Show History



Sweeney Todd, a musical thriller with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Hugh Wheeler, is based on Christopher Bond's 1973 play Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  The character of Sweeney Todd (a vengeful barber who murders in his very shop) first appeared in French legends in the 14th century, but really started becoming popular with a series of British ballads in the early 1800s.  Many speculate that the legend of Sweeney Todd is based on famous serial killer Jack the Ripper.  Playwright George Dibdin Pitt was one of the first to bring the story to the stage, using the horror stories of Thomas Peckett Prest, who had previously published the story in a newspaper under the name "The String of Pearls," as his basis.  Though the tale of Todd was told many times thereafter, Bond went back to Pitt's material when writing his play.

Sondheim saw a production of the play in 1973, and was drawn into the possibility of adapting it into a musical.  After discovering that several American producers were lobbying for rights, he went to them with director Harold Prince already on board to try to get a musical version approved.  After being met with approval, he recruited book writer Wheeler, with whom he had previously worked with on A Little Night Music.  Sondheim's music utilizes a heavy amount of counterpoint, inversion, and angular harmonies.  One recurring pattern is the use of the ancient Dies Irae in "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" and its many iterations throughout the show.