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Cleveland, OH 44115

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Sweeney Todd

A Tony Award-Winning Musical Masterpiece

  Oct 04 - Nov 02, 2013

  Hanna Theatre, Playhouse Square

  Run Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes (including intermission)

About the Show

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Directed by Victoria Bussert

An indisputable masterpiece by America’s greatest living composer/lyricist, Sweeney Todd is a heart-pounding thriller. Set on the seedy side streets of 19th century London and laced with brilliant wit, diabolical humor and extraordinary music, this Tony Award-winning musical tells the tale of an unjustly exiled barber’s quest to avenge the wrongs done to him and his family by a lecherous judge.

Aided by the romantically inclined and resourceful pie shop proprietress Mrs. Lovett, the demon barber of Fleet Street exacts his sweet, razor-sharp revenge.

Sweeney Todd Playbill


Director's Note

The tale of Sweeney Todd is a long and sordid one and has its roots firmly placed in the colorful world of pop culture. Some scholars argue that the story was based on the actual exploits of a murderous barber in the late 18th Century; others insist it is an urban legend and no such villain actually existed. What we do know is that the tale of the razor-wielding Sweeney has captured the public’s imagination for more than 200 years!

The character of Sweeney Todd first appeared in written form in the 1846 short story, “The String of Pearls” by Thomas Prest, an author and musician who cobbled together a living writing ‘penny dreadfuls.’ Costing only a penny, these pop culture publications were aimed at the teenage working boys of the time who couldn’t get enough of the graphic horror stories (some things never change). In 1847, the story was adapted into the play, The String of Pearls: The Fiend of Fleet Street. The play’s advertisements claimed the story was based in truth; and that, combined with the fact that many penny dreadfuls were based on newspaper crime reports, furthered the belief that Sweeney Todd actually existed!

This popular tale made its way to the British music-hall theaters and finally ended up on film in the 1936 movie, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Tod Slaughter, the British answer to Bela Legosi and Boris Karloff, gave a wildly theatrical performance as the title character and fans of horror cinema embraced the performance with great enthusiasm. Sweeney Todd became one of earliest celebrity villains—a Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street) or Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th) of his day.

In 1973, playwright Christopher Bond altered the destiny of Sweeney Todd by grafting elements from the play, The Revengers Tragedy onto the Sweeney Todd legend creating a more sympathetic and layered protagonist. The storyline included Todd’s unjust arrest and deportation to Australia, his escape and return to London 15 years later only to find his wife had killed herself (or so he was told) and his daughter had been adopted by the very judge that had falsely sentenced him. When his first attempt at revenge was thwarted, Sweeney decided to punish all men—since all men are guilty of letting injustice stand. This combination of social commentary, sophisticated plotting and black humor made Bond’s play an unqualified success.

Stephen Sondheim, no stranger to black humor or political commentary, was inspired by Bond’s work and adapted it into musical form. His lush score, with a healthy nod to the horror movie scores—particularly those from the Hammer horror film library—stands as one of the great achievements in American musical theater.

At its heart, Sweeney Todd is an eerily romantic gothic love story. Sweeney is a man lost in time, forever haunted by his beautiful Lucy while Mrs. Lovett longs for—and iswilling to do anything for—a love she never had. The world of our production draws inspiration from Victorian penny dreadfuls to German expressionist horror films all the way to steam punk; we’ve created our own very special recipe especially for you—attend the tale of Sweeney Todd!

-Victoria Bussert
Director, Sweeney Todd

Season Sponsors

Cuyahoga Arts and CultureThe Cleveland Foundation

Production Sponsors

Kulas Foundation

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