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What's wrong with this musical? 
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Tony Winner
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Post What's wrong with this musical?
So we know that theatre people hold Sweeney Todd in high esteem. The original Broadway production won numerous awards and had a legendary production staff. The show is a masterpiece of musical theatre, wonderfully integrating book, libretto, and score.

So what are the show's weaknesses, if any? Are there aspects of it that just don't work? Surely no work is perfect. Or is Sweeney Todd beyond reproach?


Wed May 12, 2010 6:29 am
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you need to suspend you disbelief that turpin and the beadle have no clue todd is barker. consideringh his shop is where barker's was, both were barbers, and the beadles seems to think he is familiar.

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Wed May 12, 2010 10:32 am
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Salome has a point. I personally suspend any disbelief when I consider Turpin and the Beadle both have dealt with countless people before, and Barker was nowhere near the upper end of society. "...the face of a barber - the face of a prisoner in the dark might not be particularly memorable."

Sweeney is my favorite show and I don't find anything to fault it with. I'm curious to hear other people's thoughts.

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Wed May 12, 2010 2:59 pm
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I guess you can count it as a weakness, but compare it to the countless operas where a woman puts on a hat and is immediately unrecognizable to her husband, or some such ridiculousness. This is at least marginally possible. It's at least given a little handwave between "Poor Thing" and "My Friends" when Lovett asks what they did to him down in Bloody Australia. I think we're to assume the intervening 15 years of physical and emotional hardship have had some sort of profound physical toll on Todd.

Uhhh... the score in the MTI book is an utter mess? That's about the biggest issue I have with it.

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Thu May 13, 2010 6:10 am
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Rorgg wrote:

Uhhh... the score in the MTI book is an utter mess? That's about the biggest issue I have with it.



This!

Holy crap the score MTI sends out with the show is a disaster! Plus there are many instances where the conductor's score and the individual vocal scores don't match up part wise which make learning the show a little more challenging.

You can't really fault the show itself for this though. This is an issue MTI has with many of its shows.

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Thu May 13, 2010 7:00 am
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^ Literally the only thing wrong with the show. The score was a hot mess, especially in City on Fire... it was just one long run-on word. We had to print the lyrics ourselves because we couldn't understand it. Why was it handwritten, WHY?

I adore this show, though. Never thought I would when I started the show.


Thu May 13, 2010 7:38 am
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Tony Winner
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Rorgg wrote:
I think we're to assume the intervening 15 years of physical and emotional hardship have had some sort of profound physical toll on Todd.


Agreed.

I know it's not a reflection of any weakness in the show itself, but your comment about the physical effects of prison remind me of a question I've had for a while

So Barker/Todd was transported to a Southeast Australian penal colony. Penal colonies historically were pretty much slave communities. Awful intensive labor, abuse, squalor, etc. You'd expect a prisoner of such a place to be, in some manner, emaciated, no? Shouldn't Todd look like he was beaten and starved? Shouldn't he appear removed enough from what a decently nourished and cared-for man should be?

Why then, have famous stage Todds been not-so-slight framewise? Len Cariou, while not necessarily fat when he played the role, wasn't exactly emaciated looking. Nor was Hearn, nor Quilley. Kelsey Grammar isn't a small man. Michael Ball nowadays isn't skinnie-minnie.

Do we not care for this type of realism? Or is it a remnant of classical vocal performance type stuff that a bass or bass-baritone would be physically larger?


Thu May 13, 2010 9:24 am
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I'm guessing it's the bass-baritone thing. Plus... while it's certainly not a RULE, but larger men tend to have deeper voices, so there's some self-selection going on there.

As to the script: Yeah, MTI scripts tend to be messy, but this is the worst I've yet seen. The writing is amusing in its own way, including the places were lyrics or music were added or changed after the initial copying was done obviously, and the replacements are in a mechanical font rather than the handwritten, sometimes for only a few bars or words at a time.

The funniest bit is during the final scene with Todd and Lovett where she's singing under him in the "By The Sea" motif, but so quickly that all the words on her line are written at a slant to fit them in.

As a bass, the whole thing is incredibly irritating, as they invariably pick the least convenient staff to put things on. Lots of C4-E4 in the song? Let's put it in the bass staff to use lots of ledger lines (lots of songs). Lots of G2-C3 notes? We'll put it on the tenor staff... to use lots of ledger lines (Pretty Women). G3-A3 notes? Think you foiled us? No! We'll write it in ACTUAL PITCH on the treble clef ... so we can use ledger lines (in God That's Good).

Plus, here's the one that drove me FREAKING NUTS during the rehearsal process. I don't even remember the song, but for several staves, the split was like:

Soloist
SA
T
BB

Soloist
SA
T
BB

Soloist
SA
T
BB

Then, with no warning, the next line is

SA
T
BB
WW

Woodwinds... WITH THE LYRICS included, just so it's harder to notice that they're screwing with your head... then it's back to

SA
T
BB

on the last staff.

And if they were tossing in instrumental lines for reference throughout, you MIGHT be looking for it, but it's one of like two instances in the entire book.

Okay, rant done. That's not the show's fault. But it felt good to vent.

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Thu May 13, 2010 11:54 am
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sylvesterm11 wrote:
^ Literally the only thing wrong with the show. The score was a hot mess, especially in City on Fire... it was just one long run-on word. We had to print the lyrics ourselves because we couldn't understand it. Why was it handwritten, WHY?

I adore this show, though. Never thought I would when I started the show.


Why didn't you think you'd like it? I'm a little curious. Maybe it's another possible weakness we could discuss.

And Rorgg, that post had me laughing quite intensely. :lol:

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Thu May 13, 2010 2:57 pm
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Woodwinds? Wow. I know from my experiences in Guys & Dolls and The Music Man that MTI was thoroughly shoddy, but wow.

They need better editors. Or just editors at all.


Thu Jul 15, 2010 4:42 pm
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My gripe is that the MTI libretto does not match the score during God That's Good and Pirelli's Miracle Elixir. There are more solos indicated in the libretto than in the score, so you have lines that the director blocked that NEVER come in the score.

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Thu Jul 15, 2010 7:28 pm
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Post SWEENEY TODD
Monsieur D'Arque wrote:
My gripe is that the MTI libretto does not match the score during God That's Good and Pirelli's Miracle Elixir. There are more solos indicated in the libretto than in the score, so you have lines that the director blocked that NEVER come in the score.

How is it that this director - I'm uncertain whether he or she is hypothetical or not - had not worked through the score before staging the scene and seen the difference between the two?

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