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Adaptaing 'Sweeney Todd' To The Screen
When Parkes and MacDonald acquired the movie rights to "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” they turned to long-time collaborator and the writer of the studio's Academy Award®-winning "Gladiator,” John Logan. Before Logan began writing the script, he spent six months studying Sondheim's score, "just by myself, to be absolutely familiar with what the beast was,” he reveals. "I also read the original Chris Bond melodrama and compared it to the Hugh Wheeler book for the musical, and really got to know the music backwards and forwards. Then I went to New York, and Stephen and I worked through it.”

Adapting a three-hour stage musical into a two-hour movie clearly meant changes. Some songs were exorcised completely, others merely truncated. "We cut out verses, but also expanded certain areas,” Logan explains. "A fair amount of work was done cutting and shaping.”

Story wise, too, he made substantial changes. "We wanted to keep it very tightly focused on Sweeney Todd's journey, so other secondary or tertiary elements fell away. In the show, Johanna, Todd's daughter, sings a lot more; she and Anthony are more musical characters, but I felt that the focus of the story really needed to be on Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett, and Toby to a certain extent. I wanted to focus on that triangle as much as I could.”

For Stephen Sondheim, a film version of "Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” offered the chance to change certain lyrics that, as well as to write new ones that tally with certain structural and narrative changes imposed by the script. "Stage time and movie time are different,” Sondheim explains. "You accept on the stage somebody sitting and singing for three minutes about one subject, but in film you get the idea very quickly and you suddenly have two and a half minutes too much. The problem is how do you keep the integrity of the score and yet cut things? But John maintained much of the score and still kept the cinematic value of the songs going.”

Contractually, Sondheim had approval over the casting of Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett, as well as the choice of director.

"He's a formidable character,” notes Burton of the legendary composer. "He's very intelligent, very passionate, he's a genius at what he does, but the thing that I have really respected and felt very grateful for is him letting it go. It's not a stage thing. It's a movie. Go for it. I felt very supported by that. The other thing that impressed me and immediately made me like him was, when I first met him, he was talking to me about how he wrote this like a Bernard Herrmann score,” Burton continues. "And what's really interesting, when you take away the singing, and it happened when we were recording it, it is like a Bernard Herrmann score — it's really amazing. As soon as he said that I thought, ‘I'm in, completely.'”

"He's a perfect fit,” says Sondheim of Burton. "In many ways it's his simplest film, his most direct film, but you can see that he's telling a story he really likes. It's a story that has enough incident in it so he doesn't have to invent extracurricular stuff. He has enthusiasm for the piece and he just goes—forgive me— straight for the jugular.”

"Tim is the perfect director for ‘Sweeney Todd,'” agrees producer Richard D. Zanuck. "There is such an affinity between the subject matter and Tim's style and sensibility. He is a stylist but also at his heart he's a dramatist who just wants to tell a simple, human love story. Tim Burton was born to direct the movie of ‘Sweeney Todd.'”

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