Sweeney Todd: TheDemonBarber of Fleet Street

Unlikely as it sounds, director Tim Burton missed all the jokes in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The origins of the celebrated 1979 musical, written by Stephen Sondheim in collaboration with Hugh Wheeler, lie in the vaudeville-style English music hall tradition and in 19th-century penny dreadfuls. The outrageous puns are still present in the duet “A Little Priest,” in which the pragmatic Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) schemes with her paramour, the homicidal barber Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp), to rescue her faltering meat-pie shop by using the flesh of his victims as filling. But the actors don’t play them for laughs, any more than Bonham Carter cracks wise during her first number, the Gilbert and Sullivan–style patter song “The Worst Pies in London.” These songs are rendered more or less straight, which makes them deadly dull.

 

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