Thursday, August 30, 2007

Will Sweeney Todd get Butchered?

If you're a good gay man, you know that one of the best musicals in history - SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET - will finally be coming to the screen.

I know I am probably going to hell, because one of the commandments clearly states something to the effect of "put no other gods before me" and I have steadfastly broken that every day of my life for the last twenty years because I firmly believe Stephen Sondheim is god. My god at least.

The openly gay composer wrote the music and lyrics for SWEENEY TODD, which had a glorious run on Broadway in 1979, and I know changed my life forever. More on my love of Sondheim at the end of this blog.

Director Tim Burton, who has long had the rights, finally finished filming in England and the studio has announced a December 21st debut - just in time for Christmas AND Oscar season.

If you're lucky enough to be at the Venice Film Festival on September 5th, you can get a sneak peak at scenes as Tim Burton will be receiving the Golden Lion Award, presented by Johnny Depp. Anyone with extra tickets, you can contact me at this blog! I'm a very good traveling companion and delightful at parties (or so I've been told).

The word on the street is:

- Burton was asked to cut down on the gore in the film because preview screenings for the studio made execs squeemish.

- Filming had to halt for a while because Johnny Depp's daughter was stricken with E Coli and he had to rush to her side (She's now fine)

- The film stars Burton's wife, Helena Bonham Carter who - at 41- just announced she is pregnant with the couple's second child.

- The film stars Johnny Depp as the title character, with Alan Rickman and Sasha Baron Cohen.

- The poster was just revealed at last month's Comic Con in San Diego (see above photo)

- Sweeney Todd's new 'do sports a great shock of white hair. Because as we all know, gray hair is a sign of lunacy (see photo below)

Of course, the biggest WORD on the gay streets is CAN ANY OF THESE PEOPLE SING!? I am so worried that my favorite musical is going to be butchered, I can barely sleep at night. I mean, I only went into filmmaking so I could direct this myself (um, if you don't believe me, check my college entrance application essays).

While Tim Burton is an incredible director, he also made CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, which is safe to say was a train wreck.

I also get nervous when Burton says in interviews, "It's like a silent film with music" and "They talk and sing".

Talk and sing! This is one of the best scores in history, Tim! Would you cast Rex Harrison if he were still alive!!!! (there's no question mark because this is a rhetorical question)

Although I didn't get to fufill my life's mission of directing this film, I am thrilled that everyone is now going to get to know and enjoy this incredible music and story. This probably means that the songs will end up on the cue of my favorite karaoke bar as well, so I can at least look forward to that.

For those of you who don't know the plot (heathens!) it revolves around a barber, Benjamin Barker, who - in an oppressive cask system in England's history - gets sent to Botany Bay (a prison island off the coast of Australia) merely because a corrupt Judge wants to make the moves on his lovely new bride.

The once naive young man, escapes and comes back to London to seek revenge on those that "did him wrong". Now totally obsessed with revenge, he teams up with his former landlady, Mrs Lovett (who was always secretly in love with him) and they decide to start a little side business of murdering people and baking them into pies.

It is truly a horrific story and a brilliant cautionary tale, but it also has some of the most beautiful, gentle and touching songs ever written for the stage including NOT WHILE I'M AROUND and PRETTY WOMEN. The book was brilliantly written by Hugh Wheeler.

If you don't know Sondheim, this ain't your mama's Rodgers and Hammerstein. Sondheim writes about the gray areas of life. Love, hate, hope, desire...nothing is either black or white. He has an oustanding command of the English language, and his lyrics are layered with humanity and metaphors while his music plays games with both intellect and emotion.

For those of you who love Sondheim, here's a few tid bits. For those of you unfamiliar... open a bottle of champaigne, light a candle and enjoy!

Here's Stephen Sondheim on THE SIMPSONS making fun of himself.

From SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (which won a Pulitzer people!!!)

This is an incredible story which so depicts what it is to be an artist, and the sacrifices one makes for art and love. Layered with so many aspects like the bull shit involved in financing and promoting art (ART ISN"T EASY), along with the beautiful concept that what we leave on this earth is CHILDREN AND ART - this one is a gem.

I have many nights identified with these two songs as someone who dates LESBIANS!!! LOSING MY MIND and YOU COULD DRIVE A PERSON CRAZY.

The girl I marry, will not mind when I want to play this song, BEING ALIVE at the wedding. This song is about the complexities of love and commitment - the good and the bad, the fear and the want. We are all foolish in believing that love is like you see it in the movies, all rosy and perfect. We often have expectations of love that don't really exist - learning to accept the good with the bad and worse - mundane - is the key if we want that one thing that thing that makes you feel - in simple terms - alive.

"Somebody hold me too close
Somebody hurt me too deep
Somebody sit in my chair
And ruin my sleep
And make me aware of Being Alive.

Make me confused,
Mock me with praise
Make me feel used
Vary my days...

Somebody force me to care
Somebody let me come through
I'll always be there
as frightened as you
to help us survive Being Alive"

This is Stephen Sondheim teaching a master class on musical theatre. In this clip, you get insight into how he creates songs. My favorite part is when he explains that he uses a lot of "s"'s in the beginning, to emulate a whisper, and how the musical opening implies a trance like state.

I was at this performance at the Hollywood Bowl. I went all the way to the back of the bowl, in the very last row so I could sing along and not bother anyone! WHAT CAN YOU LOSE? from Dick Tracy and my favorite Sondheim tune of all time, NOT A DAY GOES BY

This is HAPPINESS from PASSION, which I have sung on more than one occasion when I have found myself in the arms of someone I love and have just slept with for the first time! (I know, it's no wonder I can't stay in a relationship when I sing show tunes to lesbians in the morning) It depicts that visceral, raw feeling you have when you are first in love and indulging in that - as fleeting and unrealistic as those feelings may actually be.

Notice the dissonant chords at the beginning - this is Sondheim forecasting that their love is very "surface", and not really deep and real.

This is the classic FRANKLIN SHEPARD INC, from MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG and it's about selling out to Hollywood! It was once about the art, but no more. A writer has a mental breakdown on a talk show describing the change from naivety to commerce in his best friend and writing partner.

Okay, this is WEEKEND IN THE COUNTRY from A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. I still work up a sweat when I hear this song because in college, I was the orchestra conductor and musical director for this show. I swear this song is ten minutes long and all in 3/4 time and variations thereof (there are actually 3 variations of that in this song, if you listen) and I musta lost ten pounds a night conducting this! This was the end of ACT 1 and my arms got so sore I couldn't move them all through intermission.

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC was based on Igmar Bergman's SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT and is one of my favorites.

SOMEONE IN A TREE from Pacific Overtures. This musical was about the Western exploitation of Japan for commerical and trade purposes in 1853, changing the culture forever. Just brilliant. This song is the simple reflection on the day the Convention of Kanagawa between the US Navy and the Japanese was signed, opening up the ports for trade.

The ghosts of the past haunt the rather bitter carcasses of the present in the stunning FOLLIES from 1971. Talk about a show about the gray areas! This is rehearsal from the original production!

No one really got this show, and certainly audiences at the time didn't want to go to the theatre and hear all about marital discord and the lies we tell ourselves to just get by in life, especially set against the youthful idealism of the past. But my god, some of the best music in theatre history including:

IN BUDDY'S EYES... here Judith Ivey plays Sally, who sings about the delusions she has about her husband's love, as the younger version of the couple appear alongside and remind her that she married a rather shallow man while she was actually in love (or at least INFATUATED) with another man.

Saved the best for last. The patron saint of CRAZY, Elaine Stritch. I was at this performance!!!

7 pithy remarks. Click here to Comment:

Dasha said...

Finally! I dyke who knows her musical theater drama! My fav is Sunday in the Park With George, w/Sweeney a close 2nd.

Can't wait to hear how they all sound. I know the look of the film will be killer, just want to score to be done justice.


scpllck said...

J.D. and I met over Sondheim. In the laundry room of our dorm. Somehow, as it always does in my conversations, Sondheim came up. That year the concert version of Follies was released on vinyl. J.D. had it before anyone. We sat in her room listening to every note in rapture. She had the official Sweeney Todd apron, knew every book and score. This all leads me to my own trepidation about Tim Burton's film. For every Edward Scissorhands there's a Planet of the Apes. There's always a Mars Attacks even after an Ed Wood. So, I am very nervous. Fortunately, in this case the source material is already brilliant. Hugh Wheeler's book is so tight and Sondheim's score is so inextricable. I'm babbling or whatever the written version of babbling is. Anyhoo, I can only pray to the one and only Sondheim that he will guide Mr. Burton to his salvation.

Daniel said...

An entire post about everything Soundheim... and I don't once get a mention. Sheesh! Do I have to keep putting out even further?

Ned Farr said...

You can always direct your own version. Especially if Burton's plays more like "Charlie and the Meat Pie Factory"

Anonymous said...

OMG! JD you should be a gay man... or I should be a lesbian. We're destined for each other. Brains, looks, the whole nine if you just can overlook the one tiny (well not SO tiny) thing. Ah sweet mystery of life at last I've... wait what's that discordant din I hear in the background?

xxoo Jon Carroll

caracoslow said...

Post Judy Dench singing "Send In The Clowns"

Now THAT'S acting, singing


MarkCosenza said...

so did you like it? Just curious.