This past weekend, I had the opportunity to play piano for the annual student-run musical revue at my alma mater. Each year a number of songs are chosen from a variety of musicals, generally with some sort of overarching theme. This year, the theme was “Villains”. While primarily just a showcase of song and dance numbers, there was some element of discussion of the motivations of the characters, and what led them to their villainous ways. The question of why people do bad things felt especially pressing in light of the stabbing attacks at Franklin Regional High School, located a mere 40-some minutes away from my alma mater. As I prepared for rehearsal the night after the attacks, just two nights before opening night, I thought to myself: our show has either become very timely, or completely disrespectful.
It all hinges on just how the villain is portrayed in the musical. Is the villain demonized, humanized, or glorified? Too often, though not always, it is that last option. Sure, lots of other media forms can glorify the villain, but I think musical theatre can more easily take it to another level. Many novels, TV shows, or movies can make being a villain seem understandable or sympathetic or intriguing; others can go a step further and make being evil seem cool, glamorous, and sexy. But few things have the power of musical theatre to make being bad seem downright fun. Take a bad guy that would be glamorous in another context, then add impressive choreography and a catchy song? You’ve just made a rock star. I’m going to look at just a few examples from some musical theatre baddies after the jump.