Sweeney Todd (1982)
Sweeney Todd is the perfect Broadway fix for those who generally find musicals unbearably square. Part opera, part black comedy, part Grand Guignol, this Tony-winning production (videotaped on the road in 1982, aired on PBS in the mid-'80s, and subsequently released on video) grafts a nearly perfect Stephen Sondheim score onto an old English story about a 19th-century London barber (George Hearn) who is exiled to a penal colony in Australia on trumped-up charges. He returns 15 years later to exact revenge on the British judicial system and just about everyone trudging the city's filthy Dickensian streets. ("There's a hole in the world like a big black pit/ And it's filled with people who are filled with shit/ and the vermin of the world inhabit it," Hearn sings, spitting out lyrics with considerable venom.) Aiding him in his murderous mission is the amoral Mrs. Lovett (Angela Lansbury, gesticulating wildly, singing Sondheim's rapid-patter lyrics effortlessly, and giving the performance of her career), who finds use for Todd's "leftovers" in the meat pies she sells in her bar beneath the bloodthirsty barber's shop. Cunningly funny, heartbreaking, and horrifying at the same time, Sweeney Todd redefined the Broadway musical, but not in a way that has been imitated--or matched--since.