It’s (unwritten) law that you can’t have a coin with one side, Yin without Yang, and a good story without two opposing sides that drive it forward. Broadway, and theater in general, are no exception with their masterful villains!
Everyone knows the protagonists – the white knights, the heroes of the day. People sympathize with them throughout all their trials and root and cheer for them whenever their deeds culminate in saving the day, taking what’s rightfully theirs and living happily ever after. What’s not to love?
On the flip side, however, we’re used to having villains with no redeeming qualities, who are hellbent on dragging our favorite hero down.
That, thankfully, isn’t always the case! Well-written stories have relatable, multifaceted villains, who – believe it or not – aren’t “evil” for evil’s sake, but instead mere victims of circumstance or their environment. It’s often the case that their motives are understandable, but their actions are often immoral or their efforts simply misguided.
Today we’re looking at some of the greatest villains to ever set foot on Broadway.
The narrator of perhaps the most popular Broadway spectacle ever, Aaron Burr is a real historical figure – Thomas Jefferson’s vice president, and the fundamental differences between him and the protagonist, Alexander Hamilton, are what drive the story forward.
Despite their mutual admiration, Burr is moved by envy – of Hamilton’s quick rise to Washington’s right-hand man. The story culminates in a duel, which is won by Burr, who later deeply regrets his actions.
Arguably an anti-hero by definition, the Phantom is hated and mocked for his physical deformities, and that fuels his hatred for everything humanly. He retreats to a cave beneath the Parisian opera.
Seemingly misunderstood up to this point, his descent into villainy begins when he finds Christine and hopelessly falls for her. Lying, cheating, and even killing aren’t beneath him in his striving, his remorseless pursuit. Ironically, he’s ultimately defeated by kindness – by his understanding that his life simply isn’t meant for Christine.
Rich, sassy, and arrogant, Regina George is the high-school horror of every teenage girl. The head of her “gang”, The Plastics, she manages to convert an innocent girl only to be overthrown and humiliated. In her strike back, she releases a book comprised of what’s practically bordering on blackmail – pictures, and gossip related to her schoolmates, which promptly sends everyone into a frenzy. Despite all of that, “Mean Girls” ends with hugs and songs, being the light-hearted musical that it is.
Scar’s a definitive villain – he strives to take power from the legitimate ruler (a common Disney villain trait), killing Mufasa and exiling Simba. Cunning, calculating, and too tyrannical for his own sake, he’s brought to justice in the end.
Jafar uses the protagonist, Aladdin, to retrieve an artifact – a magical lamp – which Aladdin promptly uses for his own purposes. When Jafar discovers his secret, he steals the lamp and uses his wishes to become powerful – to no avail. Aladdin defeats him, saves Jasmine and the city of his wrath, and sets the Genie free, proving his worth and winning the princess’s hand.