5 Broadway Villains That Deserve a Cruella-Style Prequel
Broadway audiences want to know how they got to be so bad.
I love Cruella. Disney's newest movie illuminates the shadowy backstory of the crazed fashionista from 101 Dalmations. By a mile, it is the best of the recent live-action ventures exploring the dark corners of the mouse's vault. Not only is it a showcase for top-notch acting and design, but it cleverly tells a story of generational anxiety from a young boomer's perspective (yes, Cruella is a boomer). Few Disney films have ever grappled with the cyclical nature of cruelty so effectively — all while sticking to the evil queen trope. I'm impressed.
It got me thinking about which stage villains might have similarly fascinating backstories. Here's my list of 5 Broadway baddies that have the potential for a Cruella-style prequel.
1. King George III from Hamilton
Audiences around the world still preemptively chuckle at the opening notes of "You'll Be Back," the Carnaby Street ditty sung by King George III in response to the independent aspirations of his American subjects. But what circumstances created this diabolical pop idol, seemingly so detached from the concerns of the people? Could the root be found in his father Frederick, an heir apparent to this British throne who never got the job? Or perhaps it has something to do with George's overbearing mother, Princess Augusta, who kept George isolated throughout much of his adolescence. And what do we make of his marriage to Charlotte von Mecklenburg-Strelitz, whom he met just hours before the nuptials? (Their relationship is explored somewhat in the hit Netflix series Bridgerton.) There's a lot of potential in the life of one of Britain's most storied monarchs.
2. Hades from Hadestown
We know the backstory of Hades is a good one, because it has been told and retold for thousands of years. How is it that the eldest son of Cronos and Rhea, after conspiring with his younger brothers to overthrow their tyrannical father, was relegated to the least glamorous part of the family business — the underworld? In the antique industrial world of Hadestown, one imagines it involves not just the drawing of lots (as is traditionally suggested), but lots of corporate espionage and boardroom intrigue. These are the fires that forge a truly bad guy, and there is no one more equipped to play him than original Hades Patrick Page, who is something of an expert on the subject of stage villains. You can currently see his streaming one-man show with Shakespeare Theatre Company, All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain.
3. The Duke of Monroth from Moulin Rouge!
The grabby aristocrat who wants Satine all for himself, even though she is obviously in love with Christian, is a bad dude. However, I found myself secretly agreeing with him when he breezily dismissed the bohemians and their "ridiculous dogma." Of course, Christian & Co.'s business plan is to take one investor's money and then ask him to bugger off. Well, why don't they find an alternate source of funding? Because they're too lazy and uncreative, that's why. Admittedly, much of my sympathy stems from Tam Mutu's unexpectedly charming performance. But the best villains are seductive, winning you over to their perspective through sheer magnetism (I always know it's going to be a good King Lear when I'm rooting for Edmund by the end of the bastard speech). I would love to see an expanded backstory for the wicked Duke, with Mutu reprising his role.
4. Bob Ewell from To Kill a Mockingbird
At first glance, the villain from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, a racist drunk who abuses his daughter and violently harasses the Finch children, has few redeeming qualities. That is unlikely to change in any spinoff, but a villain's prequel might give audiences a better sense of the generational poverty and oppressive caste system that turned Bob Ewell into a monster. This is the kind of story that lends itself to sharp expressionist style: I'm imagining a rural southern version of Sophie Treadwell's Machinal or Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape. As Americans wake up to the strictures of class in our society, this type of theater is primed for a comeback.
5. Martin Bashir from Diana: The Musical
OK, so I haven't actually seen Diana the Musical yet and I'm not sure Martin Bashir even appears as a character, but I am fascinated by the BBC journalist who conducted a bombshell 1995 interview with Princess Diana in which she discussed the problems in her marriage with Prince Charles. It was recently revealed that Bashir employed deceitful tactics to score the sit-down, including the fabrication of bank statements. What exactly would drive a person to such extremes just to obtain an exclusive interview? The cutthroat world of professional media, of course. There's a fascinating story of elite gatekeeping and upstart gatecrashing lurking behind the BBC's professed shame around this tale that cries out for the stage. It would likely make an excellent companion piece with Ink.