Is momentum building for a renaissance of movie musicals? Chicago  won Best Picture and five other Academy Awards, but it was the film’s $170 million domestic box office that likely convinced studios to give singing and dancing another shot. In the last few years, we have seen screen adaptations of hit Broadway musicals The Phantom of the Opera , Rent , The Producers , Dreamgirls , and Hairspray . Furthermore, films like Across the Universe  and I’m Not There  incorporate songs by the Beatles and Bob Dylan into their narratives. Unsurprisingly, gay men and women are spearheading this trend as directors, actors, producers and composers. This weekend, composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim, makes his contribution.
This writer is a gay man that absolutely loves musicals, stereotype be damned. He has memorized Sondheim’s masterpiece, Sweeney Todd : The Demon Barber of Fleet Street . This Friday, Tim Burton’s film adaptation of Sweeney Todd opens. Superstar Johnny Depp is the reason the film was greenlit with a budget of $50 million, and certainly the reason why it is playing in suburban multiplexes. After all, it ain’t Oklahoma! The brilliance of Sweeney Todd is in the way it undermines the traditional musical model. Yes, it has gorgeous music and clever lyrics, but it is a dark, bitterly hilarious tale of revenge. And there is BLOOD. Critics have praised the film, especially Mr. Depp’s performance (yes, he can sing!), the new orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, and the stunning art direction inspired by Hammer horror films. Sondheim himself was involved in making controversial casting and cutting decisions, and by all reports the composer is proud of the finished product. He has hosted private screenings for his friends, including the original Mrs. Lovett, Angela Lansbury.
Please help Sweeney Todd be a commercial success. It may usher in a new Golden Age of Movie Musicals. Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?
- R. Esquivel