Thursday, February 5, 2009

With Darkness as an Ally (Part 3 of Why Am I Even Bothering To Count Anymore?)

Attend the tale of Sweeny Todd. His skin was pale, his eye was odd. He shaved the faces of gentle men who never thereafter were heard from again. He trod a path that few have trod, did Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Here we have another man who began life as a relatively blameless individual whose only crime was arousing the envy of men who held more power. Once again, he is cast away and returns with a change in identity and a sinister and jaded alteration in attitude. And, of course, clinging to a plot for revenge on those who snatched away his happiness.

I love Sweeny Todd (nee Benjamin Barker) as much as I love the Count (nee Edmond Dant├Ęs). Stephen Sondheim's award winning musical about this so-called Demon Barber was the first show I was involved in at college, so it's easy to see that it has a special place in my heart. Todd, like the Count, are both characters which are easy to feel sympathetic towards, but the manner in which the sympathy is aroused gives a nice contrast between the two. For the Count, we are permitted to view firsthand the young man's happiness, and his subsequent torment. Sweeny Todd, however, enters as a fairly mysterious character and we learn of the injustice done against him through exposition (in song) and his continued longing for his old life (through song). And instead of a complex plot gently nudged into fruition, Sweeny Todd's revenge is straightforward, bold, and bloody.

Any simple hero out to right wrongs would never dream of going about it the way that Sweeny Todd does, but our protagonist here is so anguished and cynical that he proclaims (through song) that "... the lives of the wicked should be made brief, but for the rest of us death would be a relief; we all deserve to die..." Thus does the bloodbath begin, but the horror does not stop with simple murder. No, Sweeny Todd's victims are then served to the populace of London baked in meat pies, resulting in the prompt financial success of his neighbor and accomplice, Mrs. Lovett, who owns the pie shop.

So what's the fascination? It's so twisted, really, that I can't help but be drawn to it. The music is lovely, of course (it is Sondheim, after all) and it's such a dark and brooding piece of work, which is always more interesting than lighthearted fluff. Sometimes I like to just think about the reactions of the young fangirls who went to see the recent Tim Burton adaptation just to see Johnny Depp sing at them, without having much of an idea of the plot. Even thinking about it now gives me a bit of a devilish smile, a kind of twisted glee.

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