Blackstone Audio, 2007, Radio Drama Revival, 11 November - 12 December 2011
Yuri Rasovsky (1944-2012) was a celebrated radio drama producer and writer who founded and operated the National Radio Theater of Chicago from 1973 to 1986, and established the Hollywood Theater of the Air from 1993 onwards. If Norman Corwin was radio drama's pioneer, Rasovsky was the modern master: many of his 150 productions are now available either as commercial recordings or internet downloads. Among his most notable efforts were The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1998), The Maltese Falcon with Michael Madsen (2008), Saint Joan with Amy Irving (2010), and The Mark of Zorro, a Grammy-nominated adaptation starring Val Kilmer (2011).
Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls, the winner of three Audie Awards in 2008 (Best Audio Drama, Best Audiobook Original and Distinguished Achievement in Production), was a Hollywood Theater of the Air production starring the British husband-and-wife duo Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayres. Jarvis narrated the tale with deadpan charm, while Ayres played the dual roles of Mrs. Lovett and Joanna. This was a clever piece of doubling, suggesting that both characters were cut from the same cloth, both emotionally and socially. The only difference between the two of them was that Mrs. Lovett's head had been turned by the prospect of untold wealth and riches, while Joanna remained virtuous throughout, in spite of the indignities piled upon her.
Rasovky's version of the tale - a familiar one these days as a result of the Sondheim musical and the Burton film - was firmly rooted in the London of the mid-nineteenth century, a world of horses and carts, hawkers and assorted footpads. The dialogue was earthily colloquial, punctuated with frequent mild imprecations ("bloomin'" and "bloody" being the most popular). Each sequence was linked with period music from Tony Barrand and John Roberts.
However Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls was not just a period melodrama: Rasovsky was preoccupied with the idea of class-consciousness. Although fiercely antagonistic towards each other, Sweeney Todd (W. Morgan Sheppard) and Mrs. Lovett forged a business marriage of convenience: by killing their victims and putting their flesh into hot pies, the two of them believed that they would advance rapidly up the social scale. Mrs. Lovett relished the prospect of wearing fine clothes and speaking with a "refeened" accent (as she put it). As with many villains, however, the two overreached themselves: Todd poisoned Mrs. Lovett and ended up being consigned to the gallows.
While the production adopted a tongue-in-cheek approach to the material, Ranovsky nonetheless emphasized the importance of community, of people collaborating with one another to defeat the Demon Barber. In a dog-eat-dog world, where the citizens of London were quite literally butchered to death, this was the only way in which individuals could survive.
Find the podcasts for this production on Radio Drama Revival