When Stephen Sondheim worked on a new piece, it was his habit to play preliminary sketches of his songs to Judy Prince, the wife of his longtime director, Hal Prince. When she heard the first strains from his Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, she told Sondheim, “It’s nothing to do with Grand Guignol. It’s the story of your life.” That may seem a strange remark, but then Sweeney is a strange work, both in the context of Sondheim’s career (he was known for sophisticated musicals about relationships like Company, Follies, and A Little Night Music) and in the time it came out, when Broadway was dominated by the likes of Annie and Ain’t Misbehavin’. Something about the revenge-maddened 19th century barber reminded her of the recessive composer’s grudges and dark moods.
Since its debut, the show has adapted well to opera houses, where it gains the size and grandeur that befits such a work, and also to smaller theaters, where it is frequently scarier. Casa Mañana Theater’s 2018 apprentice program will put on the show for one weekend only, so you can appreciate the vein of nasty humor and soaring beauty that runs through this unique stage musical that layers blood and smoke with Straussian waltzes and Victorian parlor songs.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street runs Fri-Sun at Casa Mañana Theater, 3101 W Lancaster Av, FW. Tickets are $25. Call 817-332-2272.