Top 10 Moments of Sondheim Genius

9 – It Sounds Kinda Different When You Sing It… (Sweeney Todd)

Poor Mrs Lovett. She wears her maternal instincts on her meat stained sleeves. She wants, no, needs to have someone to take care of.  But she is also a ruthless pragmatist, perfectly willing to eliminate anyone in the name of protecting her nuclear brood, even if this family consists of a revenge obsessed manic depressive and a half-witted emotionally deprived post-tween. So she’s in quite a bind when the two men in her life start veering towards a collision course.  Poor Tobias believes that Sweeney is the sole source of wrongdoing in the Lovett pie shop and, full of vim and misguided chivalry, promises to protect his beloved caretaker from, well, anything bad that might be about.

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Mrs Lovett is placed in a position familiar to many single mothers, torn between the love of a child and the love of a lover, or what passes for a child and lover in this bleak cityscape. Tragically, Lovett stands by her man, but first she has to throw Tobias off the scent, and here Sondheim creates a lovely bit of musical imagery.  Lovett echos Tobias’ refrain, “Nothin’s Gonna Harm You” right back to him, but it’s all wrong, a lone violin plays outside the key rendering Lovett’s comforting words anything but.  Still, there’s a melancholy, mournful quality to the violin line.  Lovett doesn’t want thing to be this way, but, alas, this is the world they’re living in.

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If Tobias was more sensitive to musical nuance, the story may have turned out quite differently.

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