Sweeney Todd - Michigan Opera Theatre

Overview

Revenge was never more delicious than in this musical feast of beautiful arias, duets, and choruses. Sweeney Todd is the story of a barber who was unjustly imprisoned by a salacious judge who then had his way with the convict’s wife. Years later, Sweeney returns to London to claim revenge. There he teams up with Mrs. Lovett, a meat-pie baker, in an insane partnership intended to bring him vengeance and her, riches.

Featuring “Johanna,” “Not While I’m Around” and “The Worst Pies in London,” Sweeney Todd is Steven Sondheim at his best.

Production Highlights:

  • Cast: Featuring Michigan native and Tony Award-winner Karen Ziemba as Mrs. Lovett and Stephen Powell as Sweeney Todd
  • Director: Ron Daniels

Fast Facts

Musical/Opera in two acts
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Based on the play by Christopher Bond
Premiered 1979 on Broadway

This production
Directed by Ron Daniels
Sung in English
Run time about 2½ hours

Artists

Stephen Powell

Sweeney Todd

Karen Ziemba

Mrs. Lovett

Nathaniel Hackmann

Anthony Hope

Amy Owens

Johanna

Ron Raines

Judge Turpin

Scott Ramsay

Beadle Bamford

Kyle Knapp

Tobias Ragg

Margaret Lattimore

Beggar Woman

John Riesen

Adolfo Pirelli

David Moan

Bird Keeper / Jonas Fogg

Rob Fisher

Conductor

Ron Daniels

Director

Synopsis

Act I

It is 1845 and Anthony, a young sailor, has arrived home to London. He is accompanied by a man he rescued drowning off the coast of Australia, Sweeney Todd. As they disembark, they are accosted by a beggar woman who alternates between begging for alms and soliciting sex, but seems to recognize Sweeney.

Anthony is thrilled to have returned to London but Sweeney is not — he tells Anthony the tale of a young barber who was sent into exile by a powerful man with designs on the barberʼs beautiful wife. Sweeney enters a Fleet Street pie shop, owed by the energetic Mrs. Lovett. She bemoans the hard times and the scarcity of meat. Sweeney asks about the empty apartment upstairs, and Mrs. Lovett tells him about the barber, Benjamin Barker, who was falsely accused by Judge Turpin so that the Judge could get to Barkerʼs wife, Lucy. The Judge and Beadle Bramford then lured Lucy to the Judgeʼs house where he tormented and raped her. Sweeneyʼs anger confirms what Mrs. Lovett had suspected — that he is indeed Benjamin Barker.

Mrs. Lovett tells Sweeney that Lucy had poisoned herself, and that his daughter Johanna is now a ward of Judge Turpin. Mrs. Lovett returns a set of silver shaving razors to Sweeney, who vows to use them to get his revenge.

In Judge Turpinʼs house, Johanna sits at a window. Anthony happens to wander by and immediately falls in love with the beautiful young woman. Threats from the Beadle only strengthen his resolve to save her.

Barber Signor Pirrelliʼs assistant, Tobias, hawks a miracle elixir that regrows hair. After exposing the elixir as a fraud, Sweeney challenges Pirrelli to a shaving contest, which Sweeney wins easily. Beadle Bamford, who judged the contest, is impressed. Sweeney invites him to come in for a complimentary shave.

Anthony, not knowing that Johanna is Sweeneyʼs daughter, asks the barber for help. He intends to rescue Johanna, and wants to use the shop as a safe house. Pirelli arrives to pay Sweeney a visit. Mrs. Lovett takes Toby downstairs for a pie, and Pirelli drops his false accent and reveals that he used to be Benjamin Barkerʼs assistant. Rather than give in to blackmail, Sweeney kills Pirelli.

Johanna is terrified because the Judge intends to marry her on Monday, but Anthony has a plan to help her escape. Meanwhile, the Beadle suggests that the Judge clean up a bit to be more attractive to Johanna, and sends him to Sweeney Todd. As the Judge tells Sweeney about his impending marriage, Sweeney shaves him, enjoying the anticipation of his revenge. But before he can slit the Judgeʼs throat, Anthony bursts in and blurts out his plan to save Johanna. The Judge storms out, declaring that he will lock Johanna up and never come to the barber shop again. Sweeney swears to kill as many people as possible, punishing the rich and corrupt and relieving the poor from their misery. Mrs. Lovett sees an opportunity: they can dispose of the bodies by using the meat for her pies, and a new enterprise is born.

Act II

Mrs. Lovettʼs pie shop is now bustling, and Toby helps with customers. Sweeney has a new barber chair with custom modifications for disposing his victims. When Anthony discovers that the Judge has locked up Johanna in the asylum, he gets Sweeney to help him plan an escape. Anthony will go to the asylum pretending to be a wigmaker looking for hair from the inmates. Seeing an opportunity to lure the Judge back to his shop, Sweeney writes a letter, warning him of Anthonyʼs plan, and that Anthony and Johanna could be captured at the barber shop.

Toby has begun to suspect that there is something awry at the pie shop, and tries to warn Mrs. Lovett. Mrs. Lovett sends him down to the bakehouse and locks him in. She returns upstairs to find the Beadle waiting; he has come to investigate the reported strange smells and smoke coming from her chimneys. Sweeney comes in and offers the Beadle his free shave. Toby is still in the basement when the Beadleʼs body tumbles down, and he runs off.

The asylum owner, Jonas Fogg, tries to stop Anthony from rescuing Johanna. She shoots Fogg, leaving the rest of the inmates to wander through the streets of London, as Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett search for Toby. Back at Sweeneyʼs shop, Johanna hides to avoid the beggar woman, and Anthony goes looking for Sweeney. When Sweeney arrives and finds the beggar woman in his parlor, he slits her throat. The Judge arrives, and Sweeney lures him into the chair, reveals his true identity, then kills him. Johanna comes out of hiding and barely escapes Sweeneyʼs knife.

Mrs. Lovett struggles with the bodies in the basement. Sweeney arrives, and in the ovenʼs light finally recognizes the beggar woman as his long-lost wife, Lucy. For jealous love Mrs. Lovett had let Sweeney believe that Lucy was dead. Sweeney shoves Lovett into the oven.

As Sweeney holds the body of his murdered wife, Toby appears and slits Toddʼs throat. Johanna, Anthony, and the police arrive.

-Courtesy San Francisco Opera

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Fast Facts

Musical/Opera in two acts
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Based on the play by Christopher Bond
Premiered 1979 on Broadway

This production
Directed by Ron Daniels
Sung in English
Run time about 2½ hours

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