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'Todd' cuts best parts: the songs

The Baltimore Sun

It's silly statuette time once again, and chances are that Sweeney Todd, which picked up a recent Golden Globe award for best film musical, will be heavily nominated for the Academy Awards.

While I applaud director Tim Burton for having come up with a fresh approach, I question the wisdom of stripping Stephen Sondheim's 1979 musical masterpiece of elements that audiences have relished for nearly three decades.

The music, the scathingly witty dialogue - in the film, it all takes a back seat to the Grand Guignol-style plot. Sweeney Todd, a serial-killer barber in 19th-century London, gives new meaning to the saying "having a close shave," then disposes of his victims by baking them into meat pies with the help of pastry-shop proprietor Mrs. Lovett.

It isn't the story line that makes Sweeney special, but the songs, which are marvels of black humor.

Burton eliminates at least three songs and shortens others to get the musical in at less than two hours. Some are delivered by terrific actors (such as the great Alan Rickman) who have a hard time humming, let alone carrying a tune.

Many songs are delivered in a deadpan manner that kills any traces of comedy. The worst offender is "A Little Priest," a collection of outrageous puns in which Todd (Johnny Depp) and Mrs. Lovett imagine how members of the different professions might taste encased in phyllo dough.

For instance, Mrs. Lovett, played by Helena Bonham Carter, sings: "Here's the politician, so oily/It's served with a doily."

And Todd replies: "Put it on a bun. Well, you never know if it's going to run."

How can you make that not funny?

Bonham Carter - no doubt under Burton's direction - manages just that.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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