Sweeney Todd         

(Established 2007; last updated 1/2/14)

Commentary (my Johnny Depp Rocks! Sweeney Todd review):

     I consider Johnny Depp Rocks! to be more an informational site than a weblog, and I don't generally give my own viewpoints.  I'm also not much of a movie reviewer!  However, I had the wonderful opportunity to see an advance screening of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street here in the DC area on Thursday, December 6, and I just couldn't resist giving my own thumbs-up to this film!!  Johnny and director Tim Burton have really outdone themselves in this, their sixth collaboration, and the first in which Johnny (and the rest of the cast) sing!  The film is said to be about 80% singing, but it is done so naturalistically that the singing becomes fitting and natural as well; it simply becomes accepted as a means for the characters to communicate and express their feelings.  Johnny, who received no formal vocal training and claims never to have sung a complete song before now, reveals an amazing gift.  Not only can he sing very well, but through his singing, he is able to convey all of the heartbreak, despair, anger, and ultimately, the insanity of the title character.  Oh, and yes, there's a healthy dose of dry wit and sarcasm thrown in, as well!  As for Helena Bonham Carter, I felt her singing voice was satisfactory, if not remarkable.  But she offers a completely fresh and dazzling take on Mrs. Lovett, bringing out the character's yearning, sensuality, and amoral practicality, and in the context of the film, her voice works extremely well.  Alan Rickman is sinister and menacing as Judge Turpin, Timothy Spall is deliciously sleazy as Beadle Bamford, and Sacha Baron Cohen is hilarious as the flamboyant Pirelli; all have wonderful singing voices, as well.  Laura Michelle Kelly, the only professional singer in the cast, is mysterious and intriguing in a small role.  Among the younger cast members, Jamie Campbell Bower perfectly conveys the youthful exuberance of the young sailor, Anthony Hope, and Jayne Wisener gives probably the best vocal performance of the cast as Johanna, Sweeney's confined daughter.  Finally, Ed Sanders is sweet and endearing as Toby, a young boy forced to grow up before his time.  Fair warning: this film is fairly bloody and is certainly not for the squeamish.  There's a reason for the R rating!  For fans of the musical, it must also be noted that some songs were cut or shortened.  In particular, much of the dialogue that would occur during several of the songs has been cut out, and all choruses have been removed.  I missed a few small details that I had seen in the stage versions, but I understand that most of these changes were made because they would not translate well to film.  Hopefully, fans of the stage version will accept these changes, and agree that this film has done justice to the music and the spirit of the piece. Overall, the film is visually and aurally stunning.  My only complaint was that it went by far too quickly!
     (Many thanks to John and Amanda for making it possible for me to attend this screening!)


Formal Reviews:

     Formal reviews of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, featuring Johnny Depp's first singing role, have been coming in since December 3, 2007, the day of the film's premiere.   Here are some links!

"Cream of the crop"

(Many of these same reviews are now listed on
Rotten Tomatoes and/or Metacritic)

Soundtrack Reviews:

     The Soundtrack has been reviewed, as well!
  • Entertainment Weekly ("Stephen Sondheim's score — all jagged harmonies and beautiful dissonance — has never seemed more alive." B+)
  • San Francisco Chronicle ("Jonathan Tunick has honored the dark heart of Sondheim's masterpiece.")
  • Theatermania ("singularly enthralling soundtrack")

DVD Reviews:

     And here are some reviews of the DVD!
  • Digitally Obsessed (Blu-ray release) ("Depp often produces lush, silky tones that beautifully caress Sondheim's melodies")  Style: A; Substance: A+; Image transfer: A; Audio transfer: A; Extras: A-)
  • DVD Talk (Blu-ray release) ("this film captures the spirit of the play and reproduces it delightfully.  Highly Recommended")
  • Monstersandcritics.com (Blu-ray release) ("'Sweeny [sic] Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street' is a perfect Halloween treat and a great pic to play right after 'The Nightmare before Christmas' and 'Corpse Bride' when the kids get put to bed."  4.5 of 5 stars)
  • DVDizzy (Blu-ray release) ("Adding this to your Blu-ray collection is a no-brainer; it's sure to leave you quoting one of Sweeney's songs -- "God, that's good!")
  • Lumino Magazine (Blu-ray edition) ("In fact his performance is so perfect it may be impossible to ever think of anyone else in the role but Depp." (3.5 of 4 stars)
  • DVD Talk ("This is a must buy for fans of Burton, Depp, Sondheim, and great art. Now, how about a shave? Highly Recommended.")
  • DVD Talk/DVD Savant ("The extras are so numerous that one really needs to pick and choose which to see.")  [This review is quite tepid and critical, and yet the final ratings are: Movie: Excellent / Video: Excellent / Sound: Excellent.  I'd hate to read what they say about their good, fair and poor DVDs!]
  • Washington Post ("You have to hand it to Depp. The guy never does anything halfway.")
  • Toronto Star ("Rich in imagery and with arresting acting and singing performances by leads Depp and Helena Bonham Carter." Movie 3.5/4, Video 3.5/4)
  • KATU Portland ("Whew! You really can’t ask for more than this, except maybe an audio commentary with Burton & Depp." Movie 4.5/5; Special Features 5/5)
  • Creative Loafing - Charlotte ("[Depp and Bonham-Carter] provide this rousing musical with the emotional heft necessary to prevent it from merely becoming an exercise in Gothic chic." Movie 3.5/4; Extras 3.5/4)
  • Gainsville.com ("This is a singular and magnificent piece of filmmaking.")
  • Canoe - JAM! ("The Special Edition actually is special. Instead of resorting to cheap hype -- as too many DVDs do -- Sweeney Todd is presented in context.")

Interviews, Articles and Informal Reviews:

     Johnny was featured on the cover of the November 9 issue of Entertainment Weekly, and that same weekend, USA Today and the New York Times had Holiday Previews that also featured stories on Sweeney Todd.  Several articles and reviews were published after the advance screening of the film on October 23 and An Evening With Tim Burton at Lincoln Center on November 14.  Bloggers and critics began posting their opinions after the first press screenings on November 29.  See below for links to online interviews and articles.

Favorite Articles:

The Rest:

Older information and tidbits:

     A May 13, 2007 article in the British Telegraph reported that Christopher Lee, along with Peter Bowles and other actors who were to play Ghosts, were cut from the film due to the tight production schedule.  A statement apparently from Lee's son-in-law remarks about this appeared on Lee's official site (no longer active), supporting Burton's decision and assuring Lee's fans that all is well and Lee has moved onto another film production.

     When Johnny did interviews in May of 2007 to promote Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End, he spoke about Sweeney Todd.  Here are some of his remarks:
  • From The Philippine Inquirer, May 10: "An actor going into a recording studio and singing for the first time in his life at age 43—that’s very strange (laughter). I wouldn’t recommend it. I feel okay about what I have been able to do but it’s a very strange process. When Tim asked if I wanted to play the role, I said, “Sure.” He said, “Can you sing?” I said, “I don’t know—I’ll get back to you (laughter). I’ll let you know.” I ended up going into a recording studio with a friend of mine and I just sang to the tracks to find out if I could do it at all. It’s not unlike the mating call of a rutting stag. It’s a very strange sound but so far, I have not been fired, which is good. We’ll see. I hope you like it."
  • From Entertainment Weekly, online May 10:  "Sweeney Todd is a great challenge. I did a musical, Cry-Baby, back in 1989, but I didn't sing. It wasn't my voice. So here I'm challenged with these amazing melodies of Stephen Sondheim. That was kind of a bugger to deal with. But I think we got there. [Laughs] At least I haven't been fired yet."  
  • From Access Hollywood, aired on May 8: "It's a little dark.  I'll tell you what, I think it's gonna be very, very interesting, I think it's gonna be very different.  I think Tim [Burton]'s outdone himself as regard to the work, his work.  Great cast, great director, great great music... and one not very good singer... we'll see."
     In an interview with theater.com, cast member Laura Michelle Kelly said of Johnny, "Johnny’s going to bring something completely natural, sinister and heartfelt to the part-his voice is great and he’s such a great friendly guy. I love working with him. I’m excited about the film coming out in December."  In June, she also said that she has a cast recording from the film, but then teased, "You can't hear it!"  She also gave a brief, intriguing description of her role in the film: "I know some people are going to go 'I can't believe it, she's singing rubbish'", she says of her Sweeney Todd performance as the Beggar Woman. "But for me, to be more authentic and fit in with the production, I made some choices that are going to surprise some people, I think."

     Just one day after the 79th Academy Awards, David Poland from Movie City News was already speculating on excellent Oscar chances for Johnny.  He stated, "Word from the set about his performance - from multiple sources - is excellent."  As of late June, he was still very confident about this.  In a piece published on June 21, he made the following statements:  "We already have a boatload of stunt performances, including... Johnny Depp (singing)."  "Johnny Depp, the first Sondheim movie in decades, and Tim Burton make Sweeney Todd a big feeling film." "The acting races are still pretty wide open, though nominations seem inevitable for... the one guy who I still think will win, even from this far out ... Johnny Depp: Aesthete Superstar."

It was made clear from the beginning that all of the actors would do their own singing.  As Burton told mtv.com, "'It's going to be the [actors singing]. That's important. It's a movie, it's not a Milli Vanilli record.' So is Burton concerned about gambling his multimillion-dollar movie on a singing voice he's never even heard? 'No. I go over to his house and we sing show tunes every night. It's a ritual with us,' he laughed. 'Johnny is great. ... I'm always looking for some new kind of challenge, and this certainly is that. We are laughing about it already, and we haven't even started yet.'"  Click for online article.  Producer Richard Zanuck adds (referring to Burton) "Neither of us has ever done a musical before, so we're both very excited."   Zanuck calls it a "horror musical," which like the stage production will be mostly sung. "And everyone in it will be doing their own singing."  Click for full Variety article.

     In an interview with comingsoon.net, Timothy Spall spoke briefly and intriguingly about his role as Beadle Bamford:  "
No, the Beadle only has one number, it's quite a nice little song.  Everybody sang, but I think he's done it in a way that will surprise people. I won't go into too much about it, but it's a fascinating and very enjoyable job. Again, another very dark subject. Keep drawn to them, know what I mean?"

Additional news and rumors of singers and cast members are as follows:
     --The Stephen Sondheim Society sadly passed on word of the death of Ian Adam, a renowned voice teacher who had been coaching both Johnny and Helena Bonham Carter shortly before his death.
     --The International Herald Tribune reported that Paramount showed some very early scenes from the film to a small regional theater chain, Pacific Theaters.
     --Stephen Weller's Blog reported that Stephen was tapped to be Johnny's stand-in during rehearsals.