Sweeney Todd ditches Victorian London for disco-era decadence


The hair-raising opera returns to the stage for a two-week stand at the Brussels Opera’s pop-up venue Muntpaleis

A cautionary tale

Based on an urban legend, Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s macabre musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street took Broadway by storm in 1979. Sondheim announced at the time that the versatile piece was both opera and musical theatre, depending on where it was staged.

Decades later, in 2007, filmmaker Tim Burton added Hollywood blockbuster to the list. His silver-screen adaptation starred Johnny Depp as the titular hairdresser. Now the production returns to the stage for a two-week stand at the Brussels Opera’s pop-up venue Muntpaleis (on the grounds of Tour & Taxis).

Sondheim originally set the action in a grungy quarter of Victorian London. The current production, directed by the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s James Brining, brings Sweeney Todd into the 20th century  – the 1970s to be exact. The Dickensian grime is replaced with a more familiar, disco-era decadence, but the essential plot remains the same.

Ex-con-turned-barber Todd returns from prison to take his revenge on polite society while his pie-making accomplice, Mrs Lovett, disposes of the evidence in a most scrumptious manner. Their respective passions eventually devour both of them.

The story has been interpreted as a cautionary tale of obsession and a parable of capitalism, one in which consumption is portrayed at its most grotesque and farcical. You don’t want to know how the sausage is made.

This revival, performed in English, is co-produced by the Welsh National Opera, the Manchester Royal Exchange and Brining’s West Yorkshire Playhouse. Leo Hussain and Bassem Akiki conduct the resident Munt Symphony Orchestra and Chorus through Sondheim classics like “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”.

American baritone Scott Hendricks stars in the title role with British mezzo soprano Carole Wilson as Mrs Lovett and American baritone Andrew Schroeder as Todd’s nemesis, Judge Turpin. (In English, with Dutch and French surtitles)

14-30 June at Muntpaleis, Brussels

Photo: Johan Persson