New collection at KU hosts exclusive Stephen Sondheim memorabilia

KU houses the legacy of musical theatre legend Stephen Sondheim, including some interesting items from musicals such as Sweeney Todd. 

Caroline Bursell
 
The horrific work of cannibalistic London barber Sweeney Todd has come to leave bloodstains in Kingston University’s archives.
 
KU’s new theatre memorabilia collection features more than 30 boxes and albums of material from 28 shows including vintage programmes, reviews, flyers and posters from West End and Broadway hits including Sweeney Todd, Company, West Side Story and Follies.
 
Blood splatters intact
 
The collection chronicles the career of American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, whose contribution to musical theatre has won him eight Tony Awards, eight Grammy Awards and an Academy Award.
 
“This work will ensure that the material will be available to academics, theatre practitioners and the public for study and research, and for just plain curiosity, for years to come,” said Mr Sondheim of the peculiar items in the collection.
 
One such item among the paraphernalia is an original Sweeney Todd promotional apron with fake blood splatters intact from its 1979 Broadway production, along with artwork celebrating the musical thriller about a murderous barber.
 
Johnny Depp’s gruesome character
 
The oldest piece in the collection is an 1842 illustrated pamphlet of the Sweeney Todd and the legend of the character’s title, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a famously gruesome story made into the 2007 hit film starring Johnny Depp.
 
Mr Sondheim was quoted in the New York Times as saying at the 1979 opening of the musical, for which he composed the score: “I guess it is daring, but in that sense everything I’ve done has been daring.” 
 
Originally put together by Sondheim aficionado Peter Wood, the collection was sold to The Stephen Sondheim Society in 2008 before coming to Kingston University this year.
 
Labour of love”
 
KU’s reputation for hosting quality theatre work made it the top choice for housing Mr Sondheim’s collection.
 
KU archivist, Katie Giles, said: “The project was obviously a labour of love. The Society were keen to find a way to bring the material to a wider audience and give students and researchers of theatre history the chance to explore it.” 
 
A revival of Mr Sondheim’s 1981 musical Merrily We Roll Along will run for 12 weeks at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre from April 23, another success for the seasoned composer.
 
The University’s Stephen Sondheim collection can be viewed at Penrhyn Road’s Archives and Special Collections – contact Katie Giles for times: K.Giles@kingston.ac.uk

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