~penny dreadful~

December 28th, 2007

“Goths are not born, they are made.” my dear friend Michelle says as we stand on the corner of Hollywood and Sunset Blvds. We have just been to the $5 Sunday matinée at the Vista, a refurbished Egypt-Deco theater from the 1920s that to me is so very Hollywood-of-my-childhood, tho technically it’s in Los Feliz.


There are serpents and sarcophagi, inverted-pyramid chandeliers of opaque glass and busts of Egyptian maidens with Mona Lisa smiles. Plus the man tearing tickets is dressed as Sweeney Todd.

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (based on the 1864 penny dreadful publication of The String of Pearls by Thomas Peckett Prest) was my first Broadway musical. I saw it on my first trip to New York in 1979, the one when I decided that at one time in my life–no matter what–I would live here.

At age ten, given a small a souvenir allowance, the gate-fold album of Sweeney Todd was what I chose. No spiked foam Statue of Liberty hats for me. As my Mom has often said (proudly I think, being a drama-dork herself), I knew the lyrics before we left the Uris Theater.

Consequently, while watching the film I could
a. not get Angela Lansbury’s voice out of my head and
b. barely resist singing myself.

LOVETT: Here we are, now! Hot out of the oven!
TODD: What is that?
LOVETT: It’s priest. Have a little priest.
TODD: Is it really good?
LOVETT: Sir, it’s too good, at least! Then again, they don’t commit sins of the flesh, so it’s pretty fresh.
TODD: Awful lot of fat.
LOVETT: Only where it sat.
TODD: Haven’t you got poet, or something like that?
LOVETT: No, y’see, the trouble with poet is ‘ow do you know it’s deceased? Try the priest!

We saw the play again at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles the following year. I still liked it, but missed the big orchestra. I think what Michelle said about Goths being made is true of Drama Geeks as well…


The soundtrack has been playing like a broken record through every moment of my holidays. I have found myself humming the vicious, clever songs while wrapping things for my Mother’s stocking with Michelle’s fabulous kids Hattie, Imogen, and Gus (my form of child labor); or staying up late talking with my Grandpa like we always do (this time he told me morbidly funny stories about WWII and the Battle of the Bulge, “I guess it was survival instinct, we were always looking for a laugh…”); and watching another fine film, Heidi with the family ladies (my Grandma, teary-eyed as I left for the airport said, “Learn to yodel.”); and while lounging in my new silver-grey silk p.j.s that make me feel like Ginger Rogers.


It was playing even while my mom and I had an absolute lady-day that included massage, lunch by the sea, shopping, and dinner, not of priest pies, but rabbit and (my rather bloody) lamb….


On that trip in 1979 I promised myself I would live in New York and I have done for nearly eight years.
Now I am off–at least temporarily–to Europe and somehow the whole Los Angeles trip felt full-circle,
especially seeing this film, in my hometown, and with one of my oldest friends…

TODD: What is that?
LOVETT: It’s fop. Finest in the shop. And we have some shepherd’s pie peppered with actual shepherd on top!

Here is a little bit of the original performance of Sweeney Todd.
Happy New Year!

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