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Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" opened on Broadway in 1979. It was called a musical masterpiece. The movie version opens tomorrow. And Director Tim Burton cast stars who are not known for their singing voices - Johnny Depp as Sweeney, Helena Bonham Carter as his partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett, and Alan Rickman as the judge on whom they plot revenge. So fans of the original musical worried.

Bob Mondello says they needn't have.

BOB MONDELLO: How to begin a musical about a barber who slashes his customers' throats and a baker who grinds up their corpses to fill her meat pies? Well, if you're Tim Burton, you start by raining blood from the skies. As Stephen Sondheim's clashing chords echo horror-film scores by Bernard Hermann, big red drops splash thickly on to London rooftops - rubies in a sooty, industrial 19th century landscape.

The blood dribbles down to splatter machinery, pool in gutters, and slop down sewers, and a scarlet flood rushing out to sea. All by way of introducing a young optimistic sailor, so pretty he looks a little like Claire Danes, arriving by ship with a pale, sunken figure he's rescued.

(Soundbite of movie "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street")

Mr. JONNY DEPP (Actor): (As Sweeney Todd) (Singing) I have sailed the world beheld its wonders from the Dardanelles, to the mountains of Peru. But there's no place like London. You are young. Life has been kind to you. You will learn.

MONDELLO: So will London. Todd was once Benjamin Barker, a barber with a wife and child. But a judge sent him to prison for life on false charges. Now escaped, he's bent on vengeance. Recognized by pie shop owner, Mrs. Lovett, he returns to his old apartment above her shop and talks to his glittering razors, which she had hidden under the floorboard.

(Soundbite of movie "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street")

Mr. DEPP: (As Sweeney Todd) (Singing) Speak to me friends. Whisper, I'll listen. I know, I know, you've been locked out of sight all these years.

MONDELLO: When I first heard Johnny Depp's voice on the Sweeney CD a few weeks ago, I worried that Sondheim's murderous barber had been turned into Sweeney Manilow. But while Depp has a pop voice, rather than an operatic one, his vocals roughen up nicely once Sweeney gets angry.

(Soundbite of movie ""Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street")

Mr. DEPP: (As Sweeney Todd) (Singing) All right. You, sir. How about a shave? Come and visit. Your good friend, Sweeney. You, sir. Too, sir. Welcome to the grave. I will have vengeance. I will have salvation.

MONDELLO: Being a singing actor, rather than a real singer, works in moments like this and that's no less true when the mood lightens, as when Helena Bonham Carter's Mrs. Lovett comes up with a bright idea for what to do with all those bodies that would otherwise be piling up. Her meat pie shop, after all, is right downstairs.

(Soundbite of movie "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street")

Ms. HELENA BONHAM CARTER (Actress): (As Mrs. Lovett) Here we are at the office .

Mr. DEPP: (As Sweeney Todd) What is that?

Ms. CARTER: (As Mrs. Lovett) (Singing) It's priest, have an old priest.

Mr. DEPP: (As Sweeney Todd) (Singing) Is it any good?

Ms. CARTER: (As Mrs. Lovett) (Singing) Sir, it's so good at least. Then again they don't come these things all the flesh. Some are slightly fresh.

MONDELLO: It's heavenly, actually, as are the performances. Screenwriter John Logan has slashed a few songs to bring the running time down to two hours -which zip by, propelled by Sondheim's gorgeous music, Burton's pulse-elevating direction, and actors we mostly didn't know could sing. Alan Rickman in fine voice as Sweeney's creepy nemesis Judge Turpin. Sacha Baron Cohen trading in his Borat accent for an operatic tenor.

And one startling choice - casting child actor Ed Sanders in a part usually played by an adult - will give chills to those familiar with the stage show.

(Soundbite of movie "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street")

Mr. ED SANDERS (Actor): (As Toby) (Singing) No one's gonna hurt you. No one's gonna dare. Others can desert you, not to worry, whistle, I'll be there.

MONDELLO: This little tyke plays a crucial role when the going gets cutthroat, and Burton makes him do that with an artful vengeance, each slashing unique. The director also has some bone-crunching notions about how to get all those bodies down to the kitchen. The Guignol, in other words, is grand - and so is Sweeney Todd the movie. Attend the tale.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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