Antonio Banderas (left) as Guido Contini in Nine
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Antonio Banderas (left) as Guido Contini in Nine
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Remember a few weeks ago when I made a list of musical theater's 20 Most Annoying Characters? After I named everyone from that dishrag Chairy Barnum to that all-business Javert, some of you kindly sent me your own thoughts on the subject. Steve Leifer nominated Marie, Tony's sister in The Most Happy Fella, who says (or, rather, sings) that old people should act their age and not try to keep up with the youn 'uns. Leifer's response: "Says who, sister? Go see Barbara Cook or Elaine Stritch!" Michael Dale's choice was Guido Contini of Nine: "He's rich, famous, considered one of the best in his field, has a beautiful and intelligent wife, a sexy mistress -- and he's all stressed out about turning 40! Guido, just make your movie!"

Jere Williams wrote, "Many of the characters you named have good, valid reasons for behaving as they do, at least in their own minds. But the biggest asshole in all of musical theater is Jean-Michel of La Cage aux Folles. He's incredibly rude and disrespectful of his parents simply because he doesn't want to be embarrassed in front of his girlfriend's parents. Why do Georges and Albin put up with this? How Jean-Michel could have turned out so ill-mannered and rude is beyond me."

Jim Shults remarked, "You've only just scratched the surface! How about the Beadle in Sweeney Todd? He walks into someone's house and starts playing folk songs on the piano. And Sipos in She Loves Me; if you're going to snitch on somebody, be specific! And Gertie, the girl who laughs in Oklahoma! How would you like to live next door to her?" Chris Stonnell also mentioned Gertie, as well as "Mr. Snow and Carrie Pipperidge from Carousel, respectively for his pompousness and her naive goofiness. And don't get me started on all their children. Whiny, conniving, conceited, superficial teens always rate high on my annoyance scale, so Amber from Hairspray must be listed, too. And how about Alice Beane from Titanic? Her nagging her husband and gushing over the upper class patrons made me gag. Oh, and Evelyn Nesbit and the Little Boy from Ragtime, and Prez from The Pajama Game, with his womanizing and butchering of the English language. And Norma Cassidy from Victor/Victoria and Lina Lamont from Singin' in the Rain, each for her voice and lack of intelligence."

J. Lagow cited Jean-Michel and Alice Beane, too, but listed Dwight Babcock, Sally Cato, and all the Upsons (Mame) before them and Madame Dilly (On the Town), Precious McGuire (Steel Pier), Dr. Craven (The Secret Garden), and Gloria Thorpe (Damn Yankees) after them. Doug Braverman wrote, "I know that we're supposed to crumble emotionally at the plight of the sickly, unloved spinster Fosca in Passion, but I found her tedious and her obsession with Giorgio more irritating than pitiable. Fosca, though, brings up an interesting question: Does the scale for measuring a character's annoyance take into account the performer? For example, you mentioned that Ruth Williamson made Mrs. Shinn in The Music Man especially hard-to-take, but in the film, Hermione Gingold's portrayal of the small-town snob is delightful. On the other hand, Donna Murphy's humorless, lugubrious Fosca made me want to run from the theater, but on a televised Passion, Patti LuPone found a wounded dignity and managed to underplay the sickening self-pity."

Braverman also griped about Pauline the Maid in No, No, Nanette ("She was supposed to deliver belly laugh after belly laugh by ceaselessly wrestling with the family's uncooperative vacuum cleaner. Come on! How hard is it to use a vacuum? The character itself is a vacuum -- and that really sucks.") Nor did he have kind words for Mordred in Camelot: "He doesn't just bring down the characters' lives, but brings down the show, too."

By the way, Braverman took issue with two of my choices. "Why Max Mencken in It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman when you could have chosen Jim, the mad scientist's lab assistant? Talk about thankless roles! Lois was obsessively in love with Superman, but once she decided that he was 'the unattainable man,' she agreed to date Jim. Because the authors wanted to emphasize how dull any man was compared to Superman, they deliberately made him a crashing bore -- a cold, emotionless scientist who sees no point to life. Even they found him so boring that they suddenly had him disappear from the show. No one even seems to remember he was in it. And while you cited Captain Hook in Peter Pan, I say that the truly annoying character is Captain Hook's flipside: Mr. Darling, the children's father, a bossy, petty, anal-retentive tyrant. I can easily understand why the kids, wanting to escape him, are willing to fly away with a complete stranger."

"Finally," Braverman wrote, "I'll mention one more character who is usually fascinating rather than irritating but can be hideous if played wrong: Rose in Gypsy. Of course, when you have Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, or Bernadette Peters, Rose becomes an intriguingly complex and entertaining anti-heroine. But I saw a touring company with an unknown who certainly captured Rose's abrasiveness and tendency to be a control-freak but seemed completely unaware of the character's warmth and humor. Audience members were walking out during the first act, and I cringed every time Rose took the stage. When you stop to think of it, though, Rose is a tremendously irritating person; it's usually the performer's star power that keeps her bearable. Before I close, may I recommend that, as a companion piece, you do a column on real people in the theater who are irritating backstage? I'm sure you'd get plenty of names!"

Let's give the final word to Ilya Khodosh, who commented on my having listed Gaston from Beauty and the Beast and my statement that lyricist Howard Ashman erred when he had the guy sing the all-too-polite words "Please let me through" rather than the nastier "Hey, let me through!" Wrote Khodosh: "In my eyes, that's the line that redeems the character. He's a self-centered ass, but he's vulnerable and insecure just like everyone else, so his arrogance is a defense mechanism. After all, doesn't he go after the smart girl instead of any of the other ones falling at his feet? When Belle rejects him, he's upset, which shows he has low self-esteem. If she can love him, only then can he love himself."

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[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@theatermania.com]