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Sweeney Todd is by no means a conventional musical; it takes several forms of music and theater and artfully places them together. Sondheim very effectively transports the audience back to Victorian England for a mad waltz with murder, mayhem...and meat pies. He also utilizes his skill as a choral composer to write some truly fascinating ensemble pieces accompanied by a very intricate plot with many elements carefully layered.
There are several important thematic elements in this carefully written commentary on our society, and Sondheim makes good use of his music to accent not only the melodramatic plot, but these themes as well. For example, the song “Kiss Me” becomes an anthem for Anthony and Johanna and a symbol of their true love....they loved when they did not even know each other’s names. Sweeney Todd may be a dark musical, but its construction lends well to light voices and an equally light orchestral style. Plot-wise, this show is rather light, the characters seem cartoonish and one-dimensional, especially Mrs. Lovett, Anthony, and Johanna, who appear to be little more than melodramatic character roles. Ironically, Mrs. Lovett, the absolute capitalist, is one of the show’s most complex characters. Mrs. Lovett is not merely some amoral witch out to make a fast dollar, she is a character driven by greed and love to keep Sweeney however she can.
In conclusion, the play gives an excellent example of captive innocence, and the loss of innocence that immediately follows. Sweeney is driven to murder, Mrs. Lovett bakes these people into pies, Johanna kills, Lucy is forced to become a Beggar and a whore, and nearly every major character experiences their own fall from grace. Every character in the show is a captive, whether literally or figuratively. Most importantly, Sweeney is a captive of his revenge and Mrs. Lovett is imprisoned by her love for Sweeney. Both are determined to do whatever possible to attain their goals and both fail, ultimately destroying themselves just short of reaching their goals.