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
A String of Pearls
Sweeney Todd
Mrs. Lovett
Tobias Ragg
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
Tobias Ragg
Click for RealAudio Audio clip: Not While I'm Around. Requires RealAudio

In George Dibdin-Pitt's melodrama, there is a bit of class warfare brewing under the surface, and Tobias Ragg becomes one of many heroes at the end of the play. He begins as Sweeney's apprentice, sold into pseudoslavery by his destitute mother. Sweeney treats him terribly, and when Tobias begins to notice the extraordinary number of unclaimed hats and umbrellas piling up in the barbershop, Sweeney locks him up in Jonas Fogg's lunatic asylum. Tobias eventually escapes with the help of another young apprentice, Jarvis, who has broken out of his own entrapment in Mrs. Lovett's dungeon kitchen. In the original play, it is Jarvis who is offered all the pies he can eat by Mrs. Lovett, and who discovers their true recipe when he bites down on a hair and a button. In the Bond version, the Tobias character subsumes all of the other apprentices and minor-heroes, and he unearths the ghastly truth alone.

Interestingly, it is the two apprentices - Tobias and Jarvis - who successfully bring Sweeney to justice in Dibdin-Pitt's melodrama. The play ends with the boys wrestling Sweeney into his evil, trick barber chair. At that same moment, the romantic hero - the sailor with the original string of pearls - enters the shop, revealing himself to still be alive despite having been dumped twice in earlier scenes by the demon barber's chair. Sweeney meets his final demise with a cacophonous shriek as he is flung into the dungeon by his very own chair, acting of its own accord. The lovers, Johanna and the sailor, are restored to one another, and Tobias Ragg and his fellow apprentices are set free.

In Christopher Bond's play, Tobias becomes the street-hawking apprentice of a rival barber-surgeon, Alfredo Pirelli. After Pirelli turns up missing, Mrs. Lovett offers the boy a job helping to sell her pies. Ignorant of their true contents, Tobias is a masterful promoter, and works eagerly for all the pies he can eat. He is, however, bothered by the strange smell coming from the piehouse cellars. When Mrs. Lovett begins to fear he may suspect the truth, she asks Sweeney to get rid of him. Instead, Sweeney convinces her to enlist his help with the making of the pies. Once he is locked in the cellar, Tobias' curious nose leads him to his staggering, gruesome discovery.

Neil Patrick Harris

Photo of Neil Patrick HarrisNeil Patrick Harris began his stage career in Ruidoso, New Mexico at the age of seven as Toto in a small high school production of The Wizard of Oz. He had no idea that the cardboard, spray-painted yellow brick road would lead to Broadway, where this fall he will make his debut as the Balladeer in the Roudabout Theatre production of Stephen Sondeheim's Assassins. Mr. Harris's extensive work in television includes leading roles on Doogie Howser, M.D. and Stark Raving Mad (NBC, People's Choice Award). His television film credits include Joan of Arc, A Christmas Wish, Snowbound, and the upcoming The Wedding Dress. Feature films include Clara's Heart, The Next Best Thing, The Proposition, Starship Troopers, The Mesmerist and the recently completed Undercover Brother.



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

© Copyright 1994-2001 KQED, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
This site is best viewed with Macromedia Flash installed.