THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET

ATTEND THE TALE, by Rich Paschall

Benjamin Barker is wrongly accused of a crime and sent away from England to a prison in Australia. His beautiful wife is taken by the judge to be his own and his daughter is adopted by the same judge.  Mrs. Lovett makes meat pies and her shop has fallen on hard times.  Anthony, a sailor, picks up Sweeney Todd, who is adrift at sea. All of this is just for openers.

Todd returns to Fleet Street and his former home, where he encounters Mrs. Lovett.  The sailor comes across the beautiful Joanna, daughter of Todd (Barker), locked in her house by the evil judge.  Of course, Anthony falls in love with her beauty as seen from the window and with her voice.  The Beadle does the judge’s dirty work, which includes keeping people away from his ward.

Sweeney Todd
Sweeney Todd

There are two versions of the musical thriller available on DVD.  One is the Tony and Emmy award-winning stage production with  original lead performers.  The 1979 Broadway smash of the gruesome tale was recorded for television in 1982, starring Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett and George Hearn as Sweeney Todd. Hearn had replaced Len Cariou in the original stage production.  Lansbury won a Tony award for her portrayal while Hearn picked up an Emmy.

As experienced theater performers, these two knew how to fill the house with their dynamic interpretations of Lovett and Todd.  They had to be both evil and somewhat sympathetic.  Todd is out for revenge and Lovett is doing her own conniving as well.  Some of the nature of her evil is immediately apparent.  She not only has designs for Mr. Todd, she also sees a way to improve the sale of her meat pies by getting some fresh meat.  If that needs further explanation, I will let you see one of these productions.

Sweeney-original cast

The music and lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim.  The composer of many Broadway shows has mixed a variety of styles here to score big, not just with awards, but with a long running show.  It is proof that a gruesome tale can mix drama and comedy, love and evil, revenge and murder with music and come out a winner.  It is this show that intrigued a young Tim Burton, who would bring us the movie version 25 years later.

sweeney-todd-broadway

In 2007 the film of the Sondheim musical was put together by a director who knew how to bring such a dark setting to life.  Featuring most of the Sondheim score and original script, Burton was able to use film to bring more variety to the settings and more blood to the tale.  The gruesome revenge tale was certainly now more…uh, gruesome.

The most obvious surprise served up by the director was the casting.  Johnny Depp is present as the Demon Barber. Helena Bonham Carter is Mrs. Lovett.  It certainly was easier to have some sympathy for the situations of these characters when they are portrayed by the well-known and well liked stars.  The immediate question, however, was could they sing their parts.

Alan Rickman (Severus Snape in Harry Potter) is the evil judge.  Timothy Spall, who also appeared in many of the Harry Potter films, is the Beadle.  Sacha Baron Cohen is Adolfo Pirelli, the rival barber and con artist from early in the story.  His young assistant, Tobias Ragg, is played by a small man with a tenor voice in the theater production, but is played by 14-year-old Ed Sanders in the film.  This is an important change as it more accurately fits the character.

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Gone from the movie is the Greek chorus offering warnings to the audience and an admonition to:

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd.
His skin was pale and his eye was odd.
He shaved the faces of gentlemen
Who never thereafter were heard of again.

It is a cautionary tale for which you are being advised, but the Burton film saw no need for The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.  The song works well as a theater device and is used throughout the play.  With the movie being able to give you a stronger visual, you should not need the warnings of the chorus.

Also gone is the song “Kiss Me.”  You never see in the movie version that the lovers Anthony and Johanna have actually met, while they spend enough time together in the play to do a musical number.  Gone too is the “Wigmaker Sequence.”  The explanation from Todd to Anthony on how he will rescue Johanna is almost completely missing.

These omissions along with shorten versions of songs leave the movie at 116 minutes while the television production of the play did not cut anything and runs 139 minutes.  The play does add in an “Intermission” so you can go to the refrigerator or wherever.

While it is no surprise to say that the crew of Broadway veterans delivered on their songs, you may wonder about the movie cast.  Sondheim himself retained a right of refusal on casting choices for the main parts.

Sweeney-todd-twisted-characters

Though he feared a rock interpretation by Depp, he was pleased with the audition singing of the mega star.  Helena Bonham Carter sent a dozen audition tapes to Sondheim.  As she was Tim Burton’s partner at the time, they wanted no hint of nepotism.

Cohen also auditioned extensively and is said to have sung just about everything from Fiddler on the Roof.  Alan Rickman, a stage and screen veteran, delivers on the singing of the judge.  The duet of “Pretty Women” with Depp rivals anything you may have seen on stage.  Having teenager Ed Sanders sing the Toby part adds the poignancy the stage version may miss.

Depp claims never to have sung publicly before, yet he delivers as a brooding, vengeful Todd.  Although Bonham Carter picked up awards for Mrs. Lovett, I find her song performance without life.  I guess it would naturally suffer against a comparison with Lansbury.

Both productions have features to recommend.  Purists of theater productions will opt for the Lansbury/Hearn portrayals.  Those in favor of better effects and star power will enjoy the movie.  In either case, be sure to “attend the tale.”

Crap crap and more crap

I thought when they announced the remake of the Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp, Hollywood had hit bottom. Of course, I thought they’d bottomed out earlier —  Johnny Depp strikes again — in the horrible piece of trash version of Alice in Wonderland. It did surprisingly well at the box office despite getting awful reviews from critics and viewers alike.

Cover of "Alice in Wonderland"

I really hated Alice, but golly whiz, now they’ve brought out Oz the Great and Powerful which, it having gotten a couple of zero star reviews (I didn’t know you could get less than half a star), have they finally found the bottom?

Probably not. Not matter how bad it gets, it can get worse. Asking “How much worse could it be?” is perilous. Ask it and I guarantee the Universe will answer you with a demonstration.

I saw Alice at the movies. I was doing screen checks, so I was seeing lots of new movies. I got to see some great stuff, but I also got an up close look at how many dreadful movies Hollywood cranks out every year. Wow. All that money to make so many terrible films.

I loathed Alice in Wonderland with the passion I reserve for mutilated remakes. The thing I specifically hated above all else — other than the over the top CGI and Johnny Depp, who seems intent on reaching stratospheric levels of bad acting — was  the absence Lewis Caroll’s poetry. They talked endlessly about the Jabberwock and based half the movie on it, but never once recited the Lewis Caroll poem.

I love that poem and know it by heart. When I was a drama major (one of my many and varied majors), everyone was reciting Browning or Shakespeare. I was doing Lewis Caroll. Watching this movie, which treated the book and poetry with contempt, was heart breaking. Now, another of my all time favorite children’s movies, again dissed by Disney. Yuk. Ick. Ptooie. Feh feh feh.

LoneRangerWallpaperI refuse to see the “new” Lone Ranger. It’s due out next summer. I won’t see the new Oz, either, probably not even when it comes to cable. I’m not going to let them steal any more of my heroes or childhood memories. To put this in perspective, I grew up when wallpaper was something you glued to walls. It was not flickering on your computer screen. And I had Lone Ranger and Tonto wallpaper in my bedroom.

Where other girls had Disney Princesses, I had “Hi Yo Silver! The Lone Ranger Rides Again!” Although my walls did not play music, I could hum well enough and I had many a long chat with Lone and Tonto as I lay abed pondering the meaning of life and how I could convince mom to let me have a horse.
The original Lone Ranger and Tonto — Jay Silverheels and Clayton Moore
Growing up and out of my wallpaper did not end my allegiance to masked men on horseback.
As the years rolled on, I became quite passionate about Zorro too. I can sing the Zorro song from the TV show. When did Disney abandon children? They used to be the one place you could expect them to only partly maul your favorites books. Anyway, when the two Zorro movies starring Antonio Banderas came out, I adored them.
Remakes don’t have to be trash. There have been remakes that are better than the originals. I can name several off the top of my head and probably so can you. It’s not impossible but it requires studios to make an effort to produce quality films. They know how, they just don’t do it.
My initial delight at learning Disney was making a new Lone Ranger movie switched to dread when I realized Johnny Depp was playing Tonto. I remember with what deep foreboding we waited for the trailer of the new “Lone Ranger.” We were right to worry.
We watched. Garry and I, wrapped in the silence of our individual thoughts, sat for a while. Finally, I turned to him and said:  “Let’s wait till it comes to cable.”
He thought for a minute. “Let’s just wait,” he answered.

Fear With Loathing – The New Lone Ranger

We tuned in because we had heard this would be the first viewing of the trailer for the new “Lone Ranger” due to be released July 3, 2013.

Our hearts were filled with trepidation. We dreaded discovering exactly how revisionist they could make the movie. I remembered, with a sharp pain in my head, the last Johnny Depp vehicle I’d hated: the horrible perversion of “Alice in Wonderland” that got great reviews, proving to me that there are millions of people who have neither judgment nor taste.

I had not merely disliked the movie. I loathed it with the passion I reserve for remakes of favorite stories that have been mutilated. What was, on top of everything else, particularly weird was that they talked about the Jabberwock and based a large amount of the plot on it, yet at no point did they actually offer us the Lewis Caroll poem.

I know the poem well. By heart, actually, because when I was a drama major (one of my many and varied majors), everyone was reciting Browning or Shakespeare and I was doing Lewis Caroll. I have always marched to an off-beat drummer.

Original black and white illustration of the Jabberwock.

Jabberwocky

BY LEWIS CARROLL

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch!”
He took his vorpal sword in hand;
      Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
      And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
      The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
      And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! And through and through
      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
      He went galumphing back.
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
      Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
      He chortled in his joy.
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.
Only “The Walrus and the Carpenter” gives me more joy. But, I digress.
I grew up with the Lone Ranger and Tonto racing around my bedroom. Other girls had Disney Princesses, but I had “Hi Yo Silver, the Lone Ranger Rides Again!” Although my walls did not play music, I could hum well enough and I had many a long chat with Lone and Tonto, Silver and Scout as I lay abed in the evening pondering the meaning of life and how I could convince my mother to let me have a horse.
Eventually, as I rounded the corner into adolescence, the Lone Ranger and his trusty Indian Companion (who had led the fight for law and order in the early west) returned to those thrilling days of yesteryear from whence they had come. They were replaced by plain, off-white paint. I would have preferred Lone and Tonto, but felt it was time for a change. The paper was old and getting a bit tattered so it was hard to argue the point.
The original Lone Ranger and Tonto — Jay Silverheels and Clayton Moore
This did not end my allegience to the first love of my life. I don’t honestly know what it is about masked men on horses that turns on all my lights, but both Zorro and Lone made me woozy with unrequited love. As the years rolled on, I became very attached to Tonto, not as Tonto, but as Jay Silverheels, the actor, whose career I continued to follow long after the Lone Ranger had disappeared from the airwaves.
Thus it was with deep foreboding that we awaited the first look at the trailer for the new “Lone Ranger” movie. I had first been delighted when I heard they were making it. When I realized that Johnny Depp was playing Tonto, I was a lot less delighted. I have liked Depp in three movies: “Finding Neverland” and the first two Pirate movies. In everything else, he chews up the scenery. I’m sure he could do a better job if he had a director who could control him, but he is usually so over the top that whatever he is doing, it’s all about Johnny Depp and not at all about the character he is playing.
He upstages himself. The only other actor I know who can do that is Jack Nicholson … but Nicholson has earned his stripes … Johnny Depp hasn’t. Not yet and possibly, never will. He just wears way too much eyeliner and mascara..
Just the makeup Johnny Depp is wearing for the movie is over the top. This is before he even opens his mouth. I cannot imagine it will get better from there.
We sat, Garry and I, wrapped in the silence of our individual thoughts. Finally, I turned to him and said:  “Let’s wait till it comes to cable.”
He thought for a minute. “Let’s just wait,” he answered.

Sneak Peek: The New Lone Ranger and Tonto, Garry Armstrong

Marilyn and I both love westerns and she has a “thing” about the Lone Ranger. But I have a queasy feeling about Johnny Depp and his revisionist view of Tonto in garish get-up and the Ranger in a less fashionable outfit.

Are we going to get some bizarre twist on their relationship?? What are the camp fire scenes going to look like? Better warn the Rangers, Pilgrim!!

A new look for Lone and Tonto. Is it just a bit too new?

From USA Today:
Johnny Depp is the trusty sidekick Tonto; Armie Hammer portrays the Lone Ranger.

Depp and Hammer enrolled in Old West boot camp before filming. Forget about his secondary roles in the novels, the radio program and the TV series. In the upcoming film The Lone Ranger, Tonto walks side-by-side with the famous masked lawman.

“This is all about two guys who are on the same path, but who have come from two very different worlds,” says Armie Hammer, who plays the title character in the action-adventure flick due out July 3, 2013.

Putting Tonto on equal footing is helped by the fact that he is played by Johnny Depp, who reunites with his Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer for the film, which just wrapped its lengthy shoot.

“The challenge was to turn the story on its head and reinvent it,” says Verbinski, pointing out that his story is even narrated by Tonto. “Everyone has heard about the Lone Ranger, but not from the only other who was there — Tonto.”

Depp’s Comanche shaman character is a daunting vision complete with eerie full torso makeup and a stuffed crow headpiece.

“This is not the look you want to wake up to in the middle of the night and see hovering above you,” admits Depp, who helped create the appearance.

He and Hammer both enrolled in Old West boot camp before filming — Hammer learned to dismount at full gallop and Depp perfected bareback riding. “Johnny really embraced the Comanche culture, says Verbinski.

There were almost nasty consequences as Depp had one spill where his horse miraculously avoided hitting his head with its hooves.

“There was potential for real badness,” says Depp. “But we got through it.”

The tale re-frames the hero’s journey from law-abiding John Reid to the man who is forced to don the Lone Ranger mask and work outside the law. It includes the silver bullets and, naturally, the famous “Hi-Yo Silver” cry.

“Right before the horse threw its legs up in that scene, the thought went through my head, ‘I’m really about to yell this right now,’ ” says Hammer, who will unveil the film’s first trailer on today’s Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

“As the horse landed, the whole crew roared. Johnny told me, ‘That was blankety-blank awesome.’ ”