I have mixed feelings when it comes to a death in a musical. The ones that have existed have been either bizarre or funny, constantly overlooked, or memorable and emotional. The thing is growing up I always thought a death would always not be interesting or even worth it. I did see musicals where a character did die growing up, but those kept on being overlooked or I completely forgot what happened in the musical.
For a warning: this will be a spoiler heavy post
For starters, musical deaths can be overlooked. One of the most overlooked deaths comes from a musical I have seen live four times. Wicked has a death involved in it, but I always overlook it all the time. Nessa, Elphaba’s sister dies in act II after a house lands on her after a tornado. I know it happens, but to this day, I still overlook it, which is kind of odd because I have such a personal bond to Elphaba so why would I overlook what happens to her sister? But then again, all do you is hear about her death, not exactly watch it, which is why I might be overlooking it and I keep on being so involved in the friendship story and the love triangle story of Fiyero, Elphaba, and Glinda and as a result, I keep on forgetting about things that happen to both Boq and Nessa.
So, I just called some musical deaths bizarre and funny. How in the world can you call a death bizarre or even funny, which sounds a bit ironic. Well, the musical, Little Shop of Horrors, does have the antagonist of a man-eating plant so it does eat characters throughout the show. Just watching the plant eat certain characters is funny and in a way quite bizarre because this musical has some of the most unrealistic deaths ever. I find it funny seeing both Orin and Mr. Mushnik fed to the plant.
In the stage show, Audrey and Seymour are eaten by the plant too, but in the movie they are not. So I don’t know what to think when it comes to both of their deaths. Of the entire musical, those are the only two characters I love. When I saw Little Shop of Horrors this year, I wanted to cry at Audrey’s death, but I didn’t. Seymour ran into the shop and saw Audrey about to be eaten by the plant and did pull her out, but the plant did fatally wound her and a reprise of “Somewhere That’s Green” is sung and she dies in Seymour’s arms and in the end after she died, Seymour did feed her to the plant. I wanted to yell at the plant constantly throughout the musical. Still I don’t know how to describe Seymour and Audrey when it comes to death when they die in the stage show and live in the movie, which makes no sense to me one bit.
When I saw Man of La Mancha in 2015, I already knew there was going to be a death in the musical due to a Spanish project I recently completed. I learned that Don Quixote is a tragicomic character and I knew he was going to die in the story. When I saw that scene, I remember crying. But I have seen some deaths that are more memorable than his.
So far the most memorable and emotional deaths come from the same musical. Les Mis has some of the most memorable deaths ever. It does have a high death toll in it, which is hard to get used to at first. There is something about Les Mis that makes me really care about these characters. Most of these characters do not die alone, but they are with someone at the time of their death, which gives them joy, peace, and comfort and sometimes shown compassion. These deaths have made me get emotional and have even reduced me to tears due to the love I love at the songs that happen at their deaths and the relationship I have created to the characters.
Fantine is the first to die in Les Mis and she dies of sickness. She dies with Valjean by her side. Valjean shows compassion in two ways: 1) he stays with her till she dies and 2) he promises to raise her daughter, Cosette as his own. Good thing there is a big gap between her death and the second one. Fantine dies early in the first act, but you don’t get another death until act II, which is when the barricades are. “Come to Me” does play a role her death being memorable.
The second character to die is Eponine and she gets to die, despite being shot, in Marius’ arms, the boy she loves, and he ends up showing her compassion by staying with her till she dies even though he is quite heartbroken. Her death is memorable and “A Little Fall of Rain” is a reason why I love this death. It sounds crazy that you actually “love” seeing a favorite character die-well, yes seeing a favorite character die in a musical can be devastating, but I still am moved and touched and I actually am happy in Eponine’s death as well because I am happy seeing her happy for once in her life.
The students and Gavroche die for what they believe in and all of them lose their lives except for Marius, which really shows just how unsuccessful the June Rebellion of 1832 was. Gavroche was just a kid, but he still died for what he believed in. The students stayed passionate even in death.
Javert actually in my opinion has the saddest death because he commits suicide so he is the only character who actually dies alone, but from my point of view, his death is the least memorable and it is hard to feel for Javert throughout his story. I just have a hard time finding common ground with him. But you can find actors who make you care about his journey. The only Javert who has managed to do that even at his suicide scene is my Javert in the West End.
The last character to lose their life in all of Les Mis belongs to Jean Valjean. He ends up dying with Marius, his now son-in-law and Cosette, his adopted daughter by his side. He truly has become a better person throughout the years. While Valjean dies at least he gets to die in peace and at least he gets to see Cosette one last time. So many characters lose their lives in Les Mis and you feel like you personally get to know them and their deaths are so memorable. Part of it has to do with the songs that are sung as they are dying and part of it has to do with how well you get to know the characters.
I have many opinions about deaths in musicals. It can be hard to watch a favorite character die especially if you feel like you grow close to them. The overlooked deaths are crazy because I know they happen, but I still overlook those-part of that comes from lack of songs and focusing on a different part of the story when you watch it-that is what I do with Wicked.
I cannot believe I once told myself, A DEATH CAN NEVER BE MEMORABLE-part of why I told myself that is that I couldn’t exactly remember the deaths I had already seen and there were no songs for the deaths to be memorable. I also told myself A MUSICAL SONG CAN NEVER BE ABOUT DEATH.
Turns out Les Mis proved me wrong and I learned that even at a favorite character’s death, you can be touched. It seems as though songs like “A Little of Rain”, “Come to Me”, and “Finale” make those deaths memorable and so worth it and the fact the students die for standing up for what they believe in. The bizarre and funny deaths sounds odd, but that is where the fun of Little Shop of Horrors comes from. Death is just a hard thing to watch in a musical, but Les Mis makes it easy to cope with the deaths due to the songs.
What are your feelings of death in a musical?