Victorian Popular Fictions 4.2 9 Mack

Confronting the ‘Real’ Sweeney Todd:

a Personal Journey of Discovery

Robert L. Mack


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Robert L. Mack’s coda, a memoir in miniature, demonstrates why penny fiction should matter to global popular audiences today. Mack recovers an important moment in the history of the metafictional transmedia traditions that penny fiction generated: the 1979 appearance of Stephen Sondheim and   Hugh Wheeler’s revolutionary Broadway operetta Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a Musical Thriller. With Sweeney Todd’s premiere, the murderous barber got his chance to go global and succeeded terrifically. Drawing upon journalism, archival evidence, and personal experience, Mack reconstructs that moment and considers how myths about Sweeney Todd’s origins have impacted our understanding of the historical past. Namely, since 1979, the greater number of spectators on both sides of the Atlantic appeared to remain convinced that the barber’s murderous history was nothing less than a matter of verified and verifiable historical record. Mack explains how that misapprehension arose and reflects upon his quest for the sources of the legend.


Sweeney Todd; Stephen Sondheim; Broadway; The String of Pearls; Fleet Street; Adaptation; Peter Haining; Folklore; Theatre


Date of Acceptance: 31 December 2022

Date of Publication: 13 January 2023

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:

Mack, Robert L. 2022. “Confronting the ‘Real’ Sweeney Todd: a Personal Journey of Discovery.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 4.2: 136-145. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) DOI: 10.46911/UKUD3206

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.