or is Mrs. Lovett's desire to see her "rumpled bedding legitimized" in "By the Sea" simply wishful thinking about their future? Word of God from Sondheim himself, in a letter to a fan, states that he wrote it believing them to be sleeping together, but whether or not a given production leans into it really varies- and Sondheim admitted to not giving the question much weight when writing it.
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Mrs. Lovett, to Sweeney, during the final scene. Certain productions put more emphasis on the "anguished" part, such as the 2012 London Cast version.Mrs. Lovett: I love you, I'd be twice the wife she was! I love you!
- Anti-Hero: Sweeney Todd starts out as this status, before "Epiphany" where his mind cracks completely.
- Anti-Villain: Again, Sweeney Todd himself, having his mental state devolve and crash to the point where he wants to kill everyone. Still, his main priorities are the Beadle and Judge Turpin.
- Especially prominent in the 2023 Broadway production, where Josh Groban plays him straightforwardly as a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds. After he kills the Judge, he looks as though he's not sure what to do with the rest of his life.
- Asshole Victim: Pirelli, Judge Turpin, and Beadle Bamford were all very unpleasant folks and once they die, nobody misses them. And by the end of the show Mrs. Lovett fits the bill pretty well for being a Yandere who indirectly had Todd murder his wife.
- Avian Flute: The song "Greenfinch and Linnet Bird begins with fluttering flutes as Johanna, watching birds in cages, likens herself to one of them, singing about her own desire for freedom.
- The Barber: Sweeney's stock in trade, both as Benjamin Barker and as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
- Bedlam House:
- Fogg's Asylum, into which Johanna is imprisoned, is a perfect example of this.
- There's also Lucy Barker, who was sent to the actual Bedlam House.
- Better Partner Assertion: After Todd discovers that the beggar woman he just killed was his wife, Lucy, he confronts Mrs. Lovett, who implied that she killed herself with poison. Mrs. Lovett, who's had feelings for Todd throughout the musical, tells him she'd be much better for him and asks if they can still be together. Todd throws her in her oven.
- Big "NO!":
- Issued by Sweeney when Mrs. Lovett informs him of his wife's rape at the end of "Poor Thing."
- And again at the end, when he realizes that the Beggar Woman whose throat he just slit was his wife.
- Black Comedy: Despite its dark subject matter, the show is surprisingly funny, especially 'A Little Priest'.
- Black Comedy Cannibalism: The reason "A Little Priest" is so funny; it's all puns about how people will taste based on their profession. "God, That's Good" as well.
- Blackmail Backfire: When Pirelli recognizes Sweeney from the old days when he was Benjamin Barker, he tries to blackmail him, threatening to tell Beadle Bamford about him if he doesn't hand over half his earnings to him every week. This proves to be his biggest mistake, as Sweeney promptly makes him his very first kill.
- Bowdlerise: Music Theatre International licenses a high school friendly version of the show that features toned-down lyrics, gore, and slight key changes to accommodate younger singers.
- Bolivian Army Ending: For Anthony and Johanna, who break into the bakehouse with some cops with them; said cops are about to take them for questioning. Toby also gets cornered with Sweeney's body nearby, leaving the cops to charge him for Sweeney's murder as he turns the meat grinder.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall:
- The section in "Epiphany" where Todd turns on (and in some performances, leaps into and menaces) the audience.
- "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" is addressed directly to the audience and contains the following lines, usually performed by Sweeney himself:What happened then?Well, that's the play,And he wouldn't want us to give it away...
- Break the Cutie: Toby, Johanna, Lucy, as well as Todd himself when his name was still Benjamin Barker.
- BSoD Song: "Epiphany" where Todd descends into a state of mentally shutting down before deciding everyone deserves to die.
- Caged Bird Metaphor: Johanna is associated with her birds. She sings a song wondering why they are inspired to sing even in captivity, eventually making it clear that she is not just talking about them—she has spent nearly her entire life as a prisoner in Judge Turpin's mansion:My cage has many rooms, damask and dark
Nothing there sings, not even my lark
- The bird-seller answers the question of how they make the birds sing: "We blinds 'em. That's what we always does. We blinds 'em and, not knowing night from day, they sing and they sing without stopping. Pretty creatures." This is later echoed by Fogg, talking about Johanna. "She needs so much correction! She sings day and night and leaves the other inmates sleepless!"
- Call-and-Response Song: Segments of "My Friends" and most of "A Little Priest".
- Cassandra Truth: The Beggar Woman tells these all the time.
- Chekhov's Gun: Signor Pirelli's coin 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.
- Chewing the Scenery: Sweeney can be played this way—George Hearn being a good example.
- Companion Cube: Sweeney always makes sure his razors are by his side. He leaves his room during the finale but returns to pick one up, which causes him to see a disguised Johanna which causes him to target her, unaware that this person is his daughter.
- Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are: While searching for Toby in the sewers when he's figured out what's really in the pies. "Tooooby...Where aaaare you..."
- Contrived Coincidence: To be expected in a melodrama. The sailor who saves Todd's life and brings him back to England immediately falls in Love at First Sight with a girl who turns out to be Todd's daughter, and the first person Todd meets upon returning to England turns out to be his own now-unrecognizable wife. Plus Sweeney runs into Adolfo Pirelli (or rather Daniel O'Higgins) a former apprentice of his from fifteen years before, who's now a snake oil salesman.
- Contrived Proximity: We're sure that old beggar woman has no importance to the story whatsoever. She was hanging around her own old house and where her daughter lived. Still had some memories.
- Cooking Duel: "The Contest"; shaving and tooth-pulling.
- Counterpoint Duet: "My Friends", "A Little Priest", "God, That's Good!" and "Final Scene" all count, while "Kiss Me/Ladies In Their Sensitivities" and the Act 2 reprise of "Johanna" are Counterpoint Quartets!
- Cradling Your Kill: Sweeney Todd desperately cradles the dead body of his wife Lucy whom he murdered. Too late did he look at the face of the Beggar Woman...
- Crapsack World: Almost everyone in the cast jerkass at best or complete sociopath at worse. As for the good guys, Johanna, Toby, and to a lesser extent the Beggar Woman/Lucy are victims pushed into unhappy compliance. Only Nice Guy Anthony manages to be decent and entirely stable at the same time.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.
- Toby is also occasionally played by a woman.
- Crowd Song: "Pirelli's Miracle Elixir". It slowly morphs into an Angry Mob Song when Todd and Lovett reveal Pirelli's scam.
- Crusading Widow: Sweeney's motivation to kill comes from his dead wife and his daughter who, while not dead, is taken away from him.
- The Cuckoolander Was Right: The Beggar Woman is the only one to suspect the crimes of Sweeney and Lovett.
- 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 about his wife, whom he killed earlier, so he throws her in the oven, and then he himself is killed by Toby in the end for his own murder of Pirelli.
- Damsel in Distress:
- Subverted in the stage version. Although Johanna's character mostly fits the trope, in a memorable scene, Anthony rescues her 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.
- Played straighter in the film, in which neither Anthony nor Johanna shoots the asylum keeper—they leave him to be torn apart by the abused inmates.
- Dance of Despair: When Todd realizes that the Beggar Woman he has killed is his wife Lucy, he is utterly shocked and accuses Mrs. Lovett of lying to him. She explains that, technically, she didn't lie: Lucy did poison herself, but she lived, only she lost her mental health. Todd pretends to forgive her and he starts dancing manically with Mrs. Lovett. Then he suddenly pushes her into the oven and she burns alive. Full of despair, Todd cradles his dead wife Lucy in his arms.
- Dangerously Close Shave: Todd's preferred way of killing his victims: he invites the hapless gentleman up to his shop for a shave and then slits their throat in the process, before dumping them down to the lower floors. Toby offs him in a very similar manner at the end.
- Dark Reprise:
- All over the place, although special mention goes to "Final Scene", which features reprises of "Poor Thing", "A Little Priest", a snippet of "By the Sea" and ends with "A Barber and His Wife", each one being darker than the original version.
- Furthermore, when Todd and Mrs. Lovett are chasing Toby through the sewers, she sings a few haunting lines from "Not While I'm Around".
- Dead Man's Chest: Signore Pirelli's final fate is to have his throat slashed and his body stuffed into a chest.
- Death Seeker: Some productions will have Sweeney deliberately open up his collar so Toby has a clear swipe of his throat.
- Death Song: "Pirelli's Death" for, naturally, Pirelli, "The Judge's Return" for Judge Turpin, "Final Scene" for Mrs. Lovett, and the reprise of "A Barber and His Wife" for Sweeney Todd himself.
- Deathly Dies Irae: Dies Irae is heard in the opening number "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" in the section "Swing your razor wide, Sweeney, hold it to the skies." It remains prevalent throughout the rest of the play. In fact, the only character with a leitmotif that does not contain a reference to the Dies Irae is Anthony, since he is the only one who neither kills nor is killed, or both, by the end.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: The judge's sentencing of a young boy to hanging, though he is a four-time offender. The musical obviously wants to criticize atrocities committed in the name of the law that were acceptable back then, as children were treated the same way as adults. This is noticeably shortened to one previous offense in the film to make it even worse (and to make it ambiguous whether or not Sweeney was caught following Pirelli's murder).
- Despair Event Horizon: Sweeney definitely crosses it when he kills his wife Lucy and later finds out what he's done and feels heavy regret about it. This implies that he's shown heavy regret for his actions and the end reveals how much suffering he has felt throughout the musical.
- Determinator: Sweeney has a one-track mind where revenge is concerned.
- Anthony is a positive, contrasting example, similarly set on rescuing Johanna.
- Dirty Old Man: Judge Turpin is an extremely evil example, intent on forcing Johanna- his own ward, who calls him "Father", to marry him.
- Dissonant Serenity: Sweeney's part in the Johanna Quartet is this. He murders people in an eerily detached manner, singing a gorgeous song.
- Distant Duet: "Johanna (Quartet)" is sung by Sweeney Todd, Anthony, The Beggar Woman and Johanna herself, all in very different locations within Fleet Street.
- The Dog Bites Back:
- Pirelli tries to blackmail Sweeney into getting himself an advantage after getting metaphorically butted off by him. Sweeney cuts his throat in response.
- Toby slits Sweeney's throat for his murder of Mrs. Lovett and for what was actually in those meat pies.
- Don't Explain the Joke: "And I'm telling you, them pussycats is quick!"
- Door-Closes Ending: The original staging ends with Sweeney angrily slamming a door after he has walked through it.
- Double Entendre:
- "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 Toby is completely mad and just committed murder so he's probably heading to prison or the madhouse. Depending on the staging, Johanna and Anthony may also be on the brink of arrest, though some versions avert this.
- The Dragon: The Beadle fills the role of head henchman for Judge Turpin.
- Dramatic Drop: In the 2012 London revival, Sweeney drops his razor in the climax when he recognizes the beggar woman he killed was actually Lucy, his supposedly dead wife.
- 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, intending to use the bodies of dead folks to use in the latter's meat pies.
- The Dulcinea Effect: Anthony is suddenly devoted to Johanna's well being, despite not knowing her well at all.
- Eat the Evidence: Why doesn't anyone ever find Todd's victims? Because no one thought to look in Mrs. Lovett's pies.
- 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.
- Evidence Dungeon: A variation with the meat room of Mrs. Lovett's pie shop. Sweeney starts murdering his customers and baking them into pies. The smell of the human flesh burning is pumped into the air and just by the nature of butchery, loads of viscera must be left around.
- Evil Is Burning Hot: Mrs. Lovett's oven is treated with hellish tones as dead bodies are sent into it to be cooked in its roaring flames, and Lovett usually has red hair to strengthen the devil association of the flames. She is also largely unsympathetic and dies in her oven as a symbolic sendoff to Hell. In the film adaptation, the flames of the oven symbolically take over the film as its color grading switches from old blues and greys to infernal tones once bodies start piling up and cooking in large numbers.
- 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 high Tenors. This is countered out with Toby's high, innocent tones and Anthony's warm lyric baritone.
- Evil Versus Evil: A Straw Nihilist Serial Killer with a razor who has his fellow human victims baked into pies with the help of a ruthless Yandere Stepford Smiler, against a Hanging Judge Pervert whose backstory includes raping the serial killer's wife, and whose introduction is a Kick the Dog—he has the title character transported for life so that he could have his wife for himself. His "best friend" sees nothing wrong with any of this and is quite content to help him seduce the daughter, who the judge has adopted as his own.
- 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. In some productions, he does give a customer's daughter a small treat.
- Exact Words: Mrs. Lovett, when Sweeney discovers Lucy was still alive the whole time.Sweeney: You lied to me!Mrs. Lovett: No. No, not lied at all— no, I never lied! Said she took the poison— she did— never said that she died-
- False Dichotomy: Todd, when he goes insane in "Epiphany" and figures why "we all deserve to die": any person who is happy is a wicked wrongdoer so killing them is a service to the community; and to any other person "death will be a relief".
- 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.
- The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: In some productions, Todd will leap into the audience during "Epiphany" and start shouting at random audience members.
- Also invoked in the final reprise, when the cast point around the theatre, shouting that Sweeney is "there! there! there!"Company: No one can help, nothing can hide you!
Isn't that Sweeney there beside you?
- Also invoked in the final reprise, when the cast point around the theatre, shouting that Sweeney is "there! there! there!"
- Foreshadowing: And lots of it.
- Why doesn't Mrs. Lovett want the Beggar Woman near Sweeney? She's Lucy.
- When the Beggar Woman first meets Sweeney, she sings "Hey—don't I know you, mister?" As mentioned above, the Beggar Woman is Lucy, his supposedly dead wife—despite being driven insane, she still remembered her husband.
- 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.
- Friends with Benefits: One of Mrs. Lovett's lines ("Me rumpled bedding legitimized") from "By The Sea" implies that she and Todd are sleeping together. She'd like to upgrade the "friends" part.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Benjamin Barker to Sweeney Todd. He was once a loving father to Johanna and a faithful husband to his wife Lucy, but then Judge Turpin sexually assaulted Johanna and sent Benjamin away on false convictions. This turned the poor man into the sinister barber we see him as.
- 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.
- On the other hand, Mrs. Lovett apparently always had it, considering she recommends Sweeney kill clueless, innocent, kindly Anthony as soon as he brings Johanna to the shop after rescuing her, for no real reason aside from Sweeney's despair at the idea that Anthony will bring Johanna to Plymouth before Sweeney can reveal himself as her father and rejoin her life.
- Genre Refugee: Anthony is a sweet, well-meaning and forthright young man who seems to have wandered in from a much more swashbuckling and romantic story. While his Love Interest Johanna superficially comes off the same way, the emotional damage she's experienced growing up as Judge Turpin's ward has made her markedly more in line in terms of mental stability with the rest of the cast.
- Get Out!: Sweeney's reaction to Anthony's very untimely foiling of his first attempt to kill Turpin.
- Gilded Cage: Well, technically it's damask and dark, especially with a controlling and creepy caretaker, despite all the riches Johanna could ever have.
- Gilligan Cut: A very dark version of the Contrary Cut version: Judge Turpin muses as he leaves court that Johanna having had a little more time to consider his marriage proposal has probably put her in a “more sensible” frame of mind. Lights up on Johanna frantically pacing her bedroom, planning to kill herself to get out of the marriage.
- 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.
- Go Among Mad People: Happens to Johanna where she's placed within a whole asylum of mad people in Jona's asylum.
- Go Mad from the Revelation: Tobias, after he discovers what's in the pies.
- Gotta Kill 'Em All: Sweeney's plan to kill the Beadle and the Judge, which eventually morphs into everyone.
- Greater-Scope Villain: You might think it's Judge Turpin, but surprise: it's Mrs. Lovett, whose careful lie of omission about Lucy surviving her suicide attempt is what really propels Sweeney into the monster he becomes.
- Grief Song: Many. Most notably is the reprise of 'A Barber And His Wife'.
- Hanging Judge: Judge Turpin is literally corrupt, willing to sentence anyone unjustly. He did exactly that to Benjamin Barker to get his wife.
- Hated Hometown: When Sweeney agrees that "there's no place like London," it's not praise.
- The Hecate Sisters: Johanna as the maiden, Mrs. Lovett as the mother and the Beggar Woman as the crone.
- Hell Is That Noise: That damned factory whistle. It sounds every time Sweeney kills somebody.
- Hero Antagonist: Tobias Ragg.
- He Who Fights Monsters: Sweeney becomes worse than the monsters after "Epiphany", deciding to just kill everyone. In doing this, he unknowingly kills Lucy and nearly kills Johanna; the two people he was trying to avenge.
- Hoist by His Own Petard:
- How did Judge Turpin succeed in raping Lucy? Tricking her into thinking he’s sorry for having her husband deported, and sending a third party (the Beadle) to tell her as much. How does Sweeney succeed in killing Judge Turpin to avenge exactly that? Luring him with false promises that Johanna feels sorry for having refused him, and acting as the third party carrying news of this contrition.
- Subverted with Sweeney’s own death. He may meet his end at the wrong end of one of his own razors, but by that point he’s consumed enough by despair to welcome it.
- 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!
Mrs. Lovett: This may bit a bit stringy, but then again, it is fiddle player.
Todd: No, this isn't fiddle player! It's piccolo player!
Mrs. Lovett: How can you tell?
Todd: It's piping hot!
Mrs. Lovett: Then blow on it first!
- Hypocritical Humor: In "The Worst Pies in London," Mrs. Lovett condemns her neighbor, Mrs. Mooney, for stealing her neighbor's cats and baking them into pies. Almost immediately afterwards, she claims she "Wouldn't do in my shop/why the thought of it's enough to make you sick/and I'm telling you them pussycats is quick!"
- "I Am Becoming" Song: "Epiphany", "Johanna Quartet".
- Idiot Ball: Very quickly picked up by Johanna in the asylum, when she calls out Anthony’s name and immediately blows his cover. Fortunately, she metaphorically drops it just as quickly by shooting Mr. Fogg herself.
- If Only You Knew: In "Epiphany," Todd sings "And my Lucy lies in ashes," presumably referring to the famous phrase "ashes to ashes, dust to dust." Unbeknownst to him, Lucy is still alive and sleeping among the rubbish bins of London as a homeless beggar—she's literally "lying in ashes."
- I Have You Now, My Pretty: Judge Turpin has a serious problem with lust when it comes to pretty women, and ends up doing this to Lucy Barker in the "Poor Thing" scene.
- I'm a Humanitarian: Mrs. Lovett's customers, albeit unknowingly.
- Informed Attractiveness: Lucy and Johanna.
- The Ingenue: Johanna, though she's an unusually brittle and cynical example. Her time in Fogg's Asylum moves her even further from the trope, though how so varies from production to production- in some of them, she winds up The Ophelia, while in others she ends up stronger and more defiant from having nothing left to lose.
- Ironic Nursery Tune: Pat-a-cake pat-a-cake baker's man ...
- 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 irreparably insane as far as we can tell. (The lyrics in "Kiss Me" imply that she is at least very anxious, probably clinically so- "It was a gate, it's the gate... —We don't have a gate!"- and some productions do depict her as going a little insane in the asylum, but the libretto, for the record, limits the description of her mood after her escape to "excited and chatty", and she's clearly in control of her faculties in escaping from Sweeney in the end.)
- 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.
- Mrs. Lovett gets the idea to use Pirelli's body in her pies because "I don't suppose he's got any relatives gonna come poking 'round looking for him". But Toby, while heavily abused by his boss, still cares about him and wonders what happened to him, and his suspicion that Sweeney had something to do with it and all the other missing customers contributes to the eventual downfall of the villains.
- "I Want" Song: Mrs. Lovett's "By The Sea" song, all about the future she's hoping for.
- I Was Quite a Looker:
- Benjamin Barker was quite dashing, so his appearance as Sweeney is super unnerving compared to back in the day.
- The Beggar Woman, who ranges from merely filthy, ragged and insane but still recognizably an Unkempt Beauty to outright disfigured depending on the production, is the once-beautiful Lucy Barker all along.
- It Gets Easier: A large part of the 2023 Broadway revival. Neither Sweeney or Mrs. Lovett are particularly insane compared to other versions, but it gets easier and easier to ignore their consciences in the pursuit of revenge and love and material comfort, respectively.
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Sweeney himself.
- Kangaroo Court: Judge Turpin's trial of Benjamin Barker is anything but fair.
- Karmic Death:
- Sweeney gives one to Judge Turpin, deceiving him with false courtesy to kill him, similar to the way Turpin lured in Lucy to assault her.
- Sweeney also gives one to Mrs. Lovett, throwing her into her own people-cooking oven after learning that her selfish deceptions allowed him to accidentally kill his own wife.
- The final death of the story is given to Sweeney Todd, having his throat slit by one of his own razors at the hand of a vengeful, traumatized Toby.
- Kick the Dog:
- Judge Turpin and the Beadle are dog-kicking machines. Senseless acts of evil include:
- The imprisonment of Benjamin Barker on a false charge, sending him to a prison colony for many years (Judge Turpin)
- Raping Lucy Barker and thus driving her mad (Judge Turpin)
- Snapping the neck of the bird that Anthony had bought for Johanna (the Beadle)
- Throwing Johanna into Fogg's Asylum for defying Turpin (Judge Turpin)
- Pirelli's brutal treatment of poor Toby also qualifies as a Kick the Dog moment.
- Judge Turpin and the Beadle are dog-kicking machines. Senseless acts of evil include:
- Kick The Son Of A Bitch: Sweeney begins his transition into a Serial Killer by killing Pirelli, a con artist who attempts to blackmail him.
- Kill the Ones You Love: Sweeney kills the beggar woman, unaware that she is actually his wife Lucy.
- Killed Offstage: Beadle Bamford is unceremoniously murdered out of sight, although the reveal of his body serves a narrative purpose by pushing poor Toby—who was already beginning to realize the secret of the meat pies—over the edge into full-on madness.
- 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, 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.
- Lampshaded Double Entendre:
- "If you get my drift..."
- "No?" ... "AH!" "Good, you got it."
- Large Ham:
- In "A Little Priest", the actor always arrives overdone...
- Pirelli, notably, is written for an opera tenor when the others are just written for regular theatre voices.
- 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.
- Jack Eric Williams, who played Beadle Bamford in the original cast, is quite a ham himself. "GLAD AS ALWAYS TO OBLIGE MY FRRRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS!"
- Last-Second Word Swap: In "The Worst Pies in London":Mrs. Lovett: Is that just revolting,
All greasy and gritty?
It looks like it's molting,
And tastes like—
- Least Rhymable Word: In "A Little Priest," there's a moment where Mrs. Lovett offers Todd a flavor of pie ("Tinker?") only for Todd to reject it with a rhyme ("No, something pinker."), getting progressively more difficult and closer to Painful Rhyme territory as they go. The word Todd can't rhyme is "Locksmith."
- In many of her appearances, the Beggar Woman sings a fast-paced, discordant jig: "How'd you like a little muff, dear? A little jig-jig? A little bounce around the bush?" We hear the same music, played much more slowly and beautifully (to the point of being almost unrecognizable—that's deliberate), at the beginning of the Judge's costume party in flashback, where Lucy ends up raped. The music thus becomes a Chekhov's Gun: presumably, this was one of the last things Lucy heard before she went mad, and it now repeatedly runs through her head as she wanders the streets of London.
- There is also the underscoring when Todd sings "and my Lucy lies in ashes" is also played when he kills the Beggar Woman. There's also the Beggar Woman's "Alms, Alms!" is a repeated motif—"The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" is reprise and entertained within many songs—honestly, it would probably be faster to list what isn't a motif.
- 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.
- Light Is Not Good: Mrs. Lovett in the 2023 Broadway revival is a petite blonde who favors modest pastel dresses.
- 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..."
- Locked into Strangeness: Toby, at the finale. Sweeney himself, in the movie.
- Lonely Rich Kid: Johanna is within the wealth of a judge's home but is controlled by said judge and thus can't go out of the house to make friends at all.
- Looks Like Cesare: There's a lot of this in the movie, thanks to Tim Burton's involvement and his fondness for the trope, but Sweeney has had this going on ever since the original production◊.
- The Lost Lenore: Lucy, to Sweeney.
- Love at First Sight: Anthony with Johanna. Johanna claims to have felt the same way.Johanna: I loved you even as I saw you, even as it does not matter that I still don't know your name, sir...
- Love Makes You Crazy: Mrs. Lovett, in spades; this gets her to go on full Yandere mode to keep Sweeney for herself while indirectly having the Beggar Woman killed.
- Loving a Shadow: Sweeney has a variation in regards to his fatherly love of Johanna. His version of the Johanna quartet is 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.
- Lyrical Dissonance:
- "A Little Priest" is about getting people used to make Mrs. Lovett's meat pies but is sung in an oddly jaunty tune.
- Also Mrs. Lovett's verse in "Not While I'm Around"; she repeats Toby's protests of love and loyalty, but the creepy, wheedling violin solo underneath makes them sound totally insincere.
- "Johanna (Quartet)" has some unnerving lyrics set to a sweet sounding song for Sweeney as he longs to meet his daughter again while killing his customers.
- Made from Real Girl Scouts: "Or we have some shepherd's pie, peppered with actual shepherd on top."
- 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.
- Madness Mantra:
- The beggar woman Lucy spouts these: "Beadle deedle deedle deedle deedle deedle deedle dumpling!" "Mischief! Mischief!"
- Also Toby at the end of the stage show. "Three times, that's the secret, three times through the grinder."
- Subverted with Johanna in Fogg’s Asylum. She sings incessantly to herself, but this is to ‘’avoid’’ going insane by giving herself something else to focus on.
- Manipulative Bastard:
- Mrs. Lovett, you're a bloody wonder.
- 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.
- Meaningful Echo: During "Poor Thing", a flashback shows Lucy opening up the window curtains in Sweeney's barbershop. During Act II, the Beggar Woman opens up the curtains in the exact same fashion.
- Meaningful Name:
- Perhaps unintentional: the name "Sweeney" is an anglicized version of the name Suibne, a (legendary) mad king of Ireland. "Tod(d)" is German for "death."
- The optimistic young sailor, Anthony Hope.
- Mrs. Lovett.
- Tobias Ragg. A 'Ragg' is something used for the basest tasks, which was how Pirelli treated him.
- Medley Overture: The organ prelude (not always included in every production) sets the tone by mixing only three motifs: the melody that appears most prominently on the lines “and I’ll never/see Johanna/no I’ll never/hold my girl to me” and “and my Lucy/lies in ashes/and I’ll never/see my girl again” in “Epiphany”, a minor-key version of Johanna’s song “Green Finch and Linnet Bird”, and finally the Dies Irae for Sweeney himself. It is, essentially, a dirge for the shattered Barker family.
- Men Are the Expendable Gender: While women do die over the course of the story, the meat pies are entirely made from Sweeney's male customers, as they're the only ones Sweeney would be able to get into the barber's chair and bring a blade close to their throats without rousing any suspicion. It never even occurs to him to kill a man's wife and daughter too when they accompany him to the barbershop, and even the puns in "A Little Priest" are entirely about different types of men.
- Metaphorically True: The major epiphany of the final scene:Mrs. Lovett: "No, no, not lied at all—No, I never lied, said she took the poison—she did, never said that she died!"
- Midword Rhyme: "Ladies In Their Sensitivities".Beadle: When a girl's emergent
Probably it's urgent
You defer to her gent-
-tility, my Lord
Beadle: Meaning no offense, it
- And again in the same song!
Happens they resents it
Ladies in their sensit-
-ivities, my Lord
- Moment Killer: Anthony walks into the barbershop for one of his trademark interruptions right after Mrs. Lovett suggests to Sweeney that they can "have a life together."
- Mood Whiplash: After the terrifying Epiphany in which Sweeney goes off the deep end comes the hilarious Hurricane of Puns that is A Little Priest.
- Morton's Fork: The logical conclusion Sweeney reaches during "Epiphany": "the lives of the wicked should be made brief/for the rest of us, death will be a relief/we all deserve to die!"
- Motive Decay:
- 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.
- Todd's Motive Decay is a fully-fledged part of his character arc; come The Reveal at the very end, Todd realizes what a monster he has become in allowing his lust for revenge and violence to consume him.
- The Mourning After: No matter how hard Mrs. Lovett tries, she'll never take Lucy's place in Sweeney's broken heart.
- Played with in the 2023 Broadway revival, where Sweeney is just as fixated on revenging Lucy but is more gentle and affectionate toward Mrs. Lovett than in most versions, and seems resigned toward eventually marrying and retiring to the seaside with her, which seems like a Hope Spot until one remembers this Mrs. Lovett is a pretty blonde, probably around the same age Lucy would be. Replacement Goldfish, anyone?
- Murder by Cremation: Todd throws Mrs. Lovett into her own piping hot oven.
- Musical Spoiler: Many, and all to do with the reveal of one character's identity.
- Listen carefully to the minuet during the flashback to Lucy's rape by the Judge. It's the same melody that she, as the beggar woman, sings as she tries to entice men to sleep with her.
- In productions that include the Beggar Woman's Lullaby, she appears disoriented and consumed by deja-vu in Sweeney's barber shop, and the lullaby she sings to an imaginary baby is not only to the tune of "Poor Thing", but addresses the baby as "my Jo"- presumably short for Johanna.
- Finally, when Sweeney slits her throat, as she stares at him, wide-eyed and gagging, and then collapses, there's an absolutely aching instrumental reprise of a musical phrase from "Epiphany"- specifically, "And my Lucy lies in ashes". Now, the Beggar Woman, Lucy, is lying there dead.
- The above phrase is also the very first music the audience hears in the show, as the opening notes of the prelude.
- My God, What Have I Done?: After realizing that the old beggar woman he killed was Lucy, Sweeney Todd has this reaction, before turning his anger towards Mrs. Lovett, who was being a bit Metaphorically True.Sweeney: Oh my god! Lucy! WHAT HAVE I DONE?!
- Mystery Meat: Thanks to Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett's decision, the meat in the latter's meat pies were all comprised of Sweeney's murder victims.
- Nervous Wreck: Johanna, and can you blame her? The first bright spot and hope of escape the poor girl's had in her life still paralyzes her into anxious babbling about what to pack, things she feared happened to Anthony while she couldn't see him, and even forgetting that her house doesn't have a gate out of fear of her abusive guardian coming home.
- Never Trust a Hair Tonic: Pirelli's Miracle Elixir... isn't. It's a mixture of urine and ink as Sweeney reveals.
- Never Trust a Trailer:
- This commercial, featuring George Hearn and Angela Lansbury, gives the impression that the show is foremost a rollicking black comedy with a kitschy horror vibe rather than the grim revenge tragedy it is.
- Subverted with this commercial, which sums up the darkness factor in 30 seconds.
- Nice Guy: Anthony, the only one in seemingly all of London who qualifies.
- 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!
- No Doubt the Years Have Changed Me: Sweeney to Turpin, the Trope Namer; although he's not so changed that Mrs. Lovett and Adolfo Pirelli, who both admittedly knew him well in the past, don't recognise him upon first meeting him. Also the Beggar Woman.
- No Place for Me There: An interpersonal example. By Act II, Sweeney knows that no matter how much he wonders what Johanna is like as a young woman, there is no longer any room for him in her life, even if she does get a happy ending. He’s a stranger, a former convict, an impediment to her elopement with Anthony, and a murderer to boot- and he’s also finally able to admit to himself that he’s essentially (parentally) Loving a Shadow.
- 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.
- Ironically, neither did Edmund Lyndeck as Judge Turpin.
- Obi-Wan Moment: Sweeney is surprisingly rather accepting of his death, letting Toby slit his throat.
- Obsession Song: The Judge's song "Johanna (Mea Culpa)". Anthony's version of "Johanna" can come across as this as well.
- Oh, Crap!:
- Judge Turpin, upon finally learning just who Sweeney Todd is, just before Sweeney takes brutal and final vengeance.
- As well as Sweeney himself after Pirelli reveals that he knows him from the old days, with similar results.
- Ms. Lovett has this reaction when Todd has a Villainous Breakdown upon realizing he just murdered his wife, the beggar woman. She immediately tries to say she didn't lie, because his wife did swallow aersenic. It just didn't kill Lucy.
- Opening Chorus: "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd".
- The Ophelia: Johanna in many productions is mentally unstable despite her loveliness. She's sometimes wearing flowers in her hair when she's in the asylum.
- Original Cast Precedent:
- Mrs. Lovett’s trademark twin bun hairstyle, usually symbolically verging on Devilish Hair Horns, which has persisted across a rather impressive number of very different-looking stagings. Broadly speaking, even if she doesn’t have that specific hairstyle, she can often be identified by having particularly crazy-looking hair in general, though still styled and put up in some way.
- Sweeney frequently spends at least a good portion of the show in a dingy white shirt, dark pants, and suspenders, often with something best described as a curtain haircut (a look so associated with him it extends even to his Expy Dooley Flint in the second season of Schmigadoon!).
- The title character's One-Liner when he triumphantly holds out his razor is, according to the script: "My right arm is complete again!" So why is it usually performed and remembered as, "At last my arm is complete again"? Len Cariou of the original Broadway cast was left-handed.
- Out-of-Character Alert: In one of the many reprises of "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd," it's said that Sweeney "never forgot and he never forgave." So when he tells Mrs. Lovett in the "Final Scene" that the history of the world is to "learn forgiveness and try to forget," that should be a sign to the audience that something very bad is about to happen.
- Papa Wolf: A hint of Benjamin Barker remains in Sweeney Todd. Even after the judge commits Johanna, Todd helps form a plan with Anthony to rescue her.
- Parental Love Song: “Johanna (Reprise)”. Sweeney fondly reminisces over his daughter and what she may look like as a young woman, but he ultimately feels as though he has no place in her life since he had been away from her for so long (to say nothing of having put himself beyond the pale with all the murdering he’s been doing).
- Patter Song: "The Contest".
- Penal Colony: Botany Bay in Australia, where Benjamin was transported for life.
- Perky Female Minion: Mrs. Lovett. In the musical, she is clearly the comic foil to the brooding and vengeful Todd. Makes her Moral Event Horizon(s) all the more jarring.
- Pet the Dog:
- Lovett taking in Toby. She's using him for labor, but she feeds him and knits him a muffler.
- Lovett speculates that the Judge adopting Johanna must mean that he did have enough of a conscience to save her. Productions that feature "Mea Culpa" suggest that she may be a just a little bit right about the Judge's sincerity.
- Sweeney Todd tells Anthony there is a way to rescue Johanna. He gives him the details of a plan to bust her out of the aslyum and tells him to carry a pistol. It's nearly undone when he nearly slashes a disguised Johanna, but she did get out.
- Poorly Timed Confession: Just as Sweeney is about to kill Judge Turpin, Anthony bursts in and blurts out the fact that Johanna (the Judge's ward, who he intends to marry and is insanely possessive of) has agreed to elope with him. Cue a massive Oh, Crap! moment. Not only does it foil Anthony's own rescue mission, it also robs Sweeney of his chance to revenge himself on the Judge, tipping him into a Heroic BSoD.
- Pre-Asskicking/Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Before killing Turpin, Sweeney finally tells him who he is: "BENJAMIN BARKER!!!"
- Pre-Insanity Reveal: the homeless madwoman that hangs around the barber shop is revealed to be Sweeney's long-lost wife, Lucy. Unfortunately, this isn't revealed—either to Sweeney or the audience—until after he murders her.
- 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.
- Race Lift: Aside from simple cases of the characters sometimes being played by people of color, there do exist alternate lyrics allowing Johanna (and by extension Lucy) to have "raven" rather than "yellow" hair that were originally written for an all-Asian-American cast. In some cases, they are also "beautiful and dark" rather than "beautiful and pale".
- The 2023 Seattle production adjusted for casting Johanna and Lucy with actresses of color by having Todd and Anthony serenade them as "beautiful and bronze".
- Interestingly, the opening description of Sweeney, which includes "his skin was pale and his eye was odd" has never been changed regardless of casting. That said, this can probably be handwaved as not referring to him simply being a fair-skinned white man, but to convey his sickly, drained appearance and works just as well for an ashen-faced man of color.
- Rape as Drama: Lucy Barker. Johanna, maybe. Threat of rape, almost certainly.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: The judge sends Benjamin off to Botany Bay on a false charge so that he could get at his wife Lucy.
- 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.
- Replacement Goldfish: Johanna seems to be this to Judge Turpin, in Villainous Crush fashion, for her mother (and his onetime rape victim), Lucy
- In a twist exclusive to the 2023 Broadway revival, Sweeney is unusually affectionate towards and openly fond of Mrs. Lovett compared to most other productions. But then again, she's played as a pretty blonde in her mid-to-late thirties, just like Lucy would have been had Turpin never torn their family apart...
- Reprise Medley: Many reprises are intertwined in the show, but notable examples are:
- City On Fire: The main song is taken from the Beggar Woman's solo in "Johanna (Quartet)", Johanna sings a snatch of "Kiss Me", and Mrs. Lovett sings part of "Not While I'm Around".
- Judge's Return: the music when Sweeney kills the Beggar Woman is taken from "Epiphany", the Judge and Sweeney reprise "Pretty Women", and then Sweeney reprises "My Friends".
- Final Scene: Sweeney sings a line from "No Place Like London" with underscoring again from "Epiphany" while Mrs. Lovett reprises "Poor Thing". They then reprise "A Little Priest" and Mrs. Lovett sings "By The Sea". Finally, Sweeney sings "A Barber and His Wife".
- Retirony: Arguably, "By the Sea", sung by Mrs. Lovett who wants to have a happy retirement after her career is put to rest. She ends up dying before it even happens.
- Retraux: Christopher Bond's play, while expanding Todd's motivations from the original Victorian melodramas, is written in the style of a Victorian play, with deliberately old-fashioned devices like having Todd deliver long soliloquies. This is toned down in the musical version, where the soliloquies are mostly cut or turned into songs.
- Revenge: Sweeney Todd is done in the style of a classical revenge tragedy.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The entire show is one for Sweeney as he tries to get revenge on Judge Turpin and the Beadle before exacting it on the common townsfolk as well.
- 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..."
- Sanity Slippage Song: "Epiphany."
- 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.
- Another, more dramatic example plays in the final scene, when Sweeney sees the face of the beggar woman he has just murdered, and recognises her as his wife, Lucy.
- Scenery Porn:
- 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.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Stagings that don't go full Bolivian Army Ending for Anthony and Johanna often have them do this instead before they manage to enter the bakehouse along with the police.
- The Secret of Long Pork Pies: The bodies are used to make Mrs. Lovett's meat pies, initially just for body disposal but it then turns out that this just increases the flavor.
- Sentenced to Down Under: Sweeney being handed this punishment kicks off the plot.
- Serendipitous Survival: One of Sweeney's customers survives his time in the chair because his wife and daughter came into the barbershop with him, rather than waiting outside or planning to meet him later.
- Setting Introduction Song: "No Place Like London".
- Setting Update: Of "The String of Pearls", which stated that the story of Sweeney Todd took place in 1785. Instead, the musical takes place in 1846, the year the story was first published.
- Serial Killer: Sweeney himself, as well as his "The String of Pearls" incarnation.
- Sex Is Evil: According to Judge Turpin.
- 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.
- Pirelli's appearance and behavior might be one to Figaro in Gioachino Rossini's The Barber of Seville.
- Part of "The Worst Pies in London" recalls the chorus of "Tomorrow" from Annie, which was playing when Sweeney Todd debuted on Broadway.
- Silent Credits: In the 1982 live filming of Hearn/Lansbury the credits are unsettlingly so.
- Slashed Throat: Well, it is Sweeney Todd.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Todd is contrasted with the young sailor Anthony Hope, who is a romantic idealist. It should be noted that Anthony Hope is still alive at the end. Whether this is good or bad is dependent on where you fall on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism.
- Small Start, Big Finish: "Johanna". Anthony is initially a little quiet while singing about the girl he likes, but the song gets bigger and more instruments join in by the end.
- Snake Oil Salesman: Pirelli's trade is to con people into buying his "unique" products like his exhilr.
- 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.
- Spanner in the Works: The story would have been a lot shorter if Anthony hadn't apparently competed in a "say something incriminating as quickly as possible" contest.
- Split Hair: During the contest with Pirelli, Sweeney does this. Generally, on-stage, he pulls one of his hairs out, slices it, and watches it fall to the ground, all during a pause in Pirelli's song.
- Stealth Pun: The Ballad after Pirelli's Death is a barbershop trio.
- Stalker with a Crush:
- Anthony is a subversion. He would absolutely fit the trope... if Johanna didn't fall in Love at First Sight right back.
- 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.Sweeney: 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.
- Stupid Evil: Judge Turpin. He sends away Benjamin Barker on a false charge, leaving his desired wife a widow with a daughter. He has every opportunity to coerce Mrs. Barker into marriage, from Comforting the Widow to blackmail. Instead, he rapes her at a ball, with a bunch of witnesses. Then she swallows poison and becomes the Beggar Woman after a nervous breakdown. It's only because the Judge has a high influence that he proceeds to obtain custody of Johanna, and intends to groom her when she becomes of age. This takes years, while marrying Lucy would have been quicker, and he decides to commit Johanna when she refuses to play along. Johanna is not stupid, however; she figures out his intentions and plans to do what her mother should have done: run away from London. In the film, at least, she succeeds thanks to Anthony.
- Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: in the finale.The history of the world, my pet,
Is learn forgiveness and try to forget.
And life is for the alive, my dear,
So let's keep living it—
Just keep living it—
Really living it—
(he throws her in the oven and stops singing)
- Suicide by Cop: Or suicide by Toby, but same idea.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: Johanna after the escape from Fogg's Asylum.
- Sympathetic Murderer: Sweeney himself, wronged by a corrupt judge who he plans to kill in revenge.
- Tenor Boy: Anthony is a surprising aversion (except in the movie, where his part was transposed higher). Despite perfectly fitting the character archetype- the young, naive, innocent male half of the Official Couple alongside the Innocent Soprano with whom he falls in Love at First Sight- he's written as a baritone (the same voice type as Sweeney himself). While he has been played by many tenors in musical theatre productions, the part still requires an extensive low range that lies outside of the usual purview of the trope (a "baritenor" voice, as it's often called), and in opera house stagings he's always sung by a true baritone (albeit typically a lyric baritone- see Voice Types).
- That Man Is Dead: "Not Barker! Not Barker! Todd now. Sweeney Todd!"
- That Reminds Me of a Song: The Beadle's "Parlour Songs". The fact that he is spending so much time singing is relevant to the plot, but the content of the songs is not.
- There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: "There's the one staying put in his proper place and the one with his foot in the other one's face." And both kinds deserve to die.
- Together in Death: Implied by the final scene of Todd dying while cradling Lucy.
- 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.
- Traumatic Haircut: Johanna is threatened with one of these in the asylum. Some productions actually go through with it. And in turn, it's sometimes subverted in the productions that include this- it's a lot easier to shoot the asylum keeper and escape without knee-length hair weighing you down, and there's little evidence that Johanna herself cares as much about her hair as the men in her life do!
- The Unfettered: Sweeney has no desires besides getting his revenge and lets nothing get in his way.
- Unusual Euphemism: Combined with a bit of I Call Him "Mr. Happy" several times in the Beggar Woman's songs.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Anthony, when he (rather, unfortunately) stops Todd from killing Judge Turpin mid-story.
- The Vamp: Mrs. Lovett is very vile and seducing to add to her Yandere quality in the 2005 revival, as played by Patti LuPone.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: It's usually a well-known fact that the musical added stories of revenge, a judge, and Sweeney's daughter to the original story. The latter was originally a novel, itself based on an Urban Legend...which has its roots in a true story. The latter is quite different from Sweeney's scenario, though (besides the cannibalism). It happened in Paris, not London, and as soon as 1387, in Marmousets street. Also, the baker was male, not female, and named Pierre Miquelon, while his barber neighbor was Barnabé Cabard. Their motivation was apparently simply greed, (no revenge story here) and they were burned at the stake after it was discovered they used students' corpses to do pâtés. Ironically, Barnabé is nowadays often described as a "french Sweeney Todd", while it's actually the other way round.
- Victoria's Secret Compartment: Mrs. Lovett puts Pirelli's purse in hers.
- Villain Protagonist: Mr. Todd himself.
- Villain Song: Sweeney's "Epiphany", Turpin's "Johanna (Mea Culpa)", Pirelli's "The Contest", and a "The Villain Protagonist Sucks" song with "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" itself.
- Villainous Breakdown / BSOD:
- "Epiphany." Dear gods, "Epiphany." Also, Sweeney seems to descend into an even deeper circle of insanity hell after he finds out he killed his own wife.
- Villainous Crush:
- Judge Turpin for both Lucy and Johanna.
- Mrs. Lovett for Todd, too.
- Westminster Chimes: Quoted a few times in the score, most prominently the opening chords of Act Two.
- 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 from a single location for so long, racking up a kill count that's easily into double digits, before someone realizes that very few of Todd's customers 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 (Mrs. Lovett specifically points out that Pirelli isn't likely to have any relatives coming to look for him and cause trouble, whereas one customer brings his family along to his appointment, so Todd lets him live) which makes it slightly more believable. Plus the plot eventually unravels when the neighbours start complaining about the smell - aka burning human remains - coming from the bakehouse.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Sweeney Todd himself had been sentenced to Australia for false charges by a Hanging Judge and had his wife and taken away from him by said judge. This turned him into the cold guy we see him in the play. When he finally loses it after failing to off Turpin, he goes full blown murderous.
- Would Hurt a Child: After Todd kills Pirelli, Mrs. Lovett asks what she should do about Toby. He tells her to "send him up."
- However, it never so much as occurs to him to kill a little girl who accompanies her father to the barbershop and watches him get a shave. More than likely, she reminds him too much of Johanna.
- Wrongfully Committed: Johanna Barker gets involuntarily committed to Fogg's Asylum after her plan to elope with Anthony Hope gets discovered by her guardian Judge Turpin. Turpin wanted to marry Johanna himself, but learns of her elopement plans due to a tragically foolish act by Anthony which also spoils Sweeney Todd's plot to kill Turpin. She is markedly affected by the experience but is eventually rescued by Anthony, with Johanna herself shooting the asylum keeper in the play.
- 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. At the very least, the two escape in the film. 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.
- Yandere: Mrs. Lovett is so willing to have Mr Todd for herself that she lied to him about his wife poisoning herself.
- 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. On the other hand, she did withhold the truth that his wife was alive, despite her protests to the contrary. It would have saved the Beggar Woman's life.
- 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.
- "There was a barber and his wife
And she was beautiful
A foolish barber and his wife;
She was his reason and his life
And she was beautiful
And she was virtuous
And he was..."