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Friday December 21, 2007 2:27 am

Review: ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’

Get the closest shave ever…I just got back from the midnight showing of . Previously, I had seen the original Broadway cast perform this show via video cassette tape in my “History of Theater” class. I also saw a very stripped down version of the show performed by a national touring cast without sets or costumes. This film was every bit as good visually, musically and narratively as either one of those shows. For those of you who are unaware of the plot, let me catch you up.

Benjamin Barker () is a happily married man with a beautiful yellow-haired wife and a bouncing bay girl living in ye olde London. A man by the name of Judge Turpin () takes a liking to Barker’s wife and frames him for a crime which he is convicted and exiled for. Upon Barker’s return to London years later, he finds that his wife is dead and his little girl is being held hostage by the evil Turpin. Hell bent on revenge, and now going by the name Sweeney Todd, Barker takes up residence above Mrs. Lovett’s () Meat Pie shop. There, the trained barber kills his customers in hopes that one day it will be the Judge’s turn for a shave.

Oh yeah, and the bodies get baked into the pies.

I read a lot about Johnny Depp’s preparation for this film, and the concern over the fact that just weeks before filming was to begin the producers were still not certain if Depp could vocally fill the role. No worries, folks. Depp sounds absolutely fantastic. It’s really stunning to hear him belt out a duet with the likes of Carter and Rickman and have it work so well. Depp doesn’t really have that over the top Broadway kind of voice. It’s my opinion that you can hear some of his early rock influences coming through in some of his songs - even though he didn’t do vocals back in the days with The Kids. Bottom line, Depp can sing, and sing well, and his performance as Sweeney Todd is both haunting and inspiring.

Bonham Carter is a welcomed “younger” casting choice for a role that was originated by Angela Lansbury. In all her disheveledness, Carter is both sexy and alluring as the meat pie maker. There is no doubting Depp and Carter’s chemistry, and it certainly shines in this film. Despite her younger appearance, she still portrays the right amount of motherly instincts in her care for Toby, a young boy who falls into Lovett’s care. Her performance of “Not While I’m Around” (once made famous by Barbara Streisand)  was inspiring and so true to the heart of the original version that you might have though Lansbury had reprised the role herself.

The movie was also visually stunning despite the dreary, gothic look that is so typical of Tim Burton films. One of the shining moments of the film came during Mrs. Lovett’s dream sequence in which she tells Sweeney about the kind of life the two of them could have together. It was scenes like this that are impossible to recreate on stage and are a major bonus to the film version. This scene was very reminiscent of the pastel utopian settings Burton used in Edward Scissorhands. The crowd really got a kick out of this scene - it was excellent. If I were to pick a second favorite scene, it would have to be Sweeney’s barber showdown with Perelli, played by Borat’s Sacha Baron Cohen.

Musically , as I said before, the cast was spot on in its performances of the classic Broadway tunes. Depp’s ballads of revenge were edgy and modern while the pining love songs between Anthony and Johanna were more reminiscent of the stage versions. As far as I could tell, all the songs are in there except for one. Though it does make an instrumental cameo in the beginning of the film, the brooding “Ballad of Sweeney Todd” was absent. Though it would be hard to find a place to put the song, considering that it is usually performed by the entire cast who is well aware of Sweeney’s dark business. That song really doesn’t have a place in this film. Fans of the original will love Depp and Rickman’s performance of “Pretty Women.”

Overall, this is a film well worth seeing. I was shocked to see that our local theater only has four showings each day this weekend. They are opting instead to play 10-15 showings of I Am Legend, Alvin and the Chipmunks and National Treasure: Book of Secrets. But I can’t imagine that you will find a better film to see this weekend. For those of you who are new to the story of Sweeney Todd, take this opportunity to discover it. For those of you who love it as much as I do, don’t be frightened off by the film adaptation. It is every bit as deliciously dark and twisted as the original - with a little benefit of an all-star Hollywood cast and big budget.

Oh, and I should mention - if you don’t like blood, maybe you should sit this one out. You’ll thank me later.

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