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Should Your Villain Sing?

My current project is a science fiction musical with a typical sci-fi villain. You know the type - he makes few appearances, might have a mustache he twirls when he is scheming. Maybe a cat in his lap.

Either way. He's a villain and in the traditional sense of the word.

My struggle is Should He Sing...

If he sings, I'm afraid he will come across as hokey instead of an ominous force that is trying to kill my main character. No matter how many minor chords his song may be composed upon.

I would classify my project as a musical drama more than musical comedy. But I'm writing in the style of a B-Rate Science Fiction Film of the 1960's.

Villains in those stories were typically aliens or monsters that merely exist to get in the way of protagonist goals. In a musical however, the villain is usually human.

It's a conundrum, but it's my current fascination.

Let's look at some examples:

Miss Hannigan from ANNIE. In her song "Little Girls" she says some pretty nasty things and wonders if she'll get "an acquittal". Though her song is funny to us. I personally feel that she is harmless. Sure... she talks a good game, but when the carpet hits the tacks, she is genuinely good.

My villain is not.

General Butt Fucking Naked from BOOK OF MORMON does not sing. Instead, he shoots a person dead in his first appearance. But still, with a name like that, I personally cannot take him seriously.

There are two examples of the direction I can go with my villain. But I still am not sure what direction to take.

To get the style of villain I am interested in, I think I have to review movies.

Let's look at villains in the movies:

They are not always human.

They are the adversarial force against the protagonist.

They usually are not revealed until their "gatekeeper" has been removed first.

An example would be the movie Outbreak with Dustin Hoffman as Colonel Daniels. His first adversarial force is General Ford who covered up a virus some twenty years prior. Once their storyline resolves which happens in the 2nd act of the story, his true villain is revealed near the beginning of act 3 as Officer McClintock who threatens to wipe out the entire town to hide the virus and keep it as a bioweapon.

McClintock is the style of villain I am writing.

A side note, the writer introduced us to McClintock early on and throughout the first and second act of the story so that when he is revealed as a villain, it isn't unexpected and come out of nowhere.

My problem is my project is not a movie - it's a musical. So how do you transfer that character style into a musical without becoming too dark or serious and yet still keep the "power" of their position?

Notable villains that have songs in their shows:

Jud (Oklahoma) - Lonely Room

Miss Hannigan (Annie) - Little Girls

King (Hamilton) - You'll Be Back

Orin Scrivello (Little Shop of Horrors) - Be A Dentist

Ursula (The Little Mermaid) - Poor Unfortunate Souls

Judge Turpin (Sweeney Todd) - Johanna

Hearst (Newsies) - The Bottom Line

Turkey (ThanksKilling The Musical) - Gobble Gobble Mother Fucker

The Phantom (Phantom of the Opera) - Music of the Night

Wicked Witch (The Wiz) - Don't Bring Me No Bad News

You can see the wide depth between these various villains - from poetic ballads, light-hearted comedy, power-hungry pop and uplifting gospel we have memorable villains but none of them carry the weight that I desire for my villain. The Phantom and Hearst come close, but even those don't fit the bill one-hundred percent.

Notable villains without solo songs:

General Butt-Fucking Naked (Book of Mormon)

Jack (Reefer Madness)

Benny (Rent)

Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz)

I think a perfect example of my villain as used in a musical is the Wicked Witch of the West from THE WIZARD OF OZ. She only appears for approximately 10 minutes in the entire RSC Version of the musical yet she is an ominous force that hangs over the entire story. For every move our protagonist takes, we wonder how the witch will intervene.

She does not have a solo song where we learn why she is wicked, nor why she is feared by everyone in the land. What we learn upon Dorothy's landing in Oz is that she has been given the Ruby Slippers that belonged to the Wicked Witch's sister and she wants them back. Apparently she is willing to kill Dorothy to get them.

The structure also follows a rule that I researched in many stories and that is the "first" villain must be removed before we get to the "real" villain. In this case, she must first encounter Oz in order to be pushed to the Wicked Witch.

That might be a loosely based assumption, but it works for my project.

Ultimately of course, the answer depends on the direction your project will take. But in this instance, I believe my villain will fair better if he does not sing.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this!

Alan Saunders,

Friends told me I was late to the game for writing musicals, even though I've been writing them almost my entire life. so this blog is my journey into writing professionally for the stage.

Check out for how-to articles and resources for writing your own musical for the stage!

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