All the songs in 'Sweeney Todd' on Broadway
The Tony Award-winning score of the Stephen Sondheim musical is a feast for the ears.
Attend the tale – and the tunes. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s musical thriller, follows a hellbent barber who cuts a path of revenge — and slashes throats — in 19th-century London.
In the latest Broadway revival, Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford star as the homicidal haircutter and his besotted sidekick, Mrs. Lovett. She grinds Sweeney’s victims into meat pies for unsuspecting customers.
Another star of the show is Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning score, featuring instantly evocative and recognizable numbers like “Johanna,” “Not While I’m Around,” and “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.” Some songs are brooding and others are bouncy, which is fitting – darkness and light are indelibly linked.
Director Thomas Kail’s production at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre gives a special reason to prick up your ears. This revival features Jonathan Tunick’s original orchestrations, written for 26 musicians, for the first time since the 1979 Broadway premiere that starred Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury.
Get to know more about the bloody gorgeous songs, several of which are reprised during the show.
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“The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”
The opening number is a catchy scene-setter. “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” situates the action in London, where Todd’s legend as “the demon barber of Fleet Street” looms large. So does Sondheim’s signature wit. “Sweeney was smooth, Sweeney was subtle,” the company sings. “Sweeney would blink and rats would scuttle.”
“No Place Like London”
This song offers two tales of one city, from characters with wildly different experiences there. As the idealistic sailor Anthony Hope (note that surname) arrives in London, he regards it as a place of “wonders.” Alongside him, Sweeney Todd is making a homecoming, and he spews contempt for a place filled with men of unparalleled cruelty. He has been there, gone through that.
“The Barber and His Wife”
Sweeney’s mournful memory of what was stolen from him – “his reason for his life” – unfolds as a plainspoken account of the evil men do. He recalls losing his wife when a powerful man, who coveted her, sent Sweeney away on fake charges.
“The Worst Pies In London”
Mrs. Lovett’s first song establishes a connection with Sweeney, who comes into her shop. By her own admission, her “head’s a little vague,” but she’s keen enough to know her pies are inedible. “Is that just revolting?” she groans while rolling out dough. “All greasy and gritty? It looks like it’s molting, and it tastes like — well, pity.” It’s enough to turn your stomach as you’re chuckling.
During her run on Broadway, Lansbury kept busy during this song by making “tiny projectiles” out of dough that she covertly chucked at musical director Alexander Gemignani, according to the book Gemignani.
Poor things is more like it. Sweeney, formerly known as Benjamin Barker; his wife, Lucy; and their daughter, Johanna, were all brutally undone by the lusting Judge Turpin and The Beadle, his officer, 15 years earlier.
“There was a barber and his wife, and he was beautiful,” sings Mrs. Lovett, hinting at her romantic feelings for Sweeney. She claims that after Turpin accosted Lucy, she poisoned herself and the judge adopted Johanna. Sweeney’s motive for revenge becomes clear.
Sweeney sets up shop above Mrs. Lovett’s store. The "friends" he refers to are glinting razors he’ll use to exact revenge. “See this one shine, how he smiles in the light,” he sings, as if the blade was a flesh-and-blood accomplice. “Friends, you shall drip rubies.” And they do. Meanwhile, Mrs. Lovett reminds Sweeney she’s a friend too.
“Green Finch and Linnet Bird”
Johanna, Turpin's ward, compares herself to caged pet birds in this lilting tune. Gazing out her window, she yearns for freedom. “Outside the sky waits, beckoning, beckoning, just beyond the bars.”
Impressionable Anthony, who has spied Johanna at her window, is lovestruck. “Not even in London have I seen such a wonder.” He learns from a beggar woman that the judge has custody of her, and she's off-limits.
Nonetheless, Anthony expresses love for Johanna, along with his plans to fetch her from the cage she’s in. “Johanna, I’ll steal you,” he vows. We see how high the stakes are when the judge and Beadle threaten Anthony.
“Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir”
Sondheim wordplay comes fast and furious and reminds audiences that people lie to your face. In a market, the young worker Tobias hawks con man Pirelli's grooming potion with supposed superpowers. “Let Pirelli’s activate your roots, sir,” Tobias says. Sweeney sees through the ruse and counters, “Keep it off your boots sir, eats right through.” This number leads to...
In this number, Pirelli and Sweeney square off. After exposing Pirelli's con, Sweeney further humiliates the man by challenging him to a shaving contest. He easily wins, impressing a key onlooker: the Beadle. Sweeney invites the Beadle for a free shave, and his revenge plan begins.
Johanna (Mea Culpa)
This song assumes darker dimensions than the earlier "Johanna," especially in light of Turpin's threat to Anthony. Here, Turpin punishes himself for lusting after Johanna. He then decides to marry her to get rid of his guilt.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Lovett cautions Sweeney not to rush into carrying out his plan for revenge. “Don’t you know, silly man? Half the fun is to plan the plan. All good things come to those who can wait.”
“Kiss Me,” “Ladies in Their Sensitivities,” “Quartet”
Turpin’s disturbing plan to wed Joanna sets off this series of songs in which Sondheim is at his fleet-footed, tongue-twisting best. In “Kiss Me,” Johanna and Anthony hatch a plan to run off and outsmart the judge. Beadle shares his take on women’s behavior with Turpin in “Ladies in Their Sensitivities,” and all four characters blend in the intricately layered “Quartet.”
Sweeney sings this sumptuous and sinister number to Turpin as he lures him into his barber chair, where he plans to slice his throat. “How [women] make a man sing, proof of heaven as you’re living,” the men sing. But Sweeney is about to ensure the judge doesn’t live much longer.
As Sweeney’s plan to kill the judge goes awry, he decides “we all deserve to die.” Everyone is an enemy now. He assures himself he’ll eventually get Turpin. “In the meantime,” Sweeney notes, “I’ll practice on less honorable throats.”
“A Little Priest”
Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett muse about disposing of victims by turning them into pie filling. They giddily foresee “shepherd’s pie peppered with actual shepherd on top.” They’ll have fop, actor, executioner, squire, you name it. They won’t discriminate.
“A Little Priest” is inspired by British music hall, a popular comedic entertainment form in the Victorian era. Sondheim wrote the song to convince Lansbury to play Lovett, a role she didn't think was big enough at first. The song has since become one of Sweeney Todd's most famous for its mile-a-minute wordplay.
“God, That’s Good!”
The barber and the baker’s diabolical partnership has paid off, as this song that opens the second act reveals. Lovett's business is booming: “Mrs. Lovett's meat pies, savory and sweet pies, as you'll see,” sings Tobias, who’s helping her by beckoning people into the shop. “You who eat pies, Mrs. Lovett's meat pies conjure up the treat pies used to be.” Unlike customers on stage, the audience knows what – er, who – is in the pastries.
“By the Sea”
The loquacious Mrs. Lovett, who’s giddy about the upturn at her shop, shares her fantasy of going seaside with Sweeney in this jaunty number. “Think how snug it’ll be underneath our flannel,” she teases, "when it’s just you and me and the English Channel.” Sweeney’s detached response — “Anything you say” — shows it all to be a pipe dream.
“Not While I’m Around”
Tobias is young, but he already understands that evil lurks. He’s grown fond of Mrs. Lovett and he pledges to protect her. “No one's gonna hurt you, No one's gonna dare. Others can desert you, Not to worry, whistle, I’ll be there.” It’s almost a lullaby, but charged with a subtle hint of danger. Barbra Streisand sings a god-that’s-good cover on her 1985 Broadway Album.
After reports of “a stink” from Mrs. Lovett’s bakehouse, Beadle comes to inspect it. She claims it’s locked. While they wait for Sweeney to return with the key, Beadle shows off his vocal gifts with ditties of the day.
“City on Fire”
All hell breaks loose when Anthony rescues an imprisoned Johanna from an asylum. “It’s the end of the world! Yes!” lunatics sing. “City on fire!” At the same time, Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett’s enterprise is coming undone.
“The Ballad of Sweeney Todd (Reprise)”
After a massive lie is exposed and the body count reaches its peak, the show ends with a full-company reprise of the opening number. “To seek revenge may lead to hell,” Sweeney observes. “But everyone does it, if seldom as well,” answers Mrs. Lovett.
Additional Sweeney Todd music
The above are the major songs in the Sweeney Todd musical. However, as Sweeney Todd is a mostly sung-through show, even the scenes of dialogue technically count as songs. “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd (Reprise),” for example, is actually the song's seventh reprise; brief reprises punctuate scene transitions and key moments during the show.
Sweeney Todd leaves audiences with lasting melodies and musical food for thought. Get tickets and savor the show this spring.
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