Musicals are unique because they tell stories through song. Personally, I think that the use of song really amplifies emotions but I also realized that they can be wonderful for foreshadowing events in subtle, unique ways. Today, I decided that I wanted to talk about a few of my favorite examples of this. There will be spoilers, so proceed at your own risk!
“Totenklage” in ELISABETH
In German, “Totenklage” means “Death sentence”. This one is unique in that the name of the song does a lot of foreshadowing in and of itself. “Totenklage” is sung originally by Sisi at Rudolf (her son)’s funeral. Der Tod (the Death) shows up and she begs him to take her from this life that’s torturing and hurting her. But he turns away and tells her that he doesn’t want her. Not now, not like that. And it’s what someone might think to be the opposite of a death sentence. But really, if you think of it, Sisi has been sentenced to death by Death himself from the very beginning–since he first began haunting her. Because she can’t get away from him. And he will take her away soon enough. After Rudolf’s death, her soul is dead but her soul is dead in almost every way so, in der Tod refusing to take her, she has been sentenced to death on earth.
“Dancing Through Life” in WICKED
This is one that some people may not pick up on and yet it’s also one that I feel like a lot of people do recognize and notice. But it’s one of my favorite moments of foreshadowing in a musical… ever. Fiyero says “Life’s more painless for the brainless” in the song. The word “brainless” may hold some significance to fans of The Wizard of Oz as the Scarecrow’s ailment is that he wishes that he had a brain. Fiyero later on becomes a scarecrow when a spell of Elphie’s goes well… somewhat unexpected.
“I Dreamed a Dream” in LES MISÉRABLES
I might be stretching the bounds of foreshadowing here, but I like it all the same. I’m going to be talking about “Ich Hab’ Geträumt Vor Langer Zeit” (the German version of the song) in this section. Towards the end of the song, Fantine says: “But we were not made for happiness but rather for its storms and dangers”. I think the “we” is important here. “We” can refer to most every character in the story of Les Misérables, for everyone has to bear their trials and some sort of sadness or loss at the end of their lives and/or at the end of the story.
“Alle Tanzten Mit Dem Tod” in ELISABETH
“Alle Tanzten Mit Dem Tod” translates to “Everyone has danced with death”. This phrase is sung numerous times throughout the musical but I am talking about the portion of the prologue in which this is sung. The complete phrase that is sung is this: “Everyone has danced with death but no one like Elisabeth”. There are several examples of foreshadowing here but I’m going to focus in on two. One: the phrase itself. Two: the way in which Lucini walks across the bridge with the bar in his hands. The example of the phrase is simple enough to explain. The story is dealing largely with Sisi’s relationship with der Tod (Death) and how she has “danced” with him (the word “tanzten” is used figuratively of course, but Sisi literally dances with der Tod a few times in the musical). And then, there’s the matter of the choreography and how Lucini is walking back and forth across the bridge holding a bar. This bar has been noted by many to be a figurative way of showing Lucini as being a puppet master and the dead being his marionettes. Which is a completely plausible claim. Marionettes and puppets are a constant theme in Elisabeth. In the song “Wenn Ich Tanzen Will” (“If I Want to Dance”), Sisi says to der Tod, “Doch ich werd’ keine Marionette sein” which translates to “But I am no longer their marionette”. After this is said, though, der Tod proceeds to take Sisi by the arms and control her movements like… well… like a marionette. And, after all, Lucini is known for trying to sway the audience in his favor and towards disliking Sisi. So I wouldn’t say that Lucini being a puppet master is unlikely. In fact, I think that it adds a special layer to Elisabeth.
Those are just four of my favorite examples of foreshadowing in musicals. What are your favorites?