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Sweeney Todd Principle Voice Types

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joined:4/24/19
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joined:
4/24/19
Sweeney Todd Principle Voice Types#1
Posted: 1/10/20 at 2:20pm
I often hear disagreements about the voice types of the principle characters in Sweeney Todd, so I figured Id see what people think they are. With the exception of Anthony, my idea of the voice types seems to be the most popular interpretation (Im also putting their vocal ranges next to them just for fun):

Sweeney Todd: Bass-baritone F2 Gb4

Mrs. Lovett: Mezzo-soprano G3 E5

Anthony: Baritone Ab2 F#4

Toby: Tenor Bb2 A4

Johanna: Soprano C3 Bb5

Judge Turpin: Bass E2 Gb4

Beadle Bamford: Tenor D3 D5

Beggar Woman: Mezzo-soprano Ab3 F5

Pirelli: Tenor B2 C5

Ive never heard a single person describe Johanna as anything other than a soprano, and the only time Ive heard Toby being referred to as a voice type other than a tenor is in the rare occasion that hes played by a boy soprano. Im not actually sure what Pirellis voice type is considered when hes played by a woman, but there seems to be no disagreement that hes a tenor when played by a man. Also, since Im already on the topic of women playing Pirelli, I figured, why not ask this question. For anyone whos seen the Off Broadway production where Pirelli and the Beggar Woman were played by the same actress (a concept I really like), how did they tackle Pirellis solo in the final number? Did they pull off some kind of super fast quick change and have her sing it as Pirelli, did they have her stay as the Beggar Woman and sing it, or did they just have The Beadle do the solo alone? Im curious since this is the only time the two roles are scripted to appear onstage at the same time, with the exception of when they sing in other renditions of the ballad, which can easily be planned around since neither are required to have solos there so the actress can just be either one of them with the other being absent. Moving back to the original topic though, aside from those three, Ive seen all the other principal characters being referred to as different voice types, specifically these:

Sweeney Todd: Baritone

Mrs. Lovett: Alto

Anthony: Tenor

Judge Turpin: Baritone/Bass-baritone

Beadle Bamford: Countertenor

Beggar Woman: Soprano

Some of these I understand, and some of them I dont. The biggest offender is definitely calling The Judge a baritone. That parts clearly written very low. Hes not without high notes, but he only briefly touches those notes, while his low notes are longer and much more frequent. Calling him a bass-baritone is definitely more plausible, but I still think thats stretching as his high notes are too short, few, and far between. I suppose the idea that Turpins some kind of baritone may have come from the fact that many productions use a baritone to play him, and hearing his bass music sung with a higher voice has caused some to believe hes more of a baritone. But hearing Edmund Lyndeck on the original cast album singing the music as intended leaves little doubt that this is indeed a bass role. The other big one Ive never gotten was saying Lovett is an alto. Shes got a couple low notes, but nothing that I consider to be low enough, or frequent enough to call her an alto. Im pretty sure shes got a lot more high notes, and most of her music seems to be written in the middle of the average singers voice like a mezzo. My only real guess as to why people think shes an alto is because (if my memory serves me correctly) Helena Bonham Carter had the keys lowered when she played it in the film, thus making her version an alto. Maybe Im remembering that wrong, as I try not to listen to the films soundtrack, but Im pretty sure they lowered at least a couple of parts that she wouldnt be able to sing without doing so. I also definitely disagree with the notion that Sweeneys just a normal baritone. I feel like that belief comes from the fact that he has to go up pretty high a couple of times, but a normal baritone would never have to hit his low notes so frequently. Again, not every production uses a bass-baritone or even a baritone (Michael Cerveris comes to mind), no doubt due to the fact that many performers are attracted to such a showy and promising role that they dont even care if their voice type matches and given its not an easy role to act through even if youre the right voice type, some people with higher voices get it just because theyd be able to play it better from a character perspective. But I consider him to be firmly in bass-baritone territory. Originally, I thought The Beadle was a countertenor. After all, he has some extremely challenging high notes, going past the normal male tenor range. But the more I looked into the matter, I realized that an actual countertenor role would have to sing more consistently in his falsetto, which Beadle Bamford does not, instead just being an extremely high tenor. A somewhat tricky one is the the Beggar Woman. I totally see why some think shes a soprano, as she clearly sings in the soprano register several times. However, she also sings in the mezzo register frequently as well. Her voice type is truly unique, I cant really think of any other musical theatre roles that frequently change their register mid song. But I lean towards her being a mezzo since I cant think of any other soprano that has to frequently sing down like that (not that her part is really all that low), while theres a few mezzos who do have to go up very high, if not as frequently. Basically, I think its the kind of role thats written as more of a mezzo, but it sounds best when played by a soprano with a solid lower range, and I believe most of the major Beggar Woman actresses are indeed sopranos, which of course could definitely lend credence to the role being one, but if I had to choose, I think shes just a bit closer to being a mezzo. The role where I hear the biggest disagreement regarding his voice type is Anthony. While I think hes a high baritone, it seems like its more popular to call him a tenor, and most actors playing him seem to either be tenors, or they at least have the tenor timbre. He definitely has more high notes than low notes, but his high notes arent really particularly high, and while I definitely get why people call him a tenor, most of his music feels like its comfortably in the baritone range, only really feeling like a tenor during some of his falsetto like notes, but like I said, those notes really arent all that high, theyre just written to be performed like that (or at least Victor Garber chose to perform them like that when he first played the role and the actors who followed did it like him). Much like the Beggar Woman, I think Anthonys a role thats written as more of a baritone, but is frequently played by tenors with solid lower ranges, which is when the role sounds best. Much like the Beggar Woman, Anthony being more frequently play by that voice type could indicate thats what he should be classified as, but Ill stick with baritone.
Thats what I think, but Im very interested to know what other people would classify the roles as since theres not always a clear consensus on them, and Im sure theres some people who disagree with my assessments.
bwaylvsong
Broadway Legend
joined:7/28/05
Broadway Legend
joined:
7/28/05
Sweeney Todd Principal Voice Types#2
Posted: 1/10/20 at 10:11pm
Generally speaking, vocal classification in musical theatre is more about timbre than range. I don’t like to classify voice types of roles unless they have extreme high or low notes, since most trained singers should be able to sing mid-range roles like Mrs. Lovett or Anthony. I would consider the Beadle to be a tenor with a strong falsetto. At the end of the day, this all comes down to the creative team’s decision of which actor they consider to be the best fit for a role- knowing what I know about Sondheim himself, he would take an extremely strong actor over a perfect singer any day.