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David Poland

By David Poland

Sweeney Tease

The Evening With Tim Burton at Lincoln Center delivered the first real glimpses, outside of Venice, of Sweeney Todd. The choices of what to show were clearly carefully selected.
In the case of

39 Responses to “Sweeney Tease”

  1. eroz says:

    Excuse me Mr. Poland, but did you actually watch the clips?
    From your comments I would guess not. In fact from your comments it’s obvious that you are not familiar with Sweeney Todd at all.
    The three songs that were chosen are pivotal to the plot and very difficult. Furthermore, Epiphany and Johanna are a real test to a director’s skill as well, since it’s very difficult to transfer them to film. A lot of people were worried about how these two songs would turn out.
    Also your comment about Johanna being sung primarily by Anthony, once again shows your ignorance of the source material. Johanna is primarily sung by Sweeney, and in fact is often called Sweeney’s Johanna. Anthony does little more than provide counterpoint. This is a very important part of the show that shows Sweeney at his most brutal.
    As I already said, it’s obvious that you are not familiar with the show, but you should have at least done a little research before commenting on it.

  2. snazzy says:

    Eroz, I think David’s more familiar with Sweeney Todd than you think. Sweeney Todd is the hot potato of this year’s crop of movies and David has to write about it. But he also doesn’t want to get in its way, or make the kinds of prounouncments that rerun last year’s Dreamgirls debacle.
    The prognosticators are treating this movie like dogs around a fire hydrant. Lots of sniffing, with a few taking a piss.
    The day after it opens, and the first reciepts are weighed against the reviews, Sweeney Todd will either be considered a lock for Best Picture or out of the running.
    It’s all very dramatic. Tim Burton is furiously doing sound editing weeks before it opens, and the studio is very publicly wringing its hands about their tough marketing assignment.
    It all feels like its playing out exactly the way they wanted: let the movie hover at the bottom of the top of most people’s Oscar picks. It doesn’t get saddled with front runner status, nor does it get dismissed.
    This one’s being managed very cleverly, and everyone seems to be playing their roles perfectly.

  3. eroz says:

    I’m very much aware of the situation. Nothing of what you said changes the fact that Mr. Poland’s statements about the show were wrong.
    Anyone even slightly familiar with Sweeney Todd would know that.

  4. David Poland says:

    There are three runs of Johanna in the show… and the first is sung exclusively by Anthony as a love ballad. The second by The Judge. And the third is Sweeney’s lament with Anthony and The Old Woman and Johanna after Pirelli.
    But you must know that.
    As for what is easy and what isn’t… none of it is “easy.” And for lovers of the show, none of it will be given any space to be anything but magnificent.

  5. Tom Hall says:

    A huge fan of the musical and Sondheim in general, but also an enormous fan of many of Burton’s films (Ed Wood, The Nightmare Before Christmas being my personal favorites), so I am very excited for this film. I think the audiences that made films like Edward Scissorhands and the aforementioned Nightmare cult successes will be in the sweet spot for this film, but also, musical theater people will be interested in seeing this adapatation. Sweeney is, in my estimation, the most important piece of musical theater in the last 35 years (or even most important American opera), so there is a big burden to do the music some serious justice.
    That said, the goth crowd and musical theater community do not make for an international blockbuster, which is why I am interested to see if Johnny Depp’s Pirates “legs” help this movie find an audience. If so, if the movie does take off, I will be very satisfied to know that a very difficult musical (albeit an amazing work of art) has found a wide audience. This is not hummable kitsch or recognizable pastiche like Hairspray or Dreamgirls; This is Sondheim’s masterpiece and he, particularly as a composer, has never found a wide reaching audience for his music (save SEND IN THE CLOWNS, but who besides a few of us know A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC?), especially in the context of film. In many ways, I am hopeful that he finds some late-career popular recognition for this wonderful score.
    Anyway, I am excited. There is a YouTUbe clip up of Johnny Depp singing JOHANNA that was bootlegged from the Lincoln Center clip screening… No images, but you can hear his voice. I think he sounds pretty good…

  6. Joe Leydon says:

    I have always enjoyed the fact that Perry Como had one of his last hits with a song from Sweeny Todd.

  7. eroz says:

    Of course I know the Johannas. I also know that the one shown was Sweeney’s Johanna or Johanna Quartet (Trio now). So the other Johannas are irrelevant to our discussion. The one shown was NOT sung primarily by Anthony.
    Something you should know too, if you were at the event or did a little research.
    And I am not the one that categorized songs as easy. You said “it would have been hard to pick three songs that were less of a test of the entire project”. That implies that the specific songs are not challenging.

  8. David Poland says:

    You’re kinda angry, eroz.
    And no, what I wrote does not mean that they numbers chosen were not challenging. And yes, Quartet is more significant. But still, the numbers that will define people’s memories of the film are not those three.
    You are welcome to disagree. But I wish you would dial down the anger.

  9. eroz says:

    You are avoiding the issue. You wrote:
    “Finally, they offered up

  10. cass says:

    Eroz isn’t angry, she’s just asking you to clarify and correct your remarks. A lot of people are scouring the web right now for information and reactions to the Sweeney clips, paying special attention to would-be opinion-makers like you. In many people’s minds Depp’s performance will be one of the most crucial factors in its award consideration, and I think you owe it to your readers to be as accurate as possible, especially when you’re implying some first-hand knowledge of them. People who have actually seen the clips can verify that Depp does most of the singing on “Johanna.” You should correct your mistake, and then perhaps reassess the clip based on that information.

  11. Ju-osh says:

    Why do you presumptuously refer to Eroz as “she”? Like Pac said, “Niggaz (er…gentlemen) is bitches, too.”

  12. David Poland says:

    Allow me to clarify.
    There is a sequence in the film of Anthony singing to the song to Johanna’s window.
    And indeed, the second Johanna sequence, with a parade of murders, is a tour de force for Burton and editor Chris Lebenzon, who keep it all moving along at a clip that is rhythmic visually as well as musically. The clip draws focus to the bodies hitting the pie shop’s “bake room” more than the show’s focus on the singer. In fact, it is the bounce of the bodies in the “bake room” below that is one of the real shockers of the movie, far more so than the blood, which is hyperreal, whether spraying like a hydrant or oozing like thick paint. There is a repeating crash of bodies which do seem very much dead, which invoked for me, memories of the horrible footage of corpses and pits from the Jewish Holocaust.
    Depp acquitted himself well as a singer through all the clips, though it is more Rex Harrison than Len Cariou or George Hearn or Michael Cerveris. He pushes his way through the songs without forcing it and acts up a storm that overwhelms any issue of the singing.

  13. Joe Leydon says:

    But is he as good as Perry Como? (Yeah, I know, Depp won’t sing THIS particular song, but still…)

  14. David Poland says:

    Wow. That really is the lounge version of the song. All the passion of a Nilla Wafer.

  15. cass says:

    Thank you, Mr. Poland, for correcting your comments, though it would have had much more impact if you had corrected it in your original blog BEFORE it got linked to all over the web.
    Oh, and for the record, I know Eroz, and she is, in fact, a woman :)

  16. L.B. says:

    Very encouraging report, David. I’m hoping for the best on this one and the trailer didn’t encourage me to keep hoping. So, this sparks it up a bit more.
    Though I’m sad to see the Ballad excised I’ll still hope.

  17. David Poland says:

    The closing version of The Ballad is in the script… so they may have shot it… and it could end up in, maybe over credits… certainly on the DVD… who knows?

  18. L.B. says:

    That would be welcome, but I love the opening with the Balad so much. That’s okay. Open mind, open mind…
    Mostly glad “Epiphany” worked for you. I used to sing that to myself on the way to school. (Yeah, not terribly healthy for a 13 year old, but there you go.) If they screwed that up, it would be a huge disappointment and wreck the whole affair for me. So, like I said, holding out hope.

  19. Devin Faraci says:

    I don’t get why they would have cut the Ballad. This bums me out.

  20. David Poland says:

    My thinking is that the film is trying to be, oddly enough for a muscial, more of a straight piece of storytelling. So the foreshadowing of a chorus would take away from that.
    That said, it’s hard to imagine why the closing chorus wouldn’t work and deliver on the promise on the use of the song as score.

  21. Joe Leydon says:

    David: You never heard that one before? Seriously, that was Como’s last big hit on the charts. (Even later than “And I Love Her So.”) I am not sure about this, but I think it’s the only song from the show that anyone (well, except for folks on the original cast recording) has ever had significant chart action with (though I’m sure other folks have recorded other songs from it as well). As I recall, there was a brief Rolling Stone magazine piece about Como’s recording when it was released.

  22. David Poland says:

    I was in high school… not much Perry Como chat around then…

  23. Tom Hall says:

    thanks for excluding my previous comment which would have solved this. lame DP.

  24. David Poland says:

    I don’t exclude any comments other than ad spam, Tom Hall. Don’t know who you are or what you wrote.

  25. David Poland says:

    Moveable Type set aside you comment for the following reasons…
    SpamLookup Link Filter 0.0 Number of links exceed moderation limit (2)
    SpamLookup Email Memory +1.0 E-mail was previously published (comment id 130957).
    Why do people assume things instead of ask or consider something other than a personal conspiracy against them as an option?

  26. David Poland says:

    I have posted yours and the 20 other comments that the system ate over the last 9 months.

  27. Dave Vernon says:

    Ah, hearing that youtube piece taken from Lincoln Center told me what I was suspecting…Johnny Depp doesnt’ have the voice for this. Will this ruin the movie? Can’t say till I see it, and Burton’s visual style using covers up a multitude of sins….but having a powerful voice that cuts through the music…almost frightens you in it’s strength and outrage–is an important piece of the show. Depp’s Sweeney sounds like a weak little waif. I certainly understand the financial side to this…many more people will come to see this film because Depp is in it. But still, just because an actor will agree to take on a role, doesn’t mean you should let him. Haven’t heard Bonham Carter’s singing yet, but if she lacks the voice too then I’m gonna die a million deaths during A Little Priest.

  28. vermontfudge says:

    Dave Vernon said:
    “…but having a powerful voice that cuts through the music…almost frightens you in it’s strength and outrage–is an important piece of the show.”
    But its not a “show” its a movie, and a movie has a lot of other ways to frighten you than with a big voice, and a big Broadway theatrical voice is all wrong for a movie. If you were expecting someone to belt anything out in this movie you were going to be disappointed. Film is so intimate, the singing would have to be dialed way down from a big stage performance. I’m not knocking big, beautiful, sends-a-chill-down-your-back voices. There’s a place for that- the stage. But that’s the whole stop-the-movie-dead-in-its-tracks thing Tim Burton has said he doesn’t like, (like for example, when Harve Presnell or Gordon MacRae, in old musicals plant their feet and really belt one out. Amazing voices, but it takes you right out of the movie. All movie musicals do that to a certain extent. The action kind of stops while they sing a song. Tim Burton has been quoted as saying he doesn’t like any filmed musicals. He was trying for something different here) There are video versions of the stage play if you want that. But Tim Burton was going to make a real movie and he’s been quoted saying he doesn’t like most movie musicals because of the way the singing is handled. This is what Burton wanted.
    Unlike a theatrical voice, this really can’t be evaluated too well out of the context of the action of the movie because Burton was trying to make the singing kind of seamless with the dialoge and this does sound like Depp’s speaking voice. All the actors singing apparently sounds like their speaking voices.
    All we’ve got now are audio clips probably done with crappy equipment that the person taping was trying to hide. So its a bad quality taping echoing in the room with audience noises and you don’t get the point they are in the story or the action that’s going on while they sing or how they are acting while they sing. Not to mention that the movie is unfinished, apparently its the sound editing they are working on.
    The only clip I’ve heard is for Johanna. Depp sings it well as far as I can hear. I’ve compared it to the Hern version on youtube. Hern sings wonderfully, but that big Hern voice and performance (which I’ve also read described as “hammy”) would have been completely wrong for the movie. People who saw the clip said the “detached” way Depp performed Johanna was right for Sweeney’s psychological state. If you’re talking about Johanna maybe you heard “a weak little waif” (I didn’t) but maybe if you saw the whole performance you’d see a person coming apart at the seams and the singing would have been just part of what conveyed that. Depp obviously is in no way attempting to belt this out.
    People attempting to evaluate this like its a singing competition are coming at it the wrong way I think (although he’s certainly not “pitchy” is he, like half those darn American Idol contestants?) The clips answer one big question, yes he can sing. Will you be totally satisfied with the way he sings it? I think you’ll have to wait to see the whole performance to make that judgment. (I tried to break this into paragraphs, but its not showing up in the preview. sorry)

  29. Dave Vernon says:

    Hey Vermontfudge,
    I understand, and partly agree with what you’re saying. And…fine, Burton doesn’t like the way songs are dealt with in musicals. But he’s taking on one of the very best musicals ever written (and on a personal note, one of my all-time favorites). Sweeny Todd is an opera–it has been performed as such in opera houses. If you don’t like musicals why make Sweeny Todd? It would be like someone making a movie out of Chicago and deciding that you really need weak dancers and dancing because…well, hey, people don’t always dance well in real life, do they? Let’s face it…Burton used Depp because it helped to get the movie made and he’s the only actor he seems to feel comfortable using.
    And in terms of big voices having a place…on the stage…I’d say that Jennifer Hudson’s performance in Dreamgirls would point to the opposite. Her big number blew the audiences away and in some opinions made that film. But, using Chicago as an example again, using Renee Zellwegger (who the Weinsteins forced on the film because of her name), hurt the movie. She could barely sing and dance and it showed.
    Burton didn’t need to make Sweeny Todd-the musical. The source material is there and he could have made a musical-less version of the story. That’s all I’m saying.

  30. ColePorterAficionado says:


    I have to say a few things:

    a) Sweeney Todd isn’t an opera. The fact that it’s played in opera houses doesn’t mean a thing. You’d be surprised what some opera houses play. If it’s not a Broadway show (I agree it’s not exactly Oklahoma! and furthermore I also think that it’s immensely better:-)), it’s an operetta. That’s how Sondheim classifies it, and I’m not the one to argue with him – are you?

    b) Of course, nobody says Depp’s Cariou or Hearn by any means. The recordings of Mr. Cariou and especially Sir Thomas Allen (who performed the role in Royal Opera just recently, unfortunately opposite the unbearable Felicity Palmer as Mrs. Lovett; American TV audiences may know him as Pangloss from the 2005 PBS broadcast of Bernstein’s operetta Candide) will always be the ones we, Sondheim aficionados, love to listen to, but let’s face this fact: their grand, in Sir Allen’s case operatic approach to the role would be totally wrong for film. It brilliantly suits the stage medium, but film is a different one. And Depp (and please note that I’m far from being his fan), from what we’ve seen and especially heard so far, is performing the role very suitably for the given medium.

    c) Jennifer Hudson’s big numbers were mostly on-stage and even the one that was in character took place on-stage. Numbers taking place on-stage are completely different. If you were doing an Ethel Merman biopic, of course you’d have belting (and hopefully you’d also have Christine Pedi in the part, but that’s beside the point:-)). Same goes for Chicago. Songs in Chicago all take place on-stage. It’s like taping a show. The parameters of the stage medium are maintained. And yes, that’s why Ren

  31. L.B. says:

    Good points, CPA, but I disagree about Jackman.

  32. ColePorterAficionado says:

    Jackman is a fine actor, but he’s really just not what the role needs, in my opinion. He’s too conventionally handsome, if you get what I mean. Not that I wouldn’t like to see him try, but I don’t believe he’d be right for it.
    He might have actually been more appealing in the vocal department, I’ll give you that, but Depp sounds just fine and is in my opinion more right for the part.
    Notice how I keep using the words ‘in my opinion’ – pointing it out just to protect myself a little:-).
    I’d like to apologise for the overuse of enters in my previous posts, but when I clicked on preview, it didn’t include any, so I added HTML tags and suddenly it included both actual enters and the HTML tags. The preview system seems to be flawed.

  33. David Poland says:

    a) Yes, operetta. But for civilians, there is no real distinction between opera and operetta.
    b) Agreed. I still expect him to win the Oscar for the effort.
    c) It is one of the surprises of the show, when you really break it down, that Mrs Lovett is the storyteller in song, much more so than anyone else.
    d) Agreed. And this is a lesson that would have served Mel Brooks well a couple of years ago.
    e) Some of us saw the footage… but even then, yes, out of context, you don’t really know.
    f) Yes. Let’s hope he gives the non-singers some room to breathe when they need it.

  34. scooterzz says:

    i’ve just watched hours of every production i can lay hands on and i’m willing to bet that no one is going to see this movie…they might as well have called it ‘rent’…..hope i’m wrong but i don’t think so….

  35. cass says:

    Yes, David, us “civilians” probably couldn’t tell you the difference between an opera and an operetta, much less a comic opera, light opera, musical play, musical comedy, etc. My point is that this work is meant to be a visceral, wickedly funny tale accessible to the general public (well as much as Sondheim ever is), not a remote staging with perfect vocalists. The emphasis, based on Sondheim’s own words, is more on the acting and story than the singing, and bringing it to film makes those statements even more relevant. I’m not dismissing its musical complexity. Sondheim’s songs are always hard to perform, even for trained singers. I think Depp at the very least deserves kudos for mastering the basics (hitting the notes, staying on key, etc). Whether he is good enough to satisfy the Sondheim/Sweeney/theater/whatever purists remains to be seen. But us civilians won’t care about that. He needs to be good enough not to detract from what is reportedly another great acting performance. Everything else is just gravy.

  36. ColePorterAficionado says:

    just quickly:
    a) Maybe. But that’s no reason why we who are in the know shouldn’t make the distinction – maybe the ‘civilians’ will catch up:-).
    b) So do I.
    d) Dead-on.
    e) Lucky you! My comment was meant to be in general, really, because that’s exactly what many people seem to be doing.
    f) I’d say that recording a song for the movie is much easier than on-stage singing. I’ve read that Goria Grahame’s singing in Oklahoma! was recorded almost tone-by-tone and edited together – one could never tell from the result.
    not only do I think you’re wrong, but I don’t see where you’re coming from, either.
    Rent was a movie about New Yorkers dying of AIDS, whose biggest star was Rosario Dawson, better known as the chick from Men In Black II.
    Sweeney is an epic horror/thriller about revenge, featuring four major stars in leading as well as supporting roles.
    Sweeney wins on both of these points, I’d say.
    (NOTE: I’m not bashing Rent, merely commenting on its box-office appeal).
    Thank you for your attention,

  37. David Poland says:

    You know, there was a reason they went the AICN route on this. You can see it in all their advertising. They want The Geek Boys to lead the way. The test will be in the teen market just past the Geeks. Will they go for it or not?
    Rent was expensive, but did do nearly $30 million domestic… and just $3m overseas. I expect Sweeney to do at least $75 million overseas. (See Phantom, doing double overseas what it did here.) It could easily be twice that.
    Dreamgirls opened to $40 million in the first wide week at Christmas last year on only 852 screens. Depp and Burton should be able to beat that. Sweeney has 2 full wekeends and the holiday weekdays before January 1. Even if the movie slows, I would expect at least $65 million in those first 10 days, unless DW is very tight on screens. There should be more than enough built-in curiosity for that. The number is about the same for that period as Fun With Dick & Jane and Cheaper By The Dozen.

  38. ColePorterAficionado says:

    I’d just like to add a little observation which may be valid for overseas B.O. – I’m in the Czech Republic and many people around here are pretty excited about Sweeney. The stage musical was never performed here, but both Burton and Depp are immensely popular around here and surprisingly to me I’ve never heard any objection against it being a musical.
    Furthermore it will almost certainly be rated 15, not 17, which means a lot more Johnny Depp teenage fangirls in cinemas. That should be good for box office as well.

  39. cass says:

    David, how do you figure they’re aiming for the teen audience with this movie, when it’s been rated R in its biggest market (nice to see that might not be true in Europe). Fortunately there are lots of Burton and Depp fans that will be able to see it, and some of the younger fans will manage I’m sure. But I don’t see how you could say they’re marketing this movie to them.

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