I was 12 years old in 1981 and most of my family worked in the theaters in Boston. Among other theaters, my uncle was the food and beverage manager at the Metropolitan Center (now the Boch Center-Wang Theatre) and my parents, my uncles, some cousins and both me and my sister worked for him. While Sweeney Todd was in town, I was working alongside my father at the “boutique” which was the fancy name for where they sold the souvenirs.
Initially, I wasn’t allowed to see it. My mother had seen most of it and thought it would frighten me (to this day, Todd is one of the few musicals my mother genuinely doesn’t like). But I apparently wore her down because one Sunday me, my sister and one of my cousins got to sit in the theater and watch the show (instead of working it).
From the moment the music began I was terrified. It didn’t help that all I knew of the show was it was about a “demon” barber and a woman who made pies out of dead people. I was petrified of the depictions of Todd and Mrs. Lovett on the t-shirts and programs. So I went in KNOWING I was supposed to be scared. I can’t remember the reactions of my sister or cousin, but I vividly remember watching almost the entire show through my fingers as I covered my face.
This is the scene where I started to cry because I figured Sweeney Todd was coming for me.
The factory whistle still rings in my brain. Once I figured out what it meant, every time I heard it I jumped. And I remember that ever time I knew Sweeney Todd was about to slice someone’s throat, I put my head down to my knees and blocked my ears.
My mother came by to check on us at intermission, thinking I’d probably want to leave, and I couldn’t beg her enough to let me stay. Although I didn’t know what it was, I heard people in front of us talking about the oven and the big surprise at the end of the show. There was no way I was missing that even if I had nightmares for months after.
I’m almost positive at some point I was so scared that I cried. Still, I stuck it out and to this day Sweeney Todd is one of my most favorite musicals.
As we had done with other shows, once it was over we were allowed to go back stage and look around. I didn’t want to go but my mother thought it would be fun (and i’m guessing helpful) for me to see how they did the things that freaked me out. We got to see the oven (but couldn’t get too close) and they let us hold Sweeney’s razor. Getting a close-up look at it and clearly realizing that George Hearn wasn’t really slicing people’s throats went a long way in helping me ward off the nightmares.
Now in 1981 I didn’t appreciate this at all, but we saw George Hearn and Angela Lansbury. Live. Right there in front of our faces. It’s incredible, really, that we were so fortunate. (You too can see Hearn and Lansbury in the version recorded for television in 1982. Amazon sells it but a quick search on YouTube will not disappoint you.)