Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is based on the Tony Award-winning musical with a book by Hugh Wheeler and words and music by Stephen Sondheim. The Broadway show originally opened on March 1, 1979. Len Cariou won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Sweeney Todd. Angela Lansbury took home Best Actress honors for her portrayal of Mrs. Lovett. The show also took the award for Best Musical, among others. After its initial run of 557 performances, Sweeney Todd has been done by countless touring companies and even had an award-winning Broadway revival in 2005.
Given the dark nature of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, it seems only natural that director Tim Burton and (as I like to call him) the quirky actor Johnny Depp be the forces behind the film version. Sweeney Todd tells the story of a barber formerly known as Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) who has been exiled from London for fifteen years by the hateful judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Turpin is obsessed with Barker's wife, Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly). After raping Lucy, the judge steals the Barkers' daughter, Johanna (Jayne Wisener). Obsessed with revenge, Benjamin returns to London as Sweeney Todd. Unable to locate his wife and daughter, instead he finds Nellie Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) running a meat pie shop below where he used to work as a barber. Todd's travel mate discovers that Johanna is alive, but under the very watchful eye of Turpin and his colleague, Beadle Bamford (Timothy Spall). Without giving away any major plot points, suffice to say that Sweeney Todd uses his skills as a barber to skillfully "cut" his way to revenge.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is considered by many to be Stephen Sondheim's most complex musical score. It relies heavily on harmonies and has been performed as an opera on several occasions. It says a lot for Johnny Depp as an actor, a guy who has played guitar in a band but never sang on screen before, that he would take on such a challenge. When I first heard that Depp was going to play Sweeney Todd in a musical version of the film, I thought, "You gotta be kidding me." This is one of the great musical scores of all time. I was pleasantly surprised. While Depp isn't a great singer, and probably won't be doing a musical on Broadway anytime soon, he does an admirable job. He clearly wasn't afraid to put his own unique spin on the work of Sondheim, and didn't feel pressured to copy the singing style of the actors who won awards for the part before him. Depp's strong sense of self and individuality tends to benefit him in all of his performances.