21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 10 August 2001
Not your typical Broadway musical, Sweeney Todd marked Stephen Sondheim's transition from more traditional shows to larger, almost operatic enterprises. To my mind, it is Sondheim's most satisfying achievement. I saw Sweeney shortly after it opened on Broadway and it remains one of my most vivid theatrical memories. This double CD set goes a long way towards recreating that magic. The story of a wrongly-accused barber who returns to London in search of his beloved wife and daughter and, not finding them, turns to slitting his customers' throats and turning them into pies might not sound like the basis of an enjoyable experience. But Sweeney Todd has just the right combination of Victorian melodrama, high camp, low characters and very dark humour to draw anyone into its spell. And then there is the music. While not the sort of Rodgers & Hammerstein score in which every other song becomes a standard, there are still plenty of musical highlights - such as the comic "Worst Pies in London", the macabre "A Little Priest", the beguiling "Johanna", and the surprisingly tender "Not While I'm Around". The songs are all integral to the plot and this double CD set is a virtual recreation of the show. The performances are all excellent - a reminder that Angela Lansbury did some quite good things before she became a television sleuth. But towering above everyone is Len Cariou as Sweeney in a performance so magnificent that you wonder why he was never so good again. Maybe because he never did another Sondheim musical. And Sondheim is the real star here. Listen to Sweeney Todd by all means. But not alone - and certainly not in the dark!
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
"Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is closer to the operatic world of Verdi and Donezetti than it is to Rogers & Hammerstein or Lerner & Lowe, and there have been times when it has been performed in opera houses as well it should. This show is replete with arias and quintets, duets and chorus numbers. More than any other American "musical" I can think of, there are different characters singing different things at the same time, just what you would expect to find in an opera. Besides, like an opera, most of the main characters are dead by the time the curtain rings down.
This is Sondheim at his best, coming up with some of his most beautiful melodies in a show where the "hero" and "heroine" cut people's throats and bake them into pies. Consequently while you have "Not While I'm Around" sung by a poor boy to his surrogate mother and "Johanna" sung by young Anthony to his intended, you also have "My Friends" sung by Todd to his set of sharp razors. Sondheim has always delighted in such ironies. The highlight of the show/CD is the trio of numbers that ends Act I. From the sweet duet between Todd and the Judge ("Pretty Women"), to the savage intensity of Todd's "Epiphany", concluding with the ghastly humor of the Todd and Mrs. Lovett in "A Little Priest."
Angela Lansbury is a wicked delight as Mrs. Lovett, and a revelation to those who do not remember that she was always a strong performer in musical theater ("Mama," "Gypsy"). The appropriateness of her voice was driven home to me when I saw a road production of "Sweeney Todd" with June Havok (yes, the original Baby June, older sister of Gypsy Rose Lee) who had the great timing of the vaudeville stage but who sang everything about an octave lower than originally written. However, it is Len Cariou who steals the show. "Epiphany" is a dramatic tour de force made all the more wonderous by the fact that it is being sung. If only I could sing, this would be the role I would most want to perform and "Epiphany" the song I would most love to sing.
One of the joys of this 2-disc set is that it includes the song "Johanna" which was cut from the show, which has the Judge (Edmund Lyndeck) flagellating himself while sneaking a peak at his young ward through a keyhole. Similarly, the entire original version of "The Contest" is presented. Warning: in this production a steam whistle is used, primarily when Sweeney draws his razor across somebody's throat, in a particularly effective bit of stagecraft. If you listen to the opening song with the volume up too high, you are going to get blown away.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 27 June 2003
With this show, Sondheim nails the myth of a cosy Dickensian London flocking with endearing cockneys and benevolent toffs. In a grim and grimly funny comment on 19th century society he shows us a corrupt and poisonous judiciary at the top and a naive or downright stupid working-class at the bottom, separated by the rapacious, sentimental bourgeoisie - Mr Todd and Mrs Lovett - happily selling everyone to everybody, literally. Exquisite production values further point up the ironic beauty of these superb tunes and lyrics - but it's a lot to pay for 2 CDs; and the highlights have all the fun without the plot points that give the game away if you haven't seen the show - so spend the extra money to go and see it somewhere!
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
I have seen many Sweeneys over the years from Alun Armstrong (wonderful actor, perhaps not the greatest singer) to Sir Tom Allen (excellent on both fronts but in an overblown production), from George Hearn and Dennis Quilley (both a bit too musical-comedy) to Paul Hegarty in the slimmed down Watermill production - and not forgetting Leon Greene in a memorable production at the theatre where Sondheim first saw the play that sparked off his interest in the story. But the most complete Sweeney of all is still the creator of the role, Len Cariou. His Epiphany remains one of the scariest things I have ever seen in a theatre, with a wonderfully in-tune out-of-tune climax. No-one made the humour of A Little Priest blacker, the dreamy amorality of Are You Beautiful As Her more heartbreakingly poignant or rose to such truly tragic heights at his cathartic moment of discovery in the finale. All of this is admirably captured on this original cast recording.
Is Sweeney Todd an opera or a musical? And ultimately, does it matter which pigeon-hole you put it in? True, it is through-composed - but then so are Evita and Les Mis. True, it is thematically very tightly organised with recurring leitmotifs (especially the plainsong Dies Irae references) - but so are most of Sondheim's mature theatre pieces. True it handles darker, more tragic material than we're used to in Broadway musicals, but again that's Sondheim for you. None of that makes it an opera. And the productions that opera houses have put on amply demonstrate that it is a work that demands singing ACTORS, not acting singers. And that, most assuredly, is what Cariou is here.
Sweeney Todd stands or falls by it eponymous anti-hero and, unusually for Sondheim, the other characters are less rounded, have less depth, are more stereotyped than the lead. However, Angela Lansbury, long-time Sondheim interpreter, gives what is also just about the definitive performance as Mrs. Lovett, maker of the worst pies in London and subsequently instigator of the unique recipe for the best. Her British origins mean she has just the right handle on the Victorian Parlour Songs and the music-hall exuberance of By the Sea. But she can also match Cariou pun for outrageous pun in numbers like Little Priest. The rest of the cast, too are just about as good as you'll find - though I can't resist a slightly nostalgic gaze back at Adrian Lester as the young sailor, Anthony.
All in all, for a great record of a great show with an outstanding central performance from Cariou, look no further.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 28 June 2007
Although the amazon site includes the wrong sound samples above (they are from the LaPone revival), this item is indeed the original cast recording with Lansbury and Cariou. Even better, it's been remastered and includeds 2 bonus track not featured on the original (and much more expensive) RCA double disc. What a find!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 16 August 2002
Sweeny Todd. The most famous barber of Fleet Street. Stephen Sondheim's work is always fantastic, and this is no exception. This two disc set has ALL the music from the stage show (none of this 'highlight' nonsense). If you've seen the stage show, you'll love this. If you haven't seen the stage show, don't worry. Get this and hear the way Sondheim harmonises the lyrics and music into a pure symphony of sound. Wonderful!
on 26 May 2011
This now legendary recording of Stephen Sondheim's Muse, Angela Lansbury and the incredible Len Carior is a timeless classic. A brilliant musical that verges on the macabre throughout. New comers to Sondheim may have only experience the recent film version of this masterpiece of modern opera!
The many revivals in the West End and Broadway over the years have been good, but none have touched the chemistry that was created in this version.
Treat yourself - this is one of those recordings that everyone should own!
on 1 October 2011
I had the pleasure of being in the pit for some youngsters performing this recently on the fringes of London. I think it should be on the curriculum wherever possible. Strap-hanging in Sarf Lahndun last night, there was a definite ghost of Sweeney about. The thing with Sondheim is that he gets to the heart of any narrative tradition he turns to, and the music has a Prokofievy edge to it that never detracts from the incomparable lyrics. This is political satire, romance and gothic deftly interwoven.
on 21 October 2013
Fantastic recording, with fantastic actors and not bad singing!
Be sure to not that harmonies in this are meant to be as they are, and they are not meant to be 'nice' all the time. This is not bad singing, as people in my household thought!
The recording is adequate for the time. Try it, and see if you really like Sondheim!
on 16 September 2009
I wish I could have seen the premier production of this show. Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury are absolutely stunning. A perfectly cast show full of wit, dark humour and horror. There are so many highlights, but special mention to The Ballad of Sweeney Todd, Johanna, Epiphany and, my personal favourite, A Little Priest.