Theater: Razor's Edge

Imagining Sweeney's world

The first time around, Sweeney Todd, the gruesome tale of a deranged barber who slits customers' throats and a pragmatic landlady who bakes the victims into meat pies, was a Victorian penny dreadful by way of Brecht. Everything imitated him: Hugh Wheeler's book, Stephen Sondheim's score, Harold Prince's staging and even the set, which resembled an iron foundry; it hissed and clanged of the dehumanization of the Industrial Revolution. Audiences in 1979 flinched at the spewing blood and spoken bile: it seemed there had never been so cynical a musical.

A kinder, gentler Sweeney was unimaginable until Susan H. Schulman's intimate...

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