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In all of the early versions of the Sweeney Todd story, including the Dibdin Pitt melodrama, the depraved acts of murder and mayhem are Sweeney's twisted plot alone. Mrs. Lovett is a secondary character, an unfortunate neighbor and reluctant accomplice whom the barber intimidates into helping him. She is greedy, no doubt - she expects half of all the profits from their evil trade - but she is no mastermind. In fact, in Prest's original String of Pearls, Sweeney cuts up the bodies himself, a pieman who never leaves the basement kitchen does all of the cooking, and Mrs. Lovett is simply the oblivious sales force. She is a business partner and has no romantic interest whatsoever in Sweeney Todd.
In later versions of the story, Mrs. Lovett is a collaborator in Sweeney's dreadful business. But though she enjoys the notoriety brought on by her delicious pies, she is plagued by a guilty conscience, which causes her to "seek solace" in the occasional glass of brandy. In these tales, Sweeney poisons Mrs. Lovett's drink, and she conveniently drops dead just as the secret ingredients of her pies are revealed to the gobbling public.
In Dibdin-Pitt's melodrama, Mrs. Lovett turns out to be one of Sweeney's early victims. When she tries to collect her share of the profits and get out of the business, Sweeney stabs her in a rage and throws her into the bakehouse fire. In fact, Mrs. Lovett is disposed of before the halfway mark of the play - she dies in the second act of a four-act production.
Christopher Bond fleshes out Mrs. Lovett in his retelling, giving her a sneaky intelligence. It is she who preserves Sweeney's barbering tools after he is sent away, and she is the one who informs him about the fate of his family upon his return. And it is Mrs. Lovett who is the architect of the devious pie-making plot. Bond also gives her an open romantic interest in the barber, which better explains her willingness to cook up his victims.
Patti Lupone made her debut with the New York Philharmonic in this role in 2000. During the past year Miss LuPone has spent her time between the concert stage and acting roles in film and on television. In between performances of her one-woman concerts Matters of the Heart (upon which her latest solo CD is based) and Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda, she filmed roles in David Mamet's Heist, Michael Caton-Jones's City by the Sea and the TNT film Monday Night Mayhem. In addition to Sweeney Todd, her most recent Broadway stage appearances include starring roles in Mamet's The Old Neighborhood, Terrence McNally's Master Class (as Maria Callas), her previous one-woman concert Patti LuPone on Broadway and Pal Joey. Recent recordings include: Sweeney Todd (New York Philharmonic Special Editions Label), Pal Joey (DRG), Heatwave (Phillips), Sunset Boulevard (Polygram) and Patti LuPone Live (RCA). She has been honored with Tony, Olivier, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Miss Ziegfield awards. Visit Patti LuPone on the world wide web at www.pattilupone.net
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