Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Page: 1



Why Did Len Cariou and George Hearn Play Sweeney Todd with American Accents?

Hot Pants Profile Photo
Hot Pants
Leading Actor
joined:4/24/19
Leading Actor
joined:
4/24/19
Im a big Sweeney Todd fan, and Ive always wondered why Len Cariou and George Hearn didnt use a British accent when they played the title role. Given they were the men to play the role before anyone else, I wonder if it was an intentional choice on Hal Princes part to have them speak with their normal voices. Ive heard people say that them not doing an accent pronounces Todds feeling of isolation from his surroundings, but Ive never heard if that was the actual intention. Does anyone know if theres an official reason why this happened.
The Distinctive Baritone Profile Photo
The Distinctive Baritone
Broadway Legend
joined:8/28/04
Broadway Legend
joined:
8/28/04
I’ve always wondered that as well. I’ve never heard an “official” reason, but in addition the possible artistic choice of having Sweeney seem more like an outsider, it’s possible that Len Cariou, who was more of an “actor who sings” with, I think, only minimal vocal training, found the score challenging enough without the accent and Prince and Sondheim let him do it without one. I’ve found personally as an American that singing in an English accent does change placement and such and sometimes adds unwanted muscle tension. That’s just me though.
Hot Pants Profile Photo
Hot Pants
Leading Actor
joined:4/24/19
Leading Actor
joined:
4/24/19
I wouldn’t say Cariou’s “an actor who sings” as he was vocally marvelous as Sweeeny and my second favorite after Hearn in that department. In terms of overall performance, he’s my favorite.
It’s possible they thought the role was challenging enough without having to do an accent throughout the show and just figured people wouldn’t mind an accentless Sweeney. Given Cariou and Hearn are the role’s most popular portrayers, they’d have been right about that.
Someone in a Tree2 Profile Photo
Someone in a Tree2
Broadway Legend
joined:10/9/12
Broadway Legend
joined:
10/9/12
I count myself lucky to have seen the OBC twice. The show was one of the most thrilling nights of musical theater I have known. But aside from Angela, the fake British accents used were all over the map, and generally pretty terrible. Maybe Hal couldn’t bear the thought of yet one more.
Dollypop
Broadway Legend
joined:5/15/03
Broadway Legend
joined:
5/15/03

It should be noted that when DorothyLouden played Mrs Lovett, she didn't use much of a cockney accent--but there are quite a few cocnkey phrases in her dialogue that Louden pronounced as an American.

"Long live God!" (GODSPELL)
Updated On: 7/14/20 at 04:10 PM
Alex Kulak2
Broadway Legend
joined:9/11/16
Broadway Legend
joined:
9/11/16

I've listened to the 2005 recording so many times, but I cannot tell what accent Michael Cerveris is speaking in. It's a little British, but it sounds pretty much like his Bruce Bechdel.

Dollypop
Broadway Legend
joined:5/15/03
Broadway Legend
joined:
5/15/03
Let me add that when I'm abroad, I am often mistaken for a Londoner. I was puzzled about this. I:m a New Yorker and I have a New York accent--not a stereotypical one but listen to me say "water" and you know where I come from. It was a young lady from Nottingwood who explained it to me: my speech is "flat" as opposed to the more musical speech patterns of say the North Country or Wales. Londoners tend to have flat speech patterns. Perhaps Cariou and Hearn were aiming for that flat London accent.
"Long live God!" (GODSPELL)
Dollypop
Broadway Legend
joined:5/15/03
Broadway Legend
joined:
5/15/03
"Long live God!" (GODSPELL)
Updated On: 7/14/20 at 04:40 PM
NOWaWarning Profile Photo
NOWaWarning
Broadway Star
joined:2/1/16
Broadway Star
joined:
2/1/16
Maybe the aforementioned actors in this thread just aren’t very gifted with accents. What if what we heard was their attempt? I truly don’t know. I’ve also always wondered.
rattleNwoolypenguin
Broadway Star
joined:10/11/11
Broadway Star
joined:
10/11/11
I mean Angela is ACTUALLY british. So her singing cockney probably wasn’t too hard
JBroadway Profile Photo
JBroadway
Broadway Legend
joined:4/6/12
Broadway Legend
joined:
4/6/12

NOWaWarning said: "Maybe the aforementioned actors in this thread just aren’t very gifted with accents. What if what we heard was their attempt?"

 

This was my thought as well. I've been in several shows where someone was asked to use an accent, and the change in dialect was so counterintuitive to the actor, that they basically just didn't do an accent at all - and they didn't even realize that they weren't doing it. And the director knows that it's not a battle worth fighting, because directors always have a lot on their plate, and it's more important to focus on the acting. And actors who simply can't wrap their heads around an accent are unlikely to do so in a few weeks of rehearsal. And unfortunately, in my experience, dialect coaches seldom stick around for more than a couple sessions before leaving the actors to their own devices. Maybe it's different on Broadway though, especially if the run is longer. 

There was one particular time I was in a show where the director was actually English, and he would occasionally correct the actor on individual vowel sounds, and I sat there thinking "Why are you correcting him on these isolated words, when he literally isn't even doing an English accent for the whole show??" 

As someone who's a stickler for accents (and actually, I have seriously considered going into dialect coaching myself), it's extremely frustrating and also somewhat baffling to me, but it's definitely something I've observed in real life. So that could be the case here. 

After going back and listening to bits of the John Doyle Sweeney Todd, it does sound like Cerveris is doing an English accent, it's just not particularly consistent. Better than Cariou though. 

sabrelady Profile Photo
sabrelady
Broadway Legend
joined:5/16/03
Broadway Legend
joined:
5/16/03

And Len Cariou is Canadian- his default  accent , unless he's on Blue Bloods where he puts an Irish twinge on his lines.

Words that confuse censors:Fecund,penal,taint, titmouse, cockatoo,coccyx, ballcock, cockeye, prickly,kumquat, titter,cunning linguist, insertion, gobble, guzzle, swallow, manhole, rimshot,ramrod,come, fallacious, lugubrious,rectify,Uranus, angina, paradiddle,spotted dick,dictum, frock,cunctation, engorge,turgid,stiff, bush, uvula, crapulence, masticate, Dick Butkus, gherkin and of course the always bewildering lickety split. As you can see, context is every thing. Chuck Lorre Addendum: 555 382 5968 "Sexarama, Hexarama, Queeriosis, Feariosis!" Alec Baldwin “I’m going to have to science the shit outta this.” The Martian
joevitus Profile Photo
joevitus
Broadway Legend
joined:7/10/19
Broadway Legend
joined:
7/10/19

Hearing Cariou's voice described as one with "minimal training" baffles the hell out of me. Have you heard, not just is Sweeney Todd, but he vocals on A Little Night Music? Man may not be Pavarotti, but he has some pipes. 

I doubt he was trying and failing to sound British, myself. Because there's zero trace of a British accent, and usually even if you have almost none, there's something that can be pointed to as an attempt. Don't accept the "flat" speech pattern of London theory, either (as no one else in the show makes an attempt at such an accent).

For what it's worth, it strikes me that Edmund Lyndeck as the Judge doesn't have an accent, either. Both men have rather raspy voices (Cariou much more so than when he did Night Music); I have no idea if that plays a role in the issue at all.

My own guess? Neither Prince nor Sondheim cared, and the actors did what they wanted. I know this sounds ridiculous, considering who these men are, but hear me out: 1) Prince has discussed many times that he just didn't get Sweeney Todd; he didn't really want to do it, and he was so isolated emotionally from the material that he had to trust others on the production team that his direction was actually working because he just couldn't tell, and 2) Sondheim's interest was in doing a real melodrama, which is a form built on artifice, not a naturalism or realism. It mattered not a bit whether they all had consistent British accents or British accents at all because it's a piece that recreates a kind of theatre, not the reality of a particular country in a particular century. Having multiple bad accents, one true one, and a couple of actors without accents at all might even have struck him as true to the nature of melodramas as they would have been performed in America in the 19th century. Yeah, I know, Sweeney Todd was a melodrama on British stages, not American ones. But just as Pacific Overtures was envisioned by its creators as if it were the product of a hypothetical Japanese playwright/composer versed in kabuki who was trying to write a Broadway show, so might Sweeney Todd have been thought of as the work of a hypothetical 19th century American author of melodramas who was adapting a British source.

Hot Pants Profile Photo
Hot Pants
Leading Actor
joined:4/24/19
Leading Actor
joined:
4/24/19
Yeah I doubt that those were their attempts at accents, as Cariou and Hearn sound just like they do in other works and interviews and speeches. If they were attempting accents, there’s probably be some kind of sign of them.
The Distinctive Baritone Profile Photo
The Distinctive Baritone
Broadway Legend
joined:8/28/04
Broadway Legend
joined:
8/28/04
For the record, I think Len Cariou is a perfectly decent singer. It’s just a very unique voice, and he was really more of a classical theatre guy who kinda fell into musical theatre. And obviously that served him well as Sweeney - I’d rather a great actor who can sing “well enough” in the role than someone like Bryn Terfel who sounded AMAZING but whose acting was almost cringe-worthy.

George Hearn is the best of both worlds. Sondheim himself is rumored to have preferred Hearn’s performance over Cariou’s.

BTW I’ve never met a trained singer who can’t do a half-way decent standard English accent with minimal coaching. I’m sure it was a “choice”...for whatever reason.
Hot Pants Profile Photo
Hot Pants
Leading Actor
joined:4/24/19
Leading Actor
joined:
4/24/19
Len Cariou already played a Sondheim lead before this, so you really can’t say he’s an actor rather than a singer, as he’s clearly both. Sweeney Todd’s an extremely difficult role on a vocal level, feeling operatic at times, so it’s really not a case where you can cast an actor who just happens to sing.

I’d say Cariou alongside Hearn is a best of both worlds casting, being excellent on an acting’s and vocal level. I said before, Cariou’s my favorite Sweeney. Hearn sang it best, but Cariou’s Voice was also beautiful in the role, and he acted it better than the others.
AADA81 Profile Photo
AADA81
Broadway Star
joined:1/15/11
Broadway Star
joined:
1/15/11

My understanding of what I read in 1979 is that Sweeney's lack of accent was due to a desire to present him as 'other' to the London characters.  Lyndeck didn't use a strong accent but his cadence was British through and through, as were the other actors who were not Cockney

joevitus Profile Photo
joevitus
Broadway Legend
joined:7/10/19
Broadway Legend
joined:
7/10/19

The Distinctive Baritone said: "For the record, I think Len Cariou is a perfectly decent singer. It’s just a very unique voice, and he was really more of a classical theatre guy who kinda fell into musical theatre. And obviously that served him well as Sweeney - I’d rather a great actor who can sing “well enough” in the role than someone like Bryn Terfel who sounded AMAZING but whose acting was almost cringe-worthy.

George Hearn is the best of both worlds. Sondheim himself is rumored to have preferred Hearn’s performance over Cariou’s.

BTW I’ve never met a trained singer who can’t do a half-way decent standard English accent with minimal coaching. I’m sure it was a “choice”...for whatever reason.
"

I appreciate your clarifying this. Thanks.

ljay889 Profile Photo
ljay889
Broadway Legend
joined:8/4/04
Broadway Legend
joined:
8/4/04

The Distinctive Baritone said: "
George Hearn is the best of both worlds. Sondheim himself is rumored to have preferred Hearn’s performance over Cariou’s.."

Hearn is sooooo over the top on the filmed version, it's almost unbearable at times. Cariou's more brooding interpretation comes off frightening even through a cast recording.