Monday, April 2, 2012

An Unremarkable Adaptation of Sweeney Todd

There is nothing I recommend about this album (Source:
Clearly the 2012 London adaptation of Sweeney Todd needs to be lived to appreciate the genius, because the acclaim and rave reviews it's received definitely hasn't transferred on to this cast recording. I am fairly confident that without the presence of Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton this production would have never received a recording.

While I adore Sweeney Todd (it is by far my favourite musical), I don't care for this recording at all. It's utterly bizarre since it has exactly the same material as the Original Broadway Cast recording highlights – the difference between the two being that the Original Broadway Cast has a better cast, better orchestrations and better mixing. I don't know why this version even exists.

There are no cast members that are particularly noteworthy in their roles. The majority of the principals are vocally dull, boasting a serious flaw or undesirable trait on every character - there's a demasculinised Anthony by Luke Brady, an insufferably whiny Johanna from Lucy May-Barker and innocuous portrayal of Tobias from James McConville. There's no trace of Robert Burt's Pirelli and the portrayals of the main antagonists Judge Turpin and Beadle Bamford, played by John Bowe and Peter Polycarpou respectively, lack the authority and menace that the roles demand. Gillian Kirkpatrick is almost tolerable until she croaks out some egregiously guttural cries on her upper register.

In comparison to previous actors who have filled their roles, both of the leads are lacking in their portrayals. Imelda Staunton is an incredibly versatile actor and I have no doubt her portrayal of Mrs. Lovett on stage in stunning, but despite her colourful delivery of the libretto there is no escaping that this is a music recording and her voice leaves a lot to be desired. As for Michael Ball as Sweeney, it's fine, but nothing special and certainly nowhere near the best. There is a sense of distance in his portrayal since his timbre doesn't seem to be suitable in the role, and he also has this inconsistency of switching between accents mid-sentence. His vibrato is in its ridiculous full-throttle here ('Final Scene' is an utter debacle, with him throwing vibrato on every line: “Youuhhhh knewhhhh myhhhh Lucyyhhhhh livedhhhhhhhhh”). Ultimately every principal pales in comparison to every other recorded performer that preceded them in their respective roles, and I don't particularly care to hear any of them again.

This recording offers nothing in terms of being a remarkable, unique take on Sweeney apart from transforming the vivacious score into something unremarkable. The original Broadway cast recording maintains its pedestal for the best performance of Sweeney with the best cast and most complete score, the 2000 live cast was a celebration and collaboration of Broadway stars and a symphonic orchestra, the 2005 revival recording is a fascinating adaptation of a small ensemble performing both instrumentally and vocally, and the 2007 movie soundtrack acts as the necessary companion to the film with luscious orchestrations. This is just a scaled down version of the original and doesn't offer anything new. The mixing is lifeless but the orchestration is okay, with the exception of this new trend of having woodwinds simultaneously playing the melody. I just want to tear my hair out that this 2012 cast recording exists when the incredible 2011 Théâtre du Châtelet Cast, superior in every aspect (which until very recently, was free to download from the Radio France Musique website), will fade into oblivion.

This whole endeavor was pointless - the only immediate use of this recording could serve as would be a tool to listen to so that when you return to any other Sweeney Todd recording the experience is glorified in comparison. If you were planning on buying this recording, don't. Only approach if you're a fan of Micheal Ball or Imelda Staunton, and possibly if you're an avid Sondheim collector. But I wouldn't even recommend this to devoted fans of Sweeney Todd. As far as I'm concerned, any recording of Sweeney Todd that doesn't contain 'City on Fire' isn't real.

1 comment:

  1. I would give anything at all to possess the recording from the 2011 Theatre du Chatelet production. I wish I'd known it was available sooner -.-