Best known as a cuddly housewives' favorite thanks to roles in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Les Misérables, and Hairspray, West End veteran Michael Ball surprised everyone with his against-type performance as the murderous Sweeney Todd in Jonathan Kent's adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's 1979 classic. Ball may have understandably dominated the headlines, his tour de force performance silencing the doubters who believed he wasn't the right man for the terrifying rage of "Epiphany" or the brooding melancholy of "My Friends." But this original cast recording of the production, which premiered at the Chichester Festival Theatre before transferring to a longer run at the Adelphi Theatre, shows that it was far from a one-man show. Oscar nominee Imelda Staunton is just as much a revelation as the pie-making accomplice Mrs. Lovett, providing a much-needed comic touch without descending into caricature on the waltz-led ode to cannibalism of "A Little Priest" and the sprightly orchestrated "Worst Pies in London," while elsewhere, Luke Brady and Lucy May Barker convince as star-crossed lovers Anthony and Johanna on the quickly paced romantic duet "Kiss Me," and John Bowe and Peter Polycarpou are suitably villainous as the corrupt Judge Turpin and his right-hand man Beadle Bamford on the gentle harp-led "Ladies in Their Sensitivities." Staying faithful to Sondheim's original operatic score, there's little in the way of Lloyd Webber-style crowd-pleasers here, meaning it's unlikely to cross over in the same way as Ball's previous fare. But while some completists may bemoan that the streamlined track list omits the likes of ensemble piece "The Letter" and Adolfo Pirelli's "The Contest," this first official Sweeney Todd cast recording since its Broadway revival back in 2005 is a still an exhilarating listen suggesting that the stream of five-star opening-night reviews was fully justified.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien