Let’s just call this my “fuzzy math” post. When you say there are books that shaped your life, what does that mean exactly? Literature? Popular fiction? Investigative non-fiction?
What about drama? In a day or two, I will mention some plays that most would be relegated to literature (hint, the playwright’s name starts with an “S”), but what about a different dramatist? Something more modern? What if—gasp—the play in question involved music? And if the music was off the charts brilliant (lyrics, especially, included), whom to credit with authorship?
Fuck all that. Let me just say that my favorite play of all time is Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Hugh Wheeler with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. This dramatization moves me every time I have the pleasure of seeing it. I remember dragging my daughter to see the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton film (respectable, not brilliant): She left the film in tears, cursing me the whole way. Now she “gets” it, but at the time, her thoughts were (spoiler alert), “How can it end so miserably?” Um, oh, I don’t know… might have had something to do with a slaughtering barber seeking revenge whose accomplice grinds his victims into meat pies? What? You were expecting a happy ending?
The lyrics and music are in my opinion the best that Mr. Sondheim ever wrote. In fact, it’s difficult to reconcile the lyricist (admittedly, Mr. Sondheim was denied the opportunity to compose West Side Story, so maybe it was a joke) who wrote, “Maria! Mariamariamariamaria!” with the lyricist who managed, “Not one man, no not 10 men, nor 100 can assuage me… I will have them!” I mean, he had me at “assuage.”
Unfortunately, there are no modern recordings of the show. The best you can hope for is the concert version, and if you want to delve into Sondheim, spring for the collection. In the meantime, buy the CD to go with the libretto and enjoy the tale of Sweeney Todd. And definitely seek out the show if it’s playing in a theater near you!