Boo Hiss! Villain Songs
Not all Broadway musicals have an identifiable villain, i.e. someone specifically designed to undo or thwart the plans of the protagonists. Many just rely on complications between the leads (or the second leads), or plot twists, to generate problems that must be overcome by the end of the show. (Also, sometimes the protagonist is the villain!) And other musicals, such as Finian's Rainbow, have villains who don't get a chance to sing about their evil. Still, plenty of baddies have aired their grievances in song over the years. Some are "genuine" villains in that their intentions are definably wicked; others are merely short-sighted people who think they're doing good but aren't. Most villain songs are meant to be funny, but a few take a decidedly serious turn.
"Bad Companions" from Goldilocks
For those of you who haven't heard of Goldilocks (and you're legion), this is one of those flop musicals with a beloved score. It starred Elaine Stritch and Don Ameche, and was written by Walter Kerr (the theatre critic) and Jean Kerr (the humorist--they were married), with music by Leroy Anderson. It concerned love and hijinks at a silent movie studio in the early part of the 20th century.
Ameche played Max, a ballsy film producer/director. Max and his cohorts have been making an unauthorized film and are about to skip town with scenery they don't own. When they find they can stay, Max's friends (played by Nathaniel Frey, Margaret Hamilton, Richard Armbruster, and Gene Varrone) "remind themselves how important they are to their boss" in "Bad Companions." In this hilarious song, they liken themselves to the henchmen of various evildoers throughout history and proudly sing of leading people astray. "When you've insured your lady love, you need a helping hand to shove."
"Bring Me My Bride" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Although there are non-Villain plot complications galore in this classic, the arrival of Miles Gloriosus promises more than just a scolding if he doesn't get what he's come for! In this song, he and his men march in while he sings of his greatness. Of course, as he's a captain in the army, his greatness consists largely of nasty deeds perpetuated on helpless populations. He wants his bride quickly, because "there's no time to lose; there are towns to plunder, temples to burn, and women to abuse!"
"Cool Cool Considerate Men" from 1776
1776 is one of the few musicals with more than one villain song. "Cool Cool Considerate Men" (cut from the movie version) is sung by the conservatives in Congress who have no intention of defying England or losing their fortunes; they plan to vote against declaring "independency." Interesting how conservatives haven't changed much over the last 200 or so years, isn't it? The song mixes both religious and American patriotic musical passages (appropriate, eh?). "We have land, cash in hand, self-command, future planned.... We'll dance together to the same minuet: To the right... ever to the right... never to the left... forever to the right!" See also "Molasses to Rum."
"Cousin Kevin" from Tommy
With a deaf, dumb, and blind protagonist standing there so temptingly, villains have an easier time of it than usual in this musical. Cousin Kevin, classic school bully, gets many of his school-age jollies from abusing the helpless Tommy, who's so out of it that he can't even make a show of protest. "Maybe a cigarette burn on your arm/would change your expression to one of alarm...." See also "Fiddle About."
"Dentist" from Little Shop of Horrors
LSH is that extremely rare musical with three villain songs, though one only appears in the movie version (see "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" below). Anyway, Orin the dentist is one of the great baddie roles in the musical theatre and has earned the enmity of dentists everywhere for revealing their inner passions--which are decidedly sadistic. "I am your dentist, and I enjoy the career that I've picked/I am your dentist, and I get off on the pain I inflict!" Not that we didn't already know this about dentists, but LSH was the first musical to dare to articulate this profound truth. See also "Feed Me (Git It)."
"Easy Street" from Annie
This jazzy paean to the joys of the wealthy life is sung by Miss Hannigan and her con-artist brother and his wife, who are planning to pretend to be Annie's parents in order to get the $50,000 promised to the real parents by Daddy Warbucks. "It ain't fair how we scrounge for three or four bucks while she gets Warbucks (the little brat)!" See also "Little Girls."
"Feed Me (Git It)" from Little Shop of Horrors
If your plant starts talking, let's hope its first words aren't "Feed me!" This is what Audrey II (Tooey) wants of its hapless owner Seymour, who has been giving it drops of blood from his own fingers. Unfortunately, now it wants something a bit more substantial.... Not that it isn't prepared to reward Seymour for showing a little initiative: "Would you like a Cadillac car or a guest shot on Jack Paar? How about a date with Hedy Lamarr? You're gonna git it!" But Seymour waxes reluctant, so Tooey puts on the pressure: "If you want to be profound, if you really gotta justify/take a breath and look around--a lot of folks deserve to die!" Conveniently, the sadistic dentist slaps the human Audrey around. "Stop and think it over pal--the guy sure looks like plant food to me!"
"Fiddle About" from Tommy
First "Cousin Kevin" had his way with Tommy, and now Uncle Ernie gets his licks in, so to speak. "Down with the bedclothes/up with the nightshirt!.... You won't shout as I fiddle about!" A bad song even by rock standards, this one made a terrible Broadway song. If the point was to show how helpless Tommy was while he was disabled, "Cousin Kevin" made it earlier with a (slightly) superior tune and lyrics. This one is entirely gratuitous.
"Fie on Goodness" from Camelot
Though the knights in Camelot are not truly villains, boredom (and Mordred) has driven them to this frenzied song denouncing all that they stand for. "I want to spend a tortured evening, staring at the floor/Guilty and alive once more!" One of the few really lively songs in Camelot, this one was unfortunately cut for the road. See also "The Seven Deadly Virtues."
"Hello, Little Girl" from Into the Woods
Sung by Red Ridinghood's Wolf, this is a hilarous mix of honeyed words and slavering hunger as the Wolf persuades the little girl to leave the path and pick flowers, giving him time to race down to Grannie's hut, gobble her up, and lie in wait for his next mouthful. "Think of that scrumptions carnality twice in one day.... There's no possible way/to describe what you feel/when you're talking to your meal!" See also "Last Midnight."
"Johanna" as sung by Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd
One of Sondheim's sickest songs, and one that was cut from the musical eventually, "Johanna" is the culmination of everything we've heard about Judge Turpin up to this point. We knew he was a lecherous and dishonest bastard who transported Benjamin Barker to get at his wife Lucy and who raped Lucy in public so that she took poison; now he's lusting after their daughter Johanna, who is his ward. Just barely honorable enough not to rape her, the judge determines to marry her and slake his lust on her legally. During this song, the judge alternates between peering through a keyhole to watch Johanna, and flagellating himself and calling upon God to drive out his thoughts of lust. "You mock me, Johanna/You tempt with your innocence/You tempt me with those quivering/No! God! Deliver me! It will--stop--now! It will--stop--right--now. Right--now. Right--now...." But of course it doesn't stop; he eventually has an orgasm, and that's when he decides to marry her. It's a powerful and disturbing song that says a great deal about human nature, but it was probably too strong for audiences back them. Now? I would hope we're mature enough to deal with it.
"Last Midnight" from Into the Woods
The Witch in Into the Woods is evil, yes, but not hopelessly so; more important, she's right about things that go on during the show, but the nice (as opposed to good) characters dismiss her because she's a witch--to their peril, it turns out. This, her final song, is her "Wallow in it, I'm getting the hell out of here" statement to the nice characters. They've been trying to pin the blame on someone for the chaos and death in the second act, pointing out each others' transgressions (they acted a lot more dishonorably than the Witch did throughout the show). Disgusted with them, the Witch says "Told a little lie, stole a little gold, broke a little vow, did you?.... You're so nice--you're not good, you're not bad, you're just nice. I'm not good, I'm not nice, I'm just right; I'm the Witch; you're the world.... I'm leaving you my last curse: I'm leaving you alone...." See also "Hello, Little Girl."
"Little Girls" from Annie
Probably the queen of Villain songs, "Little Girls" is Miss Hannigan's justification for treating the orphans in her care so shabbily: she can't stand little girls. This song is deliberately over-the-top and one of the truly enjoyable moments in this legendarily sappy (if undeniably catchy) child-oriented musical. "I'd like a man to nibble on my ear. But I'll admit no man has bit, so how come I'm mother of the year?.... If I wring little necks, surely I will get an acquittal!.... Send the flood, send the flu, anything you can do to little girls!" See also "Easy Street."
"Me and My Town" from Anyone Can Whistle
The town in question is so poor that it needs a miracle to revive it. Cora Hoover Hooper, the Mayoress and the most disliked person in town, opens the show with this song (accompanied by her sycophantic Boys), which both reveals the town's plight and says a few things about her: "All of the peasants throw rocks in my presence.... (Hi there Cora, what's new?)/The bank went broke and I'm feeling blue!/(And who took over the bankruptcy?)/Me, boys, me.... What a terrible depression, and I'm so depressed, I can hardly talk on the phone.... (A friendship is lovely, and a courtship divine, but give her a township)/Township! Every time!"
"Molasses to Rum" from 1776
For sheer evil in lyric, music, and performance, this song has no equals. It's sung by Edward Rutledge, of South Carolina, in response to Jefferson's attempt to abolish slavery via his newly written Constitution, and to the Northerners' outspoken distaste for slavery. But involvement in slavery, as Rutledge points out, was hardly limited to the southern states. "Who sails the ships out of Boston, laden with bibles and rum? Who drinks a toast to the Ivory Coast? Hail Africa, the slavers have come! New England, with bibles and rum!.... 'Tisn't morals, 'tis money, that saves.... 'Tis Boston can boast to the West Indies coast, 'Jamaica, We brung what ye crave'...." See also "Cool Cool Considerate Men"
"A Powerful Thing" from Steel Pier
This musical may have flopped on Broadway, but the score is very much worth listening to, like most Kander and Ebb scores. The basic premise is that during the Depression, an aviator, killed in a crash, is restored to life for three weeks. He spends most of it as the dance marathon partner of a woman who is a ringer in the contest; she's secretly the wife of the Emcee and always wins the prize. This song is sung by the Emcee, who loves the power he has over the suffering contestants, and his fawning assistant, Mr. Walker, who literally jumps when the Emcee says "Jump." "When I say dance, watch 'em dance. When I say stop, see them stop. When I say sing, hear them sing. Power is a wonderful thing!.... (I'll kneel down and kiss your ring)/'Cause you're the subject and I'm the king."
"Repent" from On the Twentieth Century
Mrs. Primrose is a well-meaning, highly religious woman with some strong ideas about how people should behave. Too bad she's a lunatic and passes bad checks! "Repent, repent, repent! In the fiery pits of Hades is too late for your laments! Repent, repent, repent! There's a fiery pit for ladies and a fiery pit for gents! Now's the time to choose my friends, the afterlife you fit; walking on a cloud, my friends, or turning on a spit!"
"The Seven Deadly Virtues" from Camelot
A more traditional Villain song than "Fie on Goodness" and one that wasn't cut, "The Seven Deadly Virtues" is Mordred's scornful take on the Camelotian ideals. "Purity... a noble yen. And very restful every now and then.... It's not the Earth the meek inherit, it's the dirt!"
"Those Were the Good Old Days" from Damn Yankees
Well, if you're gonna write about the devil, he damn well better have a song! This is arguably the king of Villain songs. With Lola rebelling and the plans for Joe Hardy in jeopardy, Mr. Applegate fondly reminisces about the days when souls were easy to get because people were such bastards to one another.
"Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" from the movie version of Little Shop of Horrors
The original LSH ends with everyone getting eaten and the plants taking over the world; it works in the theatre but not in a movie. This song was written to give the movie an exciting climax, to provide an origin for Audrey II, and to give the protagonists the opportunity to defeat the voracious plant. You can tell this song was written quickly--it's extremely repetitive in both music and lyric--but it's amusing for all that. "Don't you talk to me about old King Kong, you think he's the worst, well, you're thinking wrong!.... You can keep the Thing, keep the It, keep the Creature, they don't mean shit!"
"Tomorrow Belongs to Me" from Cabaret
The song itself doesn't contain lyrics that indicate Villains, but the circumstances of its singing put it in this category. In the original version of Cabaret and, I believe, the movie version, it was sung by a bunch of young Nazis looking forward to a Nazi-dominated future. In the revival version, it's sung by a crowd of ordinary people attending a party thrown by a Jewish fruit vendor--sung to assert their distance from the Jew and their solidarity within the Nazi cause. On stage, it is a scary, upsetting, and ironic moment (it's a very pretty and rousing song, actually; makes a nice contrast to the evil use to which it's put) that ends the first act and is the first real indication that everything's going to go to hell in the second act.
All non-lyric material copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild. All rights reserved
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