Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Stree

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In essence, the purpose of musical theatre is to tell a story through song, and a supporting score. This study will discuss how various modes of musical enquiry and practice can inform one another when creating a piece of musical theatre. The areas of focus will be composition, historical musicology, and performance. The 1979 musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (here on referred to simply as Sweeney Todd), will serve as a case study to illustrate how these components can interrelate.

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The music and lyrics of Sweeney Todd were written by Stephen Sondheim, and it is considered one of his most intricate and highly regarded works. The composition process of this show will be discussed, and this will link into how historical musicology was incorporated into this score. Sondheim uses intricate themes and leitmotifs to illustrate complexity in characters and to strengthen the continuity of storylines; a discussion of which, will consider how the score depicts characterisation and musical performance of this work. The conclusion will reflect on how the above components inform one another, and will explore any further ideas that arise.

Many of Sondheim’s works are considered to be “concept musicals”. The consensus is generally that a concept musical consists of music, lyrics, book, dance or movement, and so on, that work together in an integrated fashion to support a 'concept” that connects the show as a whole. It was said by drama critic Martin Gottfried that a concept musical is: “a show whose music, lyrics, dance, stage movement and dialogue are woven through each other in the creation of a tapestry-like theme (rather than in support of a plot)”.1

Although it is generally agreed that the key defining feature of the concept musical is an overriding theme, other factors are widely disputed. This is particularly in relation to structure. It is generally considered that a concept musical does not follow a linear structure; however, some shows that do follow a cohesive storyline have also been described as concept musicals. This is dependent on the relevance of theme and overriding message (the concept); where the plot is a device with which to illustrate a deeper meaning.2

In her MA thesis at the University of Central Florida in 2005, Diana Calderazzo explored the idea that the concept musical as written by Sondheim is very close in theory to Gesamtkunstwerk, associated with 19th century composer Richard Wagner. Gesamtkunstwerk, (total theatre/total work of art) is a synthesis of multiple art forms, all combining as one theatrical entity. 

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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Stree. (2022, February 23). WritingBros. Retrieved October 2, 2023, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/sweeney-todd-the-demon-barber-of-fleet-stree/
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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Stree. [online]. Available at: <https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/sweeney-todd-the-demon-barber-of-fleet-stree/> [Accessed 2 Oct. 2023].
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Stree [Internet]. WritingBros. 2022 Feb 23 [cited 2023 Oct 2]. Available from: https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/sweeney-todd-the-demon-barber-of-fleet-stree/
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