And now, with Johnny Depp in the title role, director Tim Burton unveils the first major realization of a Sondheim work for the screen — and it is a darkly masterful cinematic tour de force.
The songs and score boldly propel the action in Burton’s sixth collaboration with Depp, making his singing debut as the falsely imprisoned barber transformed into a murderer by his thirst for revenge. Helena Bonham Carter serves as his pie-baking accomplice, Mrs. Lovett, who finds a wickedly savory means to dispose of Todd’s victims, and British star Alan Rickman is the scheming Judge Turpin. As with every actor in the film, including Sacha Baron Cohen as rival barber Pirelli, they perform all their own vocals to impressive effect, complemented by Jonathan Tunick’s rich orchestrations.
The film’s art direction is in keeping with Burton’s typically ambitious vision - an arresting chiaroscuro vision of 19th century London cast in shades of grey and sepia and tinted color, punctuated with splashes of blood red, with a scenic atmosphere that is almost palpable. Depp told audiences at the Venice Film Festival this September, after they’d finished cheering a ten-minute preview of Sweeney Todd, “Tim is a rare breed in today’s cinema: he is a true original, a true artist, a true auteur.”
Winner of nine Tonys in its original 1979 production, Sweeney Todd continues to entrance contemporary theatergoers, who made the recent Broadway revival an award-winning hit in its own right. This striking film adaptation, with Depp’s vivid characterization and Burton’s directorial command, is certain to win the widest audience yet for Sondheim’s enduring classic.
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