Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Sweeney and the Modern Musical Malaise.

I bought the DVD of Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd today. I didn’t know it was a musical until I started watching it. Oh…

I dislike musicals. I liked them up to the age of about twelve and then moved more in the direction of kitchen sink dramas and historical epics (I got over the epics when I was about twenty and developed a more realistic attitude to the subject of history, but let’s not digress.) The fact is, however, that the musicals I liked up to the age of about twelve were the old style variety. Sweeney Todd is one of the modern variety, and there’s a difference.

The method of producing an old style musical was that you brought together two talents: a words man approaching the status of poet, and a composer worthy of the title (think West Side Story for an example.) You put the two together and what you got was a bunch of songs which held their own as individual works of populist art. (It might be noted that the operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan were musicals by another name.)

The modern method is to take a piece of average script, throw some random and often ill-fitting notes in its general direction, add a lush orchestration in a vain attempt to simulate credibility, then call it a classic and give the ‘composer’ a knighthood. It’s my considered – though admittedly inexpert – opinion that the modern musical is an offence to all music lovers who aren’t taken in by the marketing hype.

On the other hand, it might be that I’m simply a traditionalist at heart. I concede the possibility, even though I disagree with it.

But Johnny Depp was excellent as usual, although I thought Helena Bonham-Carter was even better. There’s scant need to mention Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall since neither would be capable of giving anything less than a splendid performance however much you paid them to try very hard.

But why did it have to be a musical?!

And I must take note of the credits when they roll (I just took a break half way through) because I’m sure I spotted an old actor friend of mine in a minor role. Coincidentally, he played a leading role in a production of Sweeney Todd we did at the theatre where I used to work. I remember audience members complaining of being splashed with the fake blood that was used in the throat cutting scenes. Such fun. And there wasn’t a musical note to be heard, apart from the odd wail of a victim or two.

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