Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Villains' Duets

Luke wraps up his series on Duets

Welcome to the final instalment of the Duets series. Today we will be looking at The Villains Duets and how we can approach them in our improvised songs. As discussed in previous articles, Villains duets are not always just done by Villains but as a style tend to lend themselves more to the dramatic.

Lovers' Duets focus on emotion; Fools' duets focus on events; so, people, where does that leave the Villains in this equation? Well, the Villain focuses on themselves: their plans, how brilliant they are and how ridiculous everyone is going to feel when they triumph. This can still be very funny (see Bring Me My Bride from Fools Duets) but often tend to be darker in nature.

Never Complain, Always Explain

Traditionally in musicals, any villain’s henchmen are either incompetent or stupid or both. Their songs are often part denigrating the henchmen and part explaining their evil plan. A good example of this is in Be Prepared from The Lion King. Scar explains to the Hyenas his plan to be king while constantly insulting them all the way through. And this probably brings in the most important part of the villain - It’s not so much a style or approach to song as an attitude. Villains don’t whinge or complain, because nothing is impossible for them to do; they are narcissistic and self centered and are willing to show just how damn good they are. Villains ‘monologue’ at subordinates and heroes, answering their questions with disdain.

On the plus side there is strength of purpose with the Villain. They speak in declarative verbs, use action words and take decisive action.

The villain doesn't sing:

Might it be a good idea to kill the king?

They sing:

I have a great idea. I’ll kill the King!

Now, my poor lyric writing aside, it does demonstrate the point: The villain is a person of action and plans, not someone who dithers in emotion (Like the Lovers) or silliness (like the Fools).

A great example of this attitude can be found in the character of Javert in Les Miserables. He is on a lifelong mission to recapture Jean Valjean, an escaped criminal. It doesn't matter to Javert that Valjean has become a good man, who has helped many, and that he will willingly come with him in a few days. This singularity of purpose is demonstrated in the final lyrics of his song “Stars”:

And so it’s been, and so it’s written
On the doorways to paradise
That those who falter and those who fall
Must pay the price

Lord let me find him
That I way see him
Safe behind bars
I will never rest
Till then
This I swear
This I swear by the stars.

It practically oozes purpose and action. The constant uses of 'I' and clearly stated goal are key points we can use from this song.

Something you can try at home

As a general rule, as Australians we do tend to mitigate our language when expressing ideas. So, in this exercise we are going to focus on being more forthright in our language. Get a friend to help you, and choose a scenario of villainy you feel comfortable with, eg stealing all the lollies in town. Someone chooses to be the Villain and the other the henchman. (Think a Baldrick/Black Adder dynamic.) The henchman must ask a question about the plan and the Villain must insult the henchman and explain starting with the word 'I'. If the Villain cannot do this the roles reverse and the scenario continues until the scene plays out. Try a few different scenarios until you feel comfortable with the concept and then you can try it out with either made up songs or using the music for ones you both are comfortable with.


As I said right at the top there are no hard a fast rules for what makes a duet a lovers duet or fools duets. They were just a way to break down songs into different types to help differentiate the purpose of a song in the musical format. Lovers can be villains and villains can be fools, they are just different ways to approach a song. If you are looking for some examples of some good musicals that demonstrate these duets and solo songs I would recommend in no particular order Sweeney Todd, Company, Evita, Into the Woods, West Side Story, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the forum. None of these are particularly hard to find; many have been made in to major motion pictures. Good luck in exploring the possibility of duets in musicals.

Photo by Katie Cowden

1 comment:

The Wah said...

This little gem of an article will be very useful for Impromafia's "Fists of Fury" later in the year. The villain really needs to be self assured and cruel. Luke has nicely defined the old school villain archetype

Related Posts with Thumbnails