Book magazine recently published its list of the 100 most interesting fictional characters. Ranked first was Jay Gatsby of The Great Gatsby. But Atticus Finch was #7, Scout Finch #24, and Boo Radley was #81, making To Kill a Mockingbird the only book to place three characters on the list.
This, of course, started me to wondering who'd be the 100 Most Interesting Fictional Characters in Musical Theater. I have to admit that my first thoughts were inaccurate: John Adams and Mama Rose. While Peter Stone and Arthur Laurents respectively must have added some fictional elements to these characters, they are based on real people, so they aren't eligible. Ditto Will Rogers, Fiorello LaGuardia, Coco Chanel, Molly Brown, and Mr. and Mrs. Leo Frank. Remember, too, that Cyrano de Bergerac was a real person. So was Georges Seurat, though the George who invents the Chromolume in Act II of Sunday in the Park.. could be considered.
Soon, I realized that I couldn't really count the Phantom of the Opera, Jean Valjean, Javert, Tevye, Mame, or anyone else who made his or her debut in something other than a musical; we should't appropriate those characters that didn't start their lives on our stages. Rose Vilbert was already in the novel Aspects of Love, so we can't include the second-hand Rose we got in the musical. No Dolly Levi or Sweeney Todd (plays), Norma Desmond or Max Bialysock (films), Charlie Brown or Annie Warbucks (comic strips), Rapunzel or Belle (fairy tales). No Doolittle, either, be it Eliza or Alfred P. Lois Lane from It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman isn't eligible, though Lois Lane from Kiss Me, Kate is.
On the other hand, I'd be inclined to include characters who came from other properties if their names were changed. So welcome Billy Bigelow, Julie Jordan, Carrie Pipperidge Snow, Charity Hope Valentine, The Engineer, Roger Davis, Mark Cohen, Angel Schunard, Joanne and Maureen, Mimi Marquez -- for they're really new characters, don't you think? Don't forget, too, that She Loves Me turned Klara Novak and Alfred Kralik into Amalia Balash and Georg Nowack. And, because Sally Bowles is said to be a pseudonym, she can be counted as well.
Even allowing for these, could there possibly be 100? Most would have to come from original musicals and that has not been the hallmark of musical theater. The "characters" in The Cradle Will Rock and Celebration are symbols and the ones in Love Life and Hallelujah, Baby! are archetypes. But then I remembered Zach, Cassie, Sheila, Val, Diana, etc., and those Chorus Line-ers helped jump-start the list. So did the Sondheim musicals, one of which contributed The Shogun's Mother. Maybe you wouldn't include Bobby from Company but there is a strong case to be made for Joanne and Amy (but not Paul). Phyllis Rogers Stone and Sally Durant Plummer from Follies might be added, though perhaps Ben Stone and Buddy Plummer might not. And I've always been pretty fascinated by Carlotta Campion, Stella Deems, and Hattie Walker from that same show.
I soon realized that most of the interesting fictional characters in musicals are women. Liza Elliott in Lady in the Dark. Alice Van Guilder in Drat! the Cat! Daisy Gamble in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Rebecca in Rags. La Mome Pistache in Can-Can. The Girl in the Yellow Dress in Contact. Anna Antonelli and her daughter Angel in The Rink. Claire de Loon and Lucy Schmeeler in On the Town. Mary Sunshine, be she Little or man-sized. (The latter counts because she wasn't in the Chicago play or the Roxie Hart movie. Using the same yardstick, Jeanette in The Full Monty is eligible, too. So is Fredrika from A Little Night Music for, in Smiles of a Summer Night, Desirée has a toddler son.)
Look how many female characters are more interesting than their male counterparts: Petunia Jackson in Cabin in the Sky and Carmen Jones in her musical are more interesting than their respective Joes. Sonia Walsk is more interesting than Vernon Gersch. Reno Sweeney commands more attention than Billy Crocker, and Ella Peterson way more than Jeff Moss -- though Bells are Ringing's Sandor is more interesting than Sue, as is evidenced by her being called "the other one."
Oh, there are some memorable men. Pierre Birabeau, also known as "The Red Shadow," in The Desert Song. Og in Finian's Rainbow. El Gallo in The Fantasticks. Mickey Johnstone in Blood Brothers. Jeff Douglas in Brigadoon. Stone, though not Stine, in City of Angels. John P. Wintergreen and Alexander Throttlebottom in Of Thee I Sing and Let 'Em Eat Cake. Frederick Trumper and Anatoly Sergeivsky in Chess. Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Show is noteworthy, too, though maybe it's his feminine side that makes him so memorable. That's certainly true of Duane in Applause, especially as he was played by Lee Roy Reams in the original production -- perhaps the first homosexual in a musical to be written and played as a person and not a stereotype.
Some characters are interesting at least partly because of the people who played them: Merman's Kate Fothergill, Panama Hattie, Mrs. Sally Adams, and even Liz Livingstone. Mary Martin's Dolly Winslow in Leave It to Me. Elaine Stritch's Maggie Harris in Goldilocks and Mimi Paragon in Sail Away. Gwen Verdon made Effie exciting in Redhead, while Carol Burnett made us take notice of Winifred in Once Upon a Mattress and Hope Springfield -- make that Lila Tremaine -- in Fade Out/Fade In, too. Then there's Lucille Ball's Wildcat Jackson in Wildcat, Diahann Carroll's Barbara Woodruff in No Strings, Lena Horne's Savannah in Jamaica. They all add up.
Granted, there are some shows that have equally interesting male and female characters: Effie White, Deena Jones, Curtis Taylor, and James Thunder Early in Dreamgirls; Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi in Kiss Me, Kate; Littlechap and Evie in Stop the World. Hapgood is every bit as watchable as Cora and Fay in Anyone Can Whistle. On the other hand, while Rose Alvarez is more interesting than Albert Peterson, Mr. McAfee and Mae Peterson are pretty engaging. But Bill Snibson is as charming as Sally Smith and Sir John Tremayne as engaging as The Duchess, because all try to do the right thing in Me and My Girl. And I have to say that, even though Harold Hill and Marian Paroo both make The Music Man interesting, I have no doubt as to whom I judge to be the more compelling of the two.
Others that might be included: Franklin Shepard, Charley Kringas, Betty Rizzo, Lucille Early, Junior Dolan, Cocky and Sir, the Courier in 1776, Janice Dayton in Silk Stockings. Hey, before all is said and done, we just might get a full 100 Most Interesting Fictional Characters in Musical Theater after all.
[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org]
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