UNC’s spring musical, is quickly approaching. But who is Sweeney Todd other than a Demon Barber? Where did he come from? There are many stories that he connects to, shrouding his origins in mystery. Some believe Sweeney was a real person while others say he has merely lived, and will only ever exist, in stories.
Sweeney has many historical counterparts, all of whom could be Sweeney Todd himself or, at least, his origin story. One cannibal, called Sawney Bean, can be traced back to 16th Century Scotland; he would kill travelers on the road and then take them back to his family where they would be consumed. Another occurrence happened in 1784 when an English barber slit the throat of a patron who had been sleeping with the barber’s wife.
The most widely accepted theory, however, is that Sweeney was based off of a French barber whose customers disappeared mysteriously in the late 1700s. In this French rendition, the barber worked with an accomplice, and most likely killed all of his customers. Both the accomplice and the barber were executed for their crimes and the barber shop torn down by the French government so that people would not recall the horrors that had been enacted. Unfortunately, this did not work as the legend of Sweeney Todd has continued to this day, mostly in fiction.
Sweeney’s fictional presence began appearing in English children’s stories as a warning: don’t go wandering around London after dark or else Sweeney might take you back to his barber shop and bake you into a pie. In fact, Sweeney Todd is highly popular in England, having become their version of the bogey man. Sweeney’s first official fictional story was published in the 1846 tabloid The People’s Periodical, his story titled “A String of Pearls.” This version of the Sweeney Todd legend made a quick transition to the stage, the first play appearing in 1847. Since then, there have been at least six theatrical shows centering on the Demon Barber, an actor making Sweeney very real for audiences, if only for a few hours. It was Stephen Sondheim, the famous musical theatre composer and lyricist, who wrote Sweeney Todd into a musical and this is how most of us know the Demon Barber today.
But was Sweeney Todd real? Has his presence become so famous that he jumped from history to fiction? Or has he only ever existed in stories, his crimes so popular he’s always been prevalent? Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd and decide for yourself!
The show is running from April 5th through the 8th at 7:30pm as well as the 9th at 2:00pm. You can call 970-351-2200 or go to http://www.unco.edu/tickets/ to get tickets. Hurry, shows are selling fast and you don’t want to miss out on spending time with the most notorious mass murderer English crime literature has ever seen!
|If Sweeney was real, he existed in the 1700s and this timeline shows his story.|