This weeks #TuneTuesday comes from, 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street'. The song is 'My Friends', composed by the incredible Stephen Sondheim.
This musical is based on the play of the same name by Christoper Bond, who depicted Sweeney Todd, not as a raving throat-slitting lunatic like the Sweeney Todd of ye olde British myth, but a killer with a purpose. Similarly, Mrs Lovett, a woman who puts people into meat pies. As morbid a topic for a musical you think it is, very few musicals have overly positive themes. Les Miserable has The French Revolution, Hairspray has racism and segregation, to use two examples.
This song appears towards the beginning of Act 1. Sweeney Todd has discovered through Mrs Lovett what happened to his wife and daughter, the latter in the 'care' of a Judge Turpin, who raped Todd's wife, forcing her to commit suicide. Todd has a new mission, which is to avenge his supposed dead wife and reclaim his daughter, Johanna. Mrs Lovett suggests Todd becomes a barber once more, to lore the Judge to him. She returns him his razors, which is when this almost hypnotic Ab sus chord plays on sustained strings and Todd sings today's song to his razor.
Todd is almost in a trance as he sings to them. The opening lyrics are filled with sibilances (S sounds). 'These are my friends. See how they glisten, see this one shine, how he smiles, in the lights.', giving a beautiful dream-like quality to the song. He then opens up in both volume and emotion with the following line, 'My friends'. The song progresses, and there is a key change to A major, the semitone higher and Mrs Lovett begins to sing, making the song a duet.
What makes this song a different sort of duet is that they don't sing together. Todd is still singing to his razors, whilst Mrs Lovett is singing at Todd, hinting her true feelings to him, but he is obsessed with his own motives and razors that will 'soon drip rubies'. And if that is not enough death for you, the melody constantly references the 'Dies Irae', as does the rest of the musical. I'd look into it if I were you, as it has been referenced as a sign of death in film.
My brother loves every Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (poor thing) and my mother has a fantastic taste in older musicals (her favourites are 42nd Street and Fiddler on The Roof), so for years I felt I couldn't rightfully claim one as my own. Daft as that may sound, but we all have our fav bands, musicians that are different from what our friends and family listen to, even if we all share the same music tastes. That changed when I began my A levels and we had to study 3 musicals, which were 'Oliver!', 'Oklahoma!' (another fav of mine) and 'Sweeney Todd' (I still own my various notes and the piano score of 'Sweeney Todd'. Best £70 I've spent!). Whilst my class hated the musical lessons, I naturally loved them and was very drawn to the almost operatic Sweeney Todd, which I saw in the summer of 2012, with Micheal Ball and Imelda Staunton as Sweeney Todd & Mrs Lovett respectively and I thought that was fantastic.
It may come to no surprise to you that 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street' is my favourite musical. It is morbidly dark and witty in places, with some of the best music to ever hit the West End (and Broadway). If you ever get the chance to see it on stage, you must go! Failing that, the Tim Burton film adaption starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter is a very good film, staying very faithful to the musical.