The Tribune (NZ) - - ENTERTAINMENT & ARTS -

Sweeney Todd - Fly­ing Squad” is how the ol’ Cock­ney rhyming slang called it, and The Sweeney be­came the ti­tle of a long-run­ning 70s Bri­tish TV se­ries and later, sev­eral films fol­lowed.

How­ever, the ba­sis for the name rests on the Vic­to­rian ‘penny dread­ful’ tale of Sweeney Todd, a venge­ful bar­ber and his col­lab­o­ra­tion with a ghoul­ish piemaker who helps him dis­pose of the bod­ies. Open­ing in the Abbey Au­di­to­rium to­mor­row ( Thurs­day) night, this macabre mu­si­cal tale of cut-throat calamity and hor­rif­i­cally tasty pasties de­scends into a nether­world world of re­venge, mur­der and meaty mad­ness.

Stephen Sond­heim’s mu­si­cal (you might re­mem­ber the movie with Johnny Depp, He­lena Bon­ham Carter and the late Alan Rick­man) was orig­i­nally set in a scrab­bling Dick­en­sian world, but di­rec­tor Scott An­drew has flipped the darkly hu­mor­ous show into the 20th cen­tury, lo­cat­ing it dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion as World War II looms. While re­main­ing true to the words and the mu­sic, there are enough his­toric par­al­lels be­tween the lassez-faire 1840s, devil-take-the-hind­most 1930s, and our own cor­rupt neo-lib­eral age.

“Poverty, crime, class struc­ture, the scarcity of food and the way in which ma­chines dom­i­nated peo­ple’s lives are themes which tran­scend both cen­turies,” Scott says.

Play­ing Sweeney is a flawed but hon­est man who re­turns from ex­ile to take re­venge on a cor­rupt judge who se­duced his wife and made his daugh­ter a ward of state is ex-pat Palmy per­son Glen Nes­bit. Glen has been lured back from Aus­tralia to play one of his favourite mu­si­cal theatre roles.

“It’s the King Lear of mu­si­cal theatre. It runs the emo­tions like no other prin­ci­pal role,” he says.

Also re­turn­ing to the city stage af­ter a 10 year break, is Tracey-Lynne Cody as Mrs Lovett. The lead singer for band Di­a­mond Su­tra was at­tracted by the “wicked­ness of Mrs Lovett and the com­plex­ity of the mu­sic”.

“In Sweeney Todd, she sees a soul mate for life, a busi­ness part­ner, a whole­sale sup­plier and the love of her life. She can be ma­ter­nally warm-hearted but also con­trol­ling and vin­dic­tive,” Tracey-Lynne says.

Sweeney Todd, with a cast of 21, opens at the Abbey Theatre Au­di­to­rium, Cen­ten­nial Dr, to­mor­row and runs through to March 19. Visit AMT’s web­site to pur­chase tick­ets or ring 355 0499.

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