Adding a dash more comedy: Comedians in Musical Theatre

Becky Wallis (@beckymusicals) discusses comedians in musical theatre for MTAS.
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Theatre. Comedy and tragedy as it always has been. Yet, in recent years, the world of musical theatre has received an extra dose of comedy with well-known comedians taking to the stage and appearing to take the new challenge in their stride. With Miranda Hart coming into the role of Miss Hannigan in the new production of much loved musical Annie opening soon at the Piccadilly Theatre, and with her name plastered across the advertising and the theatre itself, perhaps a look back of other comedians in musicals will give us an idea of what to expect.

My personal experiences with seeing comedians in musicals didn’t start until I saw the touring production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang last year starring Jason Mansford in the leading role of Caractacus Potts and Phil Jupitus as Baron Bomburst. I didn’t know what to expect and I came out pleasantly surprised. Both were great and fitted their roles very well. The role of Caractacus has comedic moments and serious moments and Mansford was able to play both to a very high standard. I have also heard good things about Mansford in a production of Sweeney Todd where he was able to play it completely straight and serious in this dark role. On the other hand, Jupitus appeared to delight in the overly comedic role of Baron Bomburst, yet I remain unsure if he could play a more serious role. I guess some people are just more suited to comedy than others.

Comedians base their whole careers on the desire for people to laugh at them and laugh with them, but does this change when they are performing in a certain role with other cast members rather than just being alone on stage being themselves? Perhaps the fact that they are used to being laughed at makes them that little bit more fearless when it comes to making a fool of themselves. But, here lies the issue, musicals are not pantomimes. There is not always a place for a comedic role. Can comedians play it straight and handle the more serious roles? I think that this is why some people are concerned about how AnnieMiranda Hart is going to play the role of Miss Hannigan. Is she going to play it seriously, the horrible women who treats the girls she is meant to care for horribly and cares only for money, or is she going to play it up for a laugh from the audience. Yes, Miss Hannigan does have her funny moments but in whole she is a dark and horrible character not designed to be used for over the top comedic effect. In terms of this portrayal of the character by the famous comedian, it could go either way. Another crucial point to mention of course, is that she has admitted to never really singing before. It is a musical after all, and I am really hoping that she has the voice to handle the songs, especially Little Girls.

Hart is not the only comedian soon to be taking to a West End Stage. With Mel Brooks Young Frankenstein announced to play at the Garrick Theatre, Ross Noble will be taking to the role of Igor. This isn’t his first step into musical theatre, having been in the production of The Producers before alongside fellow comedian Jason Mansford. Of course, Igor is a comedic character, and will perhaps suitable to be played by a comedian. willowsOther comedians including Rufus Hound and Gary Wilmott will soon be taking to the stage at the London Palladium as Mr Toad and Badger in the new musical production of Wind in the Willows. Having already seen this production on its opening press night in Plymouth, I can say that Rufus Hound is excellent in the role, full of fun and energy but I have to admit that he does not have the strongest voice. Yes it is suitable for the role of Mr Toad but I am unsure that it could handle anything tougher.  Gary Wilmot was great in the role of Mac in Big the musical, and I for one am interested to see him take on this new role of Badger.

I think that when it comes to comedians in musicals, it comes down to the question of will a comedian ever play a more serious role or will they always play a character that has at least some comedic moments? Are comedians only there to be a big name for the posters and bring the audience some extra laughs?

Let us know your opinions. What comedians have you seen on the stage?

*MTAS COMPETITION ALERT*
To celebrate Annie coming to the west end, MTAS have teamed up with Leon on our next competition!

Entry: upload yourself singing any song from Annie on to the MTAS Facebook page. Please use the hashtag #MTASAnnie
The two entries that receive the most likes and one admins choice will be crowned the winners!

Winners:
Invited to a family friendly Annie inspired event at Leon
– *You will be allowed to bring two guests*
– Food and Drink will be provided free of charge
– Staff performances and loads of fun
– A free badge of choice
– £10 theatre token
You will later be invited for an Annie press event at Leon where producers may also attend!

Leon are arranging the press event, this is a competition to be part of something bigger ⭐️ COMPETITION CLOSES ON THE 28th May!
#MTASAnnie

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