>"But Everybody Goes Down Well With Beer"

>A friend gave me today a CD of the 2005 revival of Sweeney Todd, the version in which the ten cast members are also the doubling as the orchestra. I wish I could have seen this production; better yet, I wish I could have been in it! (Although heaven knows what instrument I could play proficiently enough these days to get through the Sweeney Todd score.) I did sing in a college production of it way back in the dark ages, and this CD does remind me of our then reduced-orchestra version in its intimacy and immediacy. I really like it, I’m listening to it right now.

Pieces like Sweeney Todd are awfully hard to do in translation (although a German translation does exist (I saw a performance in Munich last winter, in fact.) That oh so subtle wit, almost too subtle for even Broadway audiences when it opened in 1979, is nearly impossible to convey in another language, another culture, another sense of humor, or moral, or shock. Performance in English would satisfy the purists but otherwise fly right over everyone else’s head. Certain musicals — I was once in a production of West Side Story that did this — are sometimes done with the dialogue in the vernacular and the songs in the original English, which doesn’t really help*. But more and more, the German version is used throughout. You take what you can get.

* The film of Sweeney Todd was shown this way, with the dialogue dubbed, the songs in English with German subtitles. They knew their film audiences wouldn’t care, and dubbing song was surely out of the question (a passable rhyme scheme and fitting the words to the actors’ mouths? Forget that.)

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