Foreshadowing in Musicals

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.

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Those are just four of my favorite examples of foreshadowing in musicals. What are your favorites?

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27 thoughts on “Foreshadowing in Musicals

  1. It is hard to know if something is a kind of foreshadowing the first time around as you don’t know what is going to happen.

    There are actually two moments in Wicked that foreshadow Fiyero becoming the scarecrow. The first is during “Dancing Through Life” and the second during “As Long As Your’e Mine”

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  2. I love this so much! Elisabeth is my favorite German musical (and Wicked’s my all time favorite musical lol)

    I think Elisabeth is probably the musical where I’ve seen the most foreshadowing through songs/lyrics/score? To add to your amazing piece, I would include how “Boote in der Nacht” is using pretty much the exact same tune as “Nichts ist schwer”, and the Mayerling waltz music plays during Elisabeth’s wedding dance. And “Die Schatten werden länger” is sung first when little Sophie dies which also foreshadows how der Tod would take Elisabeth’s other children/family.

    Sorry if this is word vomit but I was so happy to see this blog post. I love your posts and this is super interesting. Glad to see someone else who is interested in Elisabeth, because I don’t know many people who are! xD

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    1. Ever since I’ve started blogging, I’ve never met anyone else who loved Elisabeth! I think that it’s become my favorite especially over the past few months! I do definitely agree that Elisabeth probably has the most foreshadowing in any musical that I’ve ever seen. It’s one of my favorite things about the show! Glad that you liked the post!

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      1. I feel ya! Elisabeth is such an underrated musical outside of Europe in my opinion. It’s so beautiful, i wish more people knew about it! It’s a little unfortunately most people don’t want to listen to it because it’s not in English, or it’s not starring anyone they know, or it’s too historical/dark/etc.

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      2. I think that Elisabeth is a musical that a lot of people would enjoy if they just gave it a chance! As a German speaker, I never had a problem with the whole “Can’t-Understand-the-Language” problem that people have with Elisabeth. But personally, I kinda like listening to musicals in languages I don’t understand! But I guess ultimately it comes down to personal preference. As much as I wish there were also an English production, I am kinda glad that Broadway didn’t get their hands on it when they were supposed to get an English version made. Levay and Kunze refused to let Broadway produce a production of Elisabeth because they wanted to make Lucheni and der Tod the same character. And really, I think that if they did that, it’d ruin a lot of what makes Elisabeth so special and amazing. But… hopefully one day, there’ll be an English production in which everything is like it is in the German/Austrian versions (at least storywise and musically–it would be cool to see what they might do with sets and stuff).

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      3. I have almost zero knowledge of German, but hey, that’s what the translations are for right? I know they aren’t accurate but they help a lot and are easy to find, so I’m not sure why people are so reluctant to listen to it either. I’ve actually picked up some German from Elisabeth and Wicked, which is kinda neat (because yesss musicals are educational :P)

        I wish they’d do an English production, on Broadway or something, but I wish they’d stick to the original version and just translate the lyrics. Honestly, making der Tod and Lucheni the same character is kinda stupid in my opinion. It just won’t work?? And if they made the English version they could have Pia Douwes or Willemijn Verkaik as Elisabeth, since they’ve both had experience with it and are pretty fluent in English too!

        At the same time, they could bring it to Broadway and do it like how they did the Shanghai tour: perform it in German and flash the translation onscreen. I certainly won’t mind that.

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      4. That’d be awesome, actually!! I agree that having der Tod and Lucheni as the same character would be dumb! Man… it’d either take away one of my favorites aspects of the musical (that Death himself is a character) or take away the historical aspect of an anarchist named Luigi Lucheni murdering Elisabeth. It’d just be weird… and like you said, wouldn’t work. It’d be awesome to have Willemijn as Sisi if they did an English version. I’m trying to think of German actors I know to be able to speak English well but I’m kinda drawing a blank on that one… I know that Mark Seibert went to college in New York (at least I think I read that somewhere) and I have heard him speaking and singing in English so maybe they could bring Willemijn and Mark in for an English version? That’d be cool! It’d also be kinda like a Wicked reunion too! Probably wouldn’t happen but… it’d be cool!

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      5. I’d kill to see an English version of Elisabeth with Willemijn and Mark. Or even a German version in fact. They sound so beautiful together and their chemistry is pretty awesome.

        Although I think it’d be pretty neat if they brought back Pia to play Elisabeth, I don’t think she’s too old, especially since the role of Sisi covers such a wide age range and Pia looks pretty young for her age. Not to mention her English is also good!

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      6. Pia would be great for that too, I agree! I think that Pia’s acting for Sisi is my favorite because she just portrays a really strong, independent Sis, I think! If they brought Pia on, I think they’d probably at least try to get Uwe on the project too–which would be awesome! Pia and Uwe have some of the best chemistry I’ve ever, ever seen on stage!
        It’d just be so cool if all of this could happen! I think that if they did open an English production on Broadway, a lot of people would stop in to see it and it’s probably be a hit! I think it’d be great if they could bring actors from Germany/Austria to play the roles but somehow I feel like they wouldn’t do it. Which is a pity because they’d be missing out on some really great talent!

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      7. Pia is my favorite Elisabeth too, in singing AND acting! But I also like Willemijn’s portrayal, I actually found her Sisi to be stronger than Pia’s?

        Wouldn’t Uwe be a little too old to play der Tod? I heard that when they were doing the Essen production they had Pia on for Sisi but they made Uwe audition because they thought he might be too old (and that was like 2001!) But I love his chemistry with Pia too!

        Same, although English may be a problem? I know Willemijn had a little problem with the accents at first, but hey, look how amazing she sounds now! German musical theater really needs more recognition! They’ve got so many great musicals!

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      8. Yeah. I definitely think der Tod needs a but of a younger look to him! But at the same time, I feel like if they were to bring Pia back, they would at least try to get Uwe on board too. I don’t know if it’d work out well though!
        100% agree with what you’re saying about German musical theatre needing more recognition! A lot of my favorite musicals are German language musicals and I wholeheartedly believe that Germany and Austria might become the next big musical countries!

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      9. There’s always makeup!! 😛

        Yes! So other than Elisabeth and Schikaneder, what other German musicals do you like? 🙂

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      10. I like Rebecca and Artus Excalibus… I literally got into German musicals like a month or so ago, so I’m still catching up! 😛 I’ve seen clips from Mozart and Marie Antoinette though, and they all look pretty great! These musicals make me wish I could actually understand German, lol.

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      11. I still need to check out Artus Excalibus but I know that one of my favorite composers did the music for it so I’m sure that I’ll really like it!
        Even though I understand German, German musical theater really helped me improve my German so I think you’ll pick it up over time! I love German musical theatre as a German learning tool because when they sing, it’s easy to hear the annunciation of the words and they don’t slur the words together so it makes it easy to learn pronunciation and sentence structure!

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      12. I personally really like it, not to mention they had Sabrina Weckerlin, Mark Seibert, and Annemieke van Dam in the original cast, which was so great ❤ I'm kinda sad there's no full recording of it 😦

        Yes! I like that part too, because spoken German is harder to catch for me. I can actually sing several of the songs in German and understand them, but I just can't craft sentences myself because the grammar is so different from English??

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      13. Now I really need to check out Artus Excalibus! I knew that Mark was in it but not that Sabrina and Annemieke were!
        The grammar in German is something that makes me want to smash my head into a wall! Good thing is though, that when speaking to native speakers, they’ll usually understand even if the grammar’s bad! I still struggle with the three ways to say “the” even after years of studying but other than that, I just really love the German language and think it’s utterly amazing

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      14. Haha yeah! They were fabulous, I actually liked Annemieke as Guinevere more than Elisabeth (dontkillme) 😛

        Lol! How long have you been learning German for, if you don’t mind me asking?

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      15. Annemieke’s Sisi is probably the easiest for me to just listen to but I enjoy watching other actresses play her (if you get what I mean). I can picture her being a really great Guinevere!
        My dad’s German so I learned a little as a kid but I didn’t really learn it well enough to carry on conversations until I was a little older. I’d say that I’ve been learning for give or take ten years now!

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      16. Yes, she was great as Guinevere!

        Ahh gotcha. I can imagine having a family member/someone close who speaks it makes it easier to learn 😉 That’s how I learned my Chinese, and so even though I’m bilingual I’ve never actually learned a language like from scratch, if you get what I mean ^.^

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      17. Definitely! Learning languages with no prior knowledge of it does make it harder! I had to take a Spanish class and it was a lot harder, not hearing the language at home quite a bit. Languages can be real tough sometimes!

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      18. Yeah no kidding! Which makes me really respect people like Pia Douwes, Willemijn Verkaik, and other German/Dutch/Austrian performers, they have to learn the languages so well to be able to actually perform onstage!

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      19. Definitely! Man, I don’t think that I could do that! Well… maybe I could, but I’d stumble through and if I made a mistake, I’d never be able to improvise well! It’s definitely a talent to be able to learn a language well enough like that!

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      20. No kidding! Maybe learning the songs and script might not be the most difficult thing, but conducting interviews and press for the show in the language is definitely something else!

        So much respect for them ❤

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