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Image Entertainment presents
Sweeney Todd In Concert (2001)

"Seems an awful waste, I mean, with the price of meat what it is."
- Mrs. Lovett (Patti LuPone)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: July 03, 2002

Stars: Patti Lupone, George Hearn
Other Stars: Davis Gaines, Victoria Clark, Timothy Nolen, John Aler, Lisa Vroman, Neil Patrick Harris, Stanford Olsen
Director: Lonny Price

Manufacturer: Ritek Digital Video
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, violence, cannibalism)
Run Time: 02h:12m:10s
Release Date: May 14, 2002
UPC: 014381152920
Genre: musical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Thomas Peckett Prest is surely one of the most obscure people to have had a significant cultural influence today. Writing "penny dreadfuls," a cheap and bloody serial form of entertainment in early Victorian London, Prest largely shaped the vampire legend as it's known today in his Varney the Vampire serial. He also put to print for posterity folklore tales of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, who had a special barber chair that allowed him to slit the throats of his patrons and let them slide downstairs where they would be made into meat pies.

Prest's serial was made into a number of ghoulish horror films almost from the beginnings of cinema, but it really sprang into modern consciousness through Stephen Sondheim's 1979 musical version. The program here is a concert performance of the piece (Sondheim describes it as black operetta for lack of a better word) that won numerous Tony® awards on Broadway. Unlike the usual concert version, however, this is complete with costumes, selected props and plenty of movement in order to properly convey the story without having to fall back upon narration or other cheats.

Barber Benjamin Barker (George Hearn) returns to London, having been framed by Judge Turpin (Timothy Nolen) and deported to Botany Bay so that the Judge can seduce Barker's wife. Barker, now bearing the name Sweeney Todd, learns from meat pie baker Mrs. Lovett (Patti LuPone) that his daughter, Johanna (Lisa Vroman), is now the ward of the Judge. While the Judge seeks to marry her himself, she is also loved by young Anthony Hope (Davis Gaines), who rescued Sweeney from the sea where he made his escape after fifteen years. As Sweeney Todd plots his revenge, he falls under the blackmail of Pirelli (Stanford Olsen) and murders him. When Mrs. Lovett discovers the corpse, she hits on the idea of disposing of it via her meat pies. The meat pie business quickly becomes a resounding success, but the odd disappearances are raising suspicions. Sweeney continues his machinations to get his vengeance and rescue his daughter before the whole enterprise collapses.

The story, while distasteful Grand Guignol, has exerted an endless fascination on audiences in all of its various forms. In the framework that Sondheim uses, based upon a dramatization by Christopher Bond, the motivations of revenge are added, with Sweeney Todd as a funhouse mirror version of Jean Valjean; where the hero of Les Miserables responds to wrongful imprisonment and hounding by the police with kindness and compassion, Todd reacts with a more visceral craving for bloody revenge, gratifying the atavistic in all of us, like a less sophisticated Count of Monte Cristo.

Hearn played Sweeney Todd on Broadway starting in 1982, and he fits into the role like a glove. He looks exactly like a demon barber bent on vengeance, and sings the role with power, authority and manic determination. LuPone, fresh into the comic role of Mrs. Lovett, is fine although her characterization is so broadly drawn it's clear she's playing to the very back rows. The supporting cast is drawn from the ranks of professional opera singers, with Timothy Nolen particularly marvelous as the basso Judge, dripping hypocrisy and venom. Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser) makes an appealing appearance as Pirelli's assistant who later assists Mrs. Lovett at the pie works. Davis Gaines is a rather colorless little hero, but one can hardly do anything with such a role in the shadow of such characters as Todd, Lovett and the Judge.

Even though I'm not a fan of Sondheim, who too often seems to get lost in textures and tuneless melodies, this black operetta is highly enjoyable and gleefully presented. The use of a full symphony orchestra emphasizes the operatic aspect nicely, and provides a suitable backdrop for the bloody goings on.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The full frame picture generally looks very good, with fine detail and vivid color. This makes the occasional video artifacting all the more jarring. Thankfully, they're rare, but there are a couple moments of fairly severe pixelation. Otherwise it would have rated a solid A.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Three audio tracks are provided, with DTS, DD 5.1 and Dolby Surround. Both the DTS and the DD are terrific, with good clarity and immediacy, and hardly any indication of compression. The orchestra is finely detailed and a surprising amount of directionality is present. I can't much tell the difference between the DD and DTS, frankly. The Dolby Surround track is a bit muddier and less defined, but sounds quite good when not compared directly to the 5.1 tracks. The voices come across quite well, though occasionally the chorus' articulation is less than perfect. Plenty of low bass is present from the orchestra and the pipe organ, so all of your speakers will get a serious workout here.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 42 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 41 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: EastPack
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:18m:10s

Extras Review: A fairly substantial (25m:10s) "making of" documentary is included. This provides some useful background on the creation of the musical, its Broadway staging and the development of this concert version. Occasionally it devolves into puff, but there are certainly sufficient nuggets of interest to reward a viewing. A lengthy set of production notes are included in the booklet, but they tend to duplicate much of the information in the documentary. Finally, there are filmographies and theaterographies of Sondheim, Hearn, LuPone and director Lonny Price. The absence of subtitles is felt very much during the choral segments, which are often impossible to make out; the soloists are however easily understandable throughout. The layer change is placed at intermission and is thus quite invisible.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street hits a vein with this fun concert staging; the cast and the singing are excellent, and the sound is terrific, and some useful extras are included to boot. Recommended.


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