The Worldwide Phenomenon of "Sweeney Todd"

SCR Staff
 | Dec 06, 2018
Sweeney Todd Logo

Excitement is high for Sweeney Todd, the Tony Award-winning​ Stephen Sondheim musical that plays on the Segerstrom Stage (Jan. 19 – Feb. 16). In a barber shop above Mrs. Lovett’s struggling pie shop, Sweeney Todd plots revenge on the lecherous judge who wronged him and his family. In the seedy underbelly of 19th-century London, desperate times lead to diabolical schemes—and strange alliances. See the timeline below to find out how this fascinating and endlessly inventive musical became a worldwide phenomenon.

String of Pearls Penny Dreadful

​​The String of Pearls - ​the ​original ​penny ​dreadful featuring Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet

Sweeney Todd Broadway Poster

The original Sweeney Todd Broadway production poster.

Sweeney Todd Movie Poster

The original Sweeney Todd movie poster.

1846: The character of Sweeney Todd is introduced in serialized Victorian popular fiction (known as “penny dreadfuls”—sold for a penny) in a story called The String of Pearls. Set in 1785, the story featured as its principal villain a certain Sweeney Todd and included all the plot elements that were used by Sondheim and others ever since.

1973: The play Sweeney Todd: ​The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Christopher Bond debuted at Theatre Royal Stratford East, where Sondheim saw it and first began to conceive the idea for a musical. Sondheim noted, “It had a weight to it . . . because [Bond] wrote certain characters in blank verse. He also infused into it plot elements from Jacobean tragedy and The Count of Monte Cristo. He was able to take all these disparate elements that had been in existence rather dully for a hundred and some-odd years and make them into a first-rate play.”

1979: The musical version of Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (based on the play) by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, premiered, directed by Hal Prince and starring Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou. The production was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning eight including Best Musical.

1980: The musical premieres on London’s West End at Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The production was nominated for three Olivier Awards and won two, including the Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 1980. A U.S. national tour is launched.

1987: The State Opera of South Australia presented the musical as Australia's first professional production in Adelaide.

1989: The first Broadway revival opens at Circle in the Square Theatre. This production received four Tony Award nominations.

1993: The show receives its first London revival at the Royal National Theatre. This production received six Olivier Award nominations and won four Olivier Awards including Best Musical Revival.

1995: It premiered in Catalan at the theat​re Poliorama of Barcelona (later moving to the Apolo Theatre), in a production of the Drama Centre of the Government of Catalonia. The show received more than 15 awards.

1997: The 1997 Finnish National Opera production premiered.

2004: John Doyle directed a revival of the musical that was subsequently transferred to the West End. The production was notable because there was no orchestra, and the cast played all of the instruments. It was nominated for two Olivier Awards.

2005: Doyle’s West End production was transferred to Broadway, starring Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris. It was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning two.

2007: A feature film adaptation of the musical was released, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp (who received a Golden Globe and Oscar nomination for his performance) and Helena Bonham Carter as Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett.

2012: Another West End revival is produced starring Imelda Staunton, garnering six Olivier Awards and winning three.

2015: A production runs at the Pieter Toerien Monte Casino Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa, before transferring to the Theatre on the Bay in Cape Town.

2015-18: Cameron Mackintosh produces the West End transfer of a site-specific production that ran at an actual pie shop in London. In 2017, this production transferred off-Broadway to the Barrow Street Theatre, where it was extended until February 2018.

Learn more about SCR's Sweeney Todd and buy tickets.