Times are hard in 1846 London and one must make do. Nellie Lovett adds something extra to the meat pies she peddles on Fleet Street. The secret ingredient: freshly murdered victims of her partner in crime, barber Sweeney Todd. Composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim refashions a macabre tale into a musical masterwork in this dazzling performance of the 1979 Broadway hit originally staged by Harold Prince. In her Tony-winning role, Angela Lansbury plays Nellie. George Hearn turns his stage role of twisted Sweeney into an Emmy-winning triumph. The score coils around itself in every-tightening spirals. The lines ripple with black humor and madness. Enter Sweeney's tonsorial parlor. Attend the tale.
The 1982 filmed production of Sweeney Todd is considered to be one of the first hugely successful filmed stage musicals. The first US national tour was recorded live at the Dorothy Chandler Theatre in LA, becoming a unique record of a Broadway musical at the time.
The show was the second production of The Entertainment Channel, a new pay-per-view channel that invested $1.5 million into filming Sweeney on tour in order to bring home viewers more varied programming. According to an article in The New York Times titled 'Cable TV Turns Hungrily To The Theatre' from 1982, the show 'was shot in a Los Angeles theater over a period of six days: four days without an audience and two nights with an audience. Only about one percent of the footage with an audience was used, primarily shots of the proscenium, the curtain going up and the audience applauding.'
The filmed production went on to win several Primetime Emmy Awards: Outstanding Director in a Variety or Music Program, Outstanding Videotape Editing for a Limited Series or a Special, and Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program for George Hearn.
In his review for TV Weekend in the New York Times, John O'Connor said: 'The viewer is given a sense of the massive set, but the cameras keep moving in for intimate closeups. The inevitable result is a stronger realization of the characters, of their personalities and motives. Mr. Hearn's Sweeney becomes a figure of considerable sympathy. Miss Lansbury's Mrs. Lovett becomes something more than a bizarre and overacted hag.'
The musical was soon released on VHS, LaserDisc and years later transferred onto a DVD that saw multiple releases.