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Penny Dreadful: From True Crime to FictionThe Madding Crowd: 18th Century LondonBloodletting: Barber Surgeons and Early MedicineThe Play's the Thing: From Melodrama to Musical
IV
A String of Pearls
Sweeney Todd
Mrs. Lovett
Tobias Ragg
Johanna
Judge Turpin
The Beadle
Anthony Hope
Adolfo Pirelli
Beggar Woman
Stephen Sondheim
San Francisco Symphony
Ellen M. Krass Productions
Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in Concert
A String of Pearls

For almost two centuries, the enduring legend of maniacal barber Sweeney Todd and his savory human pies has inspired terror in the hearts and minds of the public, whether through the printed page or the theatrical stage.

1825 - The French story of a murderous barber appears in Tell-Tale Magazine under the title "A Terrible Story of the Rue de la Harpe."
1846 - Thomas Peckett Prest serializes the story, retitled The String of Pearls. It is published in one of London's penny dreadful newspapers. (The title came from a necklace that Sweeney steals from one of his victims.) Weekly installments of the barber's homicidal exploits become immensely popular.
1847 - The String of Pearls is dramatized by George Dibdin-Pitt. His melodrama, subtitled "The Fiend of Fleet Street," is set in London during the "Reign of George II," or the second half of the 18th century. The play opens at the Britannia Theatre, where audiences demand bloodcurdling entertainments, and is advertised as being "Founded on Fact."
1848 - The enormous success of Dibdin-Pitt's play spawns dozens of imitations. In some, the hero is a dog whose master has met his end via Sweeney's blade. The faithful dog haunts the barber's doorstep and eventually leads authorities to the fiend. These bloody melodramas were continuously produced in and around London throughout the remainder of the 19th century.
1936 - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, directed by George King, becomes the first film version of the story. Todd Slaughter, the film's star, makes a career out of portraying Sweeney Todd on stages around the world.
1959 - The Royal Ballet Company produces a ballet version, with music by Malcolm Arnold and choreography by John Cranko.
1973 - Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Christopher Bond opens at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. This version is seen by composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who recruits book writer Hugh Wheeler to collaborate with him on a musical treatment of Bond's play.
1979 - Sondheim and Wheeler's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street opens at Broadway's Uris Theatre in a production directed by Harold Prince and starring Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou. The recipient of eight Tony Awards, Sweeney Todd is instantly recognized as a landmark in musical theater inspiring productions in both theater and opera companies around the world.
2001 - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is performed in concert with the San Francisco Symphony. The performance, starring George Hearn and Patti LuPone (as Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett), is filmed by Ellen M. Krass Productions. The resulting television program premieres on PBS October 31, 2001.

Additional Resources

Read the March 2, 1979 New York Times review of Broadway's Sweeney Todd

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Home  -  I. Penny Dreadful  -  II. The Madding Crowd  -  III. Bloodletting
IV. The Play's the Thing  -  Recipes


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