Barber Sweeney Todd has a customer come in, a sailor who needs to find a certain Miss Johanna so that he can deliver a string of pearls to her. The man Johanna loved had left to find his fortune, but may have died while on his journey. Those pearls are all that is left of his fortune.
Sweeney Todd quickly kills off the sailor and takes the pearls, intending to sell them. First, however, he'll have to deal with the sailor's loyal dog, which insists on hanging by the shop and attracting all kinds of attention. Then others come by, looking for the sailor, Todd's young assistant makes a few more comments than is good for him, and Johanna herself begins snooping around, convinced that Sweeney Todd is a murderer. Meanwhile, Todd's co-conspirator, Mrs. Lovett, suspects that Todd has come into some good fortune he doesn't plan on sharing with her.
Is it bad that I enjoyed this? It's lurid, blackly humorous, and a lot of fun.
My first exposure to the story of Sweeney Todd was via the 2007 Tim Burton movie, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. While I don't remember much about the movie besides the basics - Sweeney Todd is a murderous barber, and he and Mrs. Lovett have a gross symbiotic relationship - I do feel that having seen the movie made it a little easier to understand how the murders went. In the audio drama, listeners hear the sound effect of Todd's chair in action well before the chair's part in his murders is ever explained. That's a little thing, though, because, even if I hadn't understood how the chair worked, I think I still would have enjoyed listening to this.
Although there was a bit of narration, the bulk of the production was dialogue, with the occasional singing interlude. The full cast, combined with the sound effects, made listening to this a little like listening to a play. I absolutely loved the cast and, as with other full cast audio books I've listened to, I was surprised at the number of actors and actresses who played more than one role. I'm currently listening to the whole audio drama a second time, and the actors and actresses are part of what's making the production worth listening to again.
The...neatness...of Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett's operation is the source of a lot of delightfully morbid humor. Even the narrator seems to be part of it, lightly and almost cheerfully describing the scene while hordes of Mrs. Lovett's customers clamor for her pies. Every person who eats one of the pies takes the time to comment on how absolutely delicious they are, complete with sounds of smacking lips and full mouths. While I'm sure Todd's decision to pay his young assistants so little that the only food they could afford was Mrs. Lovett's pies had a practical basis, I wouldn't be surprised if he set things up that way to give himself a laugh as well. He seemed to derive a lot of enjoyment from people's cluelessness in the face of all his hints – his recurring “I'll polish you off” joke inspired some suspicion, but never enough to scare off his future victims.
It's amazing how many characters managed to survive, albeit with a few missing teeth. It seemed like all the protagonists had at least a little bit of stupid in them. The one I had to laugh at the most was Arabella, Johanna's friend, who seemed convinced that any idea she'd read about in a book was brilliant and would of course work in the real world. Johanna was a touch less naive than her, but not by much.
All in all, this is an excellent, if short, production.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (live action movie) - It's such an easy suggestion to think up that it feels like cheating to include it on this list. But I'm including it anyway.
- Die, Snow White! Die, Damn You!: A Very Grimm Tale (audio book) by Yuri Rasovsky - Another easy one to add to the list - this is written by the same person who wrote Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls, and it also features a full cast.
- DEAD(ish) (e-novelette) by Naomi Kramer - While I wasn't a fan of this work, the morbid humor is similar to that found in Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls. It's free, so you can either check it out yourself or take a look at my post if you'd like more info first.
- Darkly Dreaming Dexter (book) by Jeff Lindsay; Dexter (live action TV series) - The TV show and the book series on which the TV show is based are a little different - the first season follows the events of the first book somewhat, but then the two diverge a lot. Those who'd like another story featuring a serial killer might want to try this. Although the Dexter series doesn't wallow in dark humor to anywhere near the extent that Sweeney Todd does, there's still the occasional bit of humor. Dexter manages to be a fairly likable character, despite his murderous activities. I've written about the second season of the TV series and one of the later books, Dexter by Design.
- Eating Raoul (live action movie) - I came across this black comedy while looking up other works dealing with methods of body disposal similar to that found in Sweeney Todd.
- Clue (live action movie) - Something about Sweeney Todd reminded me of this movie. Maybe because of the movie's mix of humor and murder?