I wish-a-to know-a who has-a the nerve-a to say my elixir is piss. Who says this?
~ Adolfo Pirelli

Signor Adolfo Pirelli, also known as Daniel O'Higgins or Davey Collins is a fictional character from Stephen Sondheim's musical Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Character overview

Pirelli is first introduced as an Italian barber who is "all the rage" in Victorian London. He is very theatrical and dresses in extravagant clothing. Pirelli mercilessly beats his young apprentice, Tobias Ragg, for the slightest infraction, and often for no reason at all. His real name is actually Daniel O'Higgins, and he was Sweeney Todd's assistant as a boy.

Pirelli claims to have shaved the King of Naples and the Pope, arrogantly referring to himself as "the King of the Barbers and the Barber of Kings." As part of his act, he pretends to be a devout Christian, at one point praising God for bestowing the gift of talent upon him.

Fictional character history

The main character, Sweeney Todd, and his accomplice Mrs. Lovett are in a square where Pirelli's assistant, Tobias Ragg, is advertising a concoction of his master's entitled Pirelli's Miracle Elixir  which is purported to stimulate the growth of hair. Todd takes one sniff of the mixture and denounces the Elixir as "an arrant fraud" concocted of "piss and ink."

Enraged, Pirelli emerges from his tent to berate Todd, who challenges him to a competition: Whoever shaves a person the most quickly and dexterously will win five pounds. Beadle Bamford is the judge of the competition. Pirelli wastes time bragging about his vast talent and superiority over all other barbers, while Todd actually concentrates on doing the job and, after carefully preparing his razors and mixing the lather perfectly, shaves the customer in a matter of seconds, and promptly wins. In some stage productions, a second contest is held, that of tooth extraction. When Pirelli can't find anyone with a toothache, he hits Toby across the mouth and tries to pull out the thusly sore tooth. Todd, of course, manages to pull his man's tooth more quickly and painlessly than Pirelli. Pirelli begrudgingly pays him five pounds.

The following day, Pirelli and Toby arrive at Mrs. Lovett's Meat Pie Emporium to visit Todd, whose establishement is atop Mrs. Lovett's. While Mrs. Lovett gives Toby a pie downstairs in her parlour, Pirelli ascends the stairs to Todd's room to confront him. Pirelli reveals that his real name is Daniel O'Higgins and he is in fact Irish. He reveals that he knows Todd's true identity as Benjamin Barker, having served as his apprentice as a small boy, and threatens to expose Todd to the Beadle unless he, Todd, pays him half of his profits. Todd, in a rage, strangles him and throws his body in a trunk when Tobias enters the shop. While speaking to Tobias, Todd notices that Pirelli's hand is sticking out and feebly moving. After getting rid of the boy, Todd finishes Pirelli off by slashing his throat. Mrs. Lovett later takes his purse, where she finds three pounds, keeping the purse as her own. This scene was changed substantially for Tim Burton's 2007 film adaptation of the musical. Pirelli reveals himself to be an Englishman named Davy Connor rather than the Irish Daniel O'Higgins, and rather than strangling him, Todd bludgeons him into unconsciousness with an iron tea-pot before slitting his throat.


In the original Broadway production, he was played by Joaquin Romaguera. He was played by John Aron in the 1980 London production. In Tim Burton's 2007 film adaptation of the musical, he was portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen.


Adolfo is a fictional example of a snake oil salesman, a specific type of con artist (usually in the Wild West), who sold off various unknown fraudulant concoctions (usually made with piss and ink) as a bottled medicine despite the fact that the concoctions never worked in the way they were advertised as.