STEPHEN SONDHEIM
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'Sweeney Todd' is a Musical! No, it's an Opera! Or Maybe it's a Ballet?

When I was a kid there was a popular commercial debating if Razzles was a gum or a candy. Saturday Night Live spoofed this controversy with their "Shimmer is a floor wax. / No, Shimmer is a dessert topping." sketch. ("Mmmm, tastes great." "And just look at that shine.") Nowadays, especially with the recent production of La Boheme on Broadway and the current New York City Opera production of Sweeney Todd, musical theatre lovers and opera buffs argue over the diminishing differences between their favorite art forms. Stephen Sondheim himself has been known to say that an opera is simply what plays in an opera house and a musical is what plays in a theatre.

But what if it's playing in a dance space? The design of the New York State Theatre, where the demon barber currently carries on his cutthroat dealings, was supervised by George Balanchine to make sure features such as acoustics, sight lines and wing space suited the needs of his New York City Ballet Company. To help you out, here's a handy guide to let you know if you're watching a descendant of The Magic Flute or a close cousin of Hello, Dolly!.

Sweeney Todd is an OPERA when...
The orchestra is dressed in black tie.
Sweeney Todd is a MUSICAL when...
The orchestra is dressed in black t-shirts.

Sweeney Todd is a MUSICAL when...
It stars a legendary singing actress with an illustrious career.
Sweeney Todd is an OPERA when...
It stars a debut artist who hasn't played any of the major houses.

Sweeney Todd is a MUSICAL when...
The director's interpretation totally ruined it for you.
Sweeney Todd is an OPERA when...
The conductor's interpretation totally ruined it for you.

Sweeney Todd is an OPERA when...
"The Worst Pies in London" is an aria.
Sweeney Todd is a MUSICAL when...
"Epiphany" is a showtune.

Sweeney Todd is a MUSICAL when...
That rude person next to you didn't applaud the stars' entrances.
Sweeney Todd is an OPERA when...
That rude person next to you applauded while the orchestra was playing.

Sweeney Todd is a MUSICAL when...
You were on the phone the moment tickets went on sale because you wanted great seats for the biggest theatre event of the season.
Sweeney Todd is an OPERA when...
It came with your subscription.

Sweeney Todd is a MUSICAL when...
Stephen Sondheim is the supreme musical dramatist of our time.
Sweeney Todd is an OPERA when...
Stephen Sondheim is one of those annoying 20th Century composers who always give me a headache.

Sweeney Todd is a MUSICAL when...
Nobody in the audience knows what a character mime is.
Sweeney Todd is an OPERA when...
Nobody in the audience knows who Hugh Wheeler is.

Sweeney Todd is a MUSICAL when...
That guy playing Pirelli is hilarious.
Sweeney Todd is an OPERA when...
That guy playing Pirelli is the only one singing correctly.

Sweeney Todd is a MUSICAL when...
Tobias' big song is "Not While I'm Around".
Sweeney Todd is an OPERA when...
Tobias' big aria is "Nothin's Gonna Harm You".

Sweeney Todd is a MUSICAL when...
Anthony and Johanna take their curtain call together.
Sweeney Todd is an OPERA when...
Even the guy playing Fogg gets a solo bow.

Sweeney Todd is a MUSICAL when...
You wonder why Mrs. Lovett takes her bow after Sweeney.
Sweeney Todd is an OPERA when...
You wonder why the mezzo takes her bow after the soprano.

Sweeney Todd is a MUSICAL when...
The factory whistle is a symbol of the incursion of the industrial age on the human spirit.
Sweeney Todd is an OPERA when...
The factory whistle is a G sharp.

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From This Author Michael Dale

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