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Symphony's 'Sweeney Todd' to be filmed
Composer Sondheim in town to celebrate
Octavio Roca, Chronicle Music Critic
Friday, July 20, 2001
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle


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In a rare public appearance yesterday, Stephen Sondheim announced that the concert version of his musical "Sweeney Todd" with the San Francisco Symphony will be filmed for telecast and home video release.

It was an illustrious gathering of musical theater talent that joined Sondheim for the announcement in the Wattis Room of Davies Symphony Hall. The composer was flanked by three of his San Francisco "Sweeney Todd" stars: George Hearn, Patti LuPone and Neil Patrick Harris, together with director Lonny Price and conductor Rob Fisher.

The San Francisco Symphony's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," scheduled to open last night, will be performed again tonight and tomorrow.

Sondheim's tale of murder, madness and meat pies shocked the musical world at its 1979 premiere and has since been celebrated as one of the masterpieces of the American musical.

"It is my most often performed work," said Sondheim, "along with 'Into the Woods' and 'A Little Night Music.' I think it is done so often, especially and to my surprise, by many college and community theater groups, because it is such a thriller."

It is also a challenging, never dull score. LuPone said, "Stephen's scores are extremely difficult, but they are such a joy to perform."

Sondheim retorted, "But aren't there some mediocre shows that are even more difficult to sing?"

LuPone answered, "Yes," without missing a beat, "because they are so badly written.

"Yours are perfect," she added.

It has been quite a year for Sondheim, who is celebrated as this country's most respected and successful composer for the stage. Besides the concert "Sweeney Todd," a byproduct of his 70th birthday activities, there was a major Broadway revival of "Follies" this season. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington is planning to present an unprecedented festival of seven Sondheim musicals in repertory next season: "Company" directed by Sean Matthias, "A Little Night Music" directed by Mark Brokaw, "Merrily We Roll Along" and "Sweeney Todd" directed by Christopher Ashley, "Sunday in the Park With George" and "Passion" directed by Eric Schaffer and a new production of "Pacific Overtures" in Japanese from the National Theater of Tokyo.

"Venerability has its downside," said Sondheim, allowing that he has been very flattered by all the recent attention. "After a while, you just want to go back to new work and not help build a mausoleum."

Next for Sondheim is what he called "the musical formerly known as 'Wise Guys,' " as well as "very close involvement" with the Kennedy Center's festival.

As for rumors of a new score for LuPone or that the fiery Broadway diva will star in a forthcoming Los Angeles revival of "Into the Woods," Sondheim and LuPone suggested that the question be asked in a month or so.

That also will be about the time details of the "Sweeney Todd" filming and distribution by EMK Productions will be worked out. The concert version, supervised by the composer and first heard with the New York Philharmonic, was recorded by that orchestra for audio but was not captured on film. The San Francisco Symphony just scored that coup.


SWEENEY TODD: The San Francisco Symphony concert version of Stephen Sondheim's 1979 musical thriller plays at 8 p.m. today and tomorrow July 20-21 at Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Tickets: $15-$75. Call (415) 864-6000 or go to

E-mail Octavio Roca at

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