Stephen Sondheim: A Little Priest

Written by Amy Asch

Music Theater Historian

In category: Song of the Day

Published June 29, 2017

It was not consciously planned, but the songs I chose to start and end this week are both idealistic.  By contrast, today’s pick involves serial murder and cannibalism.

For those who don’t know: Sweeney Todd is a vengeful barber who intends to slit the throat of a powerful judge.  Already, Sweeney has killed a rival barber who jeopardized that plan. (There’s much more to it, but this is all you need to understand today’s song.) Nellie Lovett sells meat pies and business is terrible.  She has befriended Sweeney and given him a room above her shop.  (Again, much more to it, but…)

They need to dispose of the dead man’s body.

In its ghoulish way the song is — if you’ll forgive me — delicious.  The driving waltz, the characters’ delight in their scheme, the endlessly inventive lyric, and the listener’s eager anticipation for the next joke give the scene tremendous energy.  And I have never thought of shepherd’s pie the same way again.

I’m linking to the original Broadway cast album (Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett; Len Cariou as Sweeney) so you can concentrate on the words.

Sondheim – “A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd (1979)

The entire show — with Angela Lansbury and George Hearn — was broadcast on PBS in 1982. The intro to “A Little Priest” starts at 1:12:30.

author: Amy Asch

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Longtime NYFOS subscriber Amy Asch loves the Great American Songbook, and doing research about songs, songwriters, musicals and movies.  She compiled and annotated The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II (Knopf, 2008) and is co-editor with Dominic McHugh of The Complete Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner, which will be published by Oxford University Press in February, 2018.  Favorite projects include cataloging Irving Berlin’s office correspondence and cataloging the working files and audio archive of Jonathan Larson, composer of Rent.  She recently provided research for Rob Fisher and Sheldon Harnick’s Lyrics & Lyricists program “Songbook Classics by Unsung Lyricists.”


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