Tragic Characters From Musical Theatre?

As a kid, I was always relatively used to tragedy in musicals even if I didn’t understand the whole tragedy thing. Now, though, I pick out tragedy easily. So… today, I’m talking about my favorite tragic characters. Let’s say… ten? Los geht’s!

1. Sydney Carton from A TALE OF TWO CITIES – Sydney Carton just bleeds tragedy. Well… not literally of course. But he is a tragedy in and of himself and so is his story. His whole story just hurts. From his feelings of uselessness to his final sacrifice, everything is just one big tragedy when it comes to Sydney. And man… it hurts. It really hurts, but I can’t help but love him.

James Barbour as Sydney Carton

2. Sisi from ELISABETH – If you were to ask me what lyrics I think most accurately describe Sisi are I would say: “Die welt sucht vergebens den sinn meines lebens, denn ich gehör nur mir.” (“The world is searching in vain for the meaning of my life because I belong to me.”) And I think that that line just really, really shows the tragedy of Sisi’s life. People will look at her as the empress of Austria and think that her life must’ve been blissful. And at first glance, it might seem that way. But it’s not. She just wanted to be herself and be a part of the circus. She never got that though. No, she fell subject to a tyrant of a mother in-law. A mother in-law who took her children from her and tortured her to the point of making her want to commit suicide. And then, she suffered the death of her children. That’s her tragedy. And it’s such a real tragedy that it hurts. It really hurts.

Annemieke Van Dam as Sisi

3. Rudolf from ELISABETH – Rudolf was Sisi’s son. Sisi, in an attempt to save herself, began to do what she thought of as necessary and that involved leaving Rudolf behind. And Rudolf became suicidal and killed himself. He killed himself because he felt alone in the world. There seemed to be no one there for him.

Rudolf as a child

4. Éponine from LES MISÉRABLES – Éponine is well-known for her tragedy. It’s probably one of the most well-known tragedies of all time. She’s known for the unrequited love that she suffered from. But one of the most tragic parts of her life is completely overlooked by so many people. Éponine’s parents were horrible towards her. Éponine’s parents forced her to steal. Éponine’s parents caused a lot of pain in her life. And to me, that’s one of the biggest tragedies of her life.

Samantha Barks as Éponine

5. Fantine from LES MISÉRABLES – Fantine was the first character from LES MIZ that I really fell in love with. She’s one of those characters for whom there were once happier times but we never really get to see those. She did everything for Cosette. She died for Cosette. And she loved her through all of it.

Danielle Erin Rhodes as Fantine

6. Javert from LES MISÉRABLES – In my opinion, Javert is probably the most tragic character from LES MIZ. And… I know that’s not really a popular opinion. But hear me out. Every character in LES MIZ has their tragedies. Every character in LES MIZ has something of a tragedy about him. But Javert seems to have no tragedy surrounding him throughout the story. He does what he thinks is right. But he was also born inside of a prison. And then, at the end of his life, when he lets Valjean go… he feels all of the misery and pain crashing down on him, driving him to suicide. He doesn’t get a lifetime to spread out the feelings of misery. He gets minutes—an hour at most.

Hayden Tee as Javert

7. Cathy from THE LAST FIVE YEARS – With Cathy, her tragedy is something that occurs way too often. Man… it’s hard even to talk about. But… I will say that if you just go ahead and watch the musical, you’ll know what the tragedy is within the first five minutes. And you’ll get what I’m talking about. All it takes is that first song.

Betsy Wolfe as Cathy

8. The Phantom (Erik) from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA – The Phantom’s tragedy is easy to explain as it’s the basis of the whole story, essentially. It’s the whole reason why he is the Phantom. He’s suffered through a bad childhood and abuse from his parents. He suffered the world despising him for how he looked. Now… while I don’t particularly like the Phantom’s character, I do find it easy to pity him and feel horrible for him for all that happened. It’s all stuff that shouldn’t ever happen to anyone. And while that doesn’t excuse all of the murdering and hurting he did to other people, it does make him a character that one can pity.

Chris Mann as the Phantom

9. Lucy Harris from JEKYLL & HYDE – Lucy’s tragedy is that she never got to see her dreams come true. She never got to free herself. She got caught in a horrible life and she could never fly from that place. She never got to get away.

Colleen Sexton as Lucy

10. Claudia from LESTAT – Claudia would have died on the streets without Lestat, that’s true. But… she did die. She died and then became a vampire because of Lestat. And the tragedy? Well, Claudia would have been happier dead than trapped in a never-changing form where she’s doomed to be a child forever; all of her hopes and dreams stripped away from her.

Allison Fischer as Claudia


Whew. That’s done! So, who are your favorite tragic characters? Tschüss!


34 thoughts on “Tragic Characters From Musical Theatre?

  1. Great list, I couldn’t agree more.
    I’d also add two more characters: Glinda and Elphaba.

    Elphaba, because she’s been ostracized due to her green skin since she was born. Her sister is also disabled, and Elphaba spends most of her childhood taking care of her. Her father was neglectful, sometimes abusive, and her mother was an addict. Elphaba is good at heart, she wants to prove herself, help Animals, and meet the Wizard. But when she finally meets the Wizard, she realizes she’s been disillusioned, and when she finally stands up for herself, she is branded as ‘wicked’ and is finally forced to leave her best friend and live the rest of her young life in exile.

    And for Glinda, she looks really happy and lucky, but in a sense she falls from a greater height. She’s wealthy, she’s popular, and as a public figure she has to act like she hates her best friend (like in Thank Goodness, March of the Witch Hunters, Finale, etc.). She’s being controlled and threatened by Madame Morrible, she realizes that life isn’t what she thought it was. She loses the man she loves, and she thinks her best friend is dead. And still, she has to go on with a smile and pretend she’s very happy about it.


    1. Definitely agree! They both definitely have their tragic sides–can’t believe I forgot about them! I really like what you said about Glinda especially. I feel like some people don’t see past Glinda’s façade and see all of her suffering behind that smiling “mask” that she wears


  2. I agree with the Javert comments. It’s tragic to spend all your life trying to do the right thing then realising it was wrong but not being able to face that or forgive yourself


  3. I agree when it comes to Les Mis. All of the characters from that musicals go through some kind of tragedy.

    In the case of Eponine, you explained it perfectly. It is important to understand her life outside of Marius. That does help to explain why Eponine loves Marius so much. Marius is literally all she has in life and is the only thing that keeps her thriving.

    For Fantine, I used to think she was the most tragic character. Her story happens literally once scene after another. Being abandoned by her lover and having to leave her daughter in the hands of the Thenardiers. What makes her storyline more heartbreaking than what the audience sees is the way the Thenardiers are treating Cosette. Once you understand that the Thenardiers are using Fantine to scam her out of money and are abusing her daughter, it makes her storyline even more tragic.

    I have such a hard time with Javert. I don’t like him and at least didn’t view him as one of the tragic characters. He is such a puzzle to figure out. I do believe he has the saddest death out of all the Les Mis characters due to being alone and I think there is symbolism behind that fact.

    I feel the same way about Phantom. I don’t like him, but do feel quite bad for him. Its not just because of the unrequited love he has for Christine. Its how he was being treated for having a deformed. He had to suffer his whole life


    1. When I found out that the Thenardiers were lying to Fantine to get more money out of her, I got so angry. They’d as good as murdered Fantine in that way.
      Javert is definitely a puzzling guy and can be hard to figure out! Personally, I like him, but not in the usual sense of liking a character. I like him because he’s interesting but I don’t like his morals and all that.
      The Phantom definitely had to suffer throughout his whole life and, as much as I feel sorry for him, I just can’t like him as a person. I do really pity him and all that he went through though.


      1. I feel like it was the Thenardiers fault for Fantine’s downfall. Those Thenardiers are the darkest characters in Les Mis and were not very nice people which is clearly shown through how they treat Fantine, Cosette, and their children. They represent the very worst of society, but they fit in Les Mis perfectly. I do have a love/hate relationship with them.

        I don’t like Javert as a character. I have a hard time understanding his motives. But you still can feel for him. When I saw Les Mis in London, the guy who played Javert was excellent and his portrayal made me care for this character for once.

        Les Mis is special in the way that it can make you feel for the characters you don’t even like.


      2. Definitely. The last time I went on a roadtrip with my family, like usual, I was in charge of getting together some CDs and was sitting in the front while my dad was driving and somehow we’d gotten to talking about Les Miz (probably because we were listening to Les Miz) and I was telling my dad about the differences between the book and the musical. When I told him about the Thenardiers, he couldn’t believe how utterly despicable they are in the book as in the musical, they’re portrayed as more comical characters and because the musical doesn’t go into deeper details about all of the horribke things they do to their children and such.
        One of the things about Javert in the book that I really like is that he actually helps Valjean get Marius home and he just leaves Valjean alone when he could have taken him to prison right then and there


      3. While reading the book, I knew that the Thenardiers weren’t going to be comic, but glad they are in the musical because Les Mis needs it. The biggest reason why the Thenardiers belong in Les Mis is because at the core of Les Mis is humanity and makes sense that the very worst of society is shown.

        The Thenardiers are abusive, cruel, selfish, greedy, neglectful, and unloving. They only care about themselves. They manipulate people and pick pocket people and scam people out of money.

        The Thenardiers and Javert are my least favorite characters in Les Mis, but are still memorable.


      4. I agree with what you said about Les Miz being about humanity and how the Thenardiers are needed to show that darker, evil side of humanity. The thing that makes the Thenardiers the villains of Les Miz is that they don’t care for anyone (or anything) but themselves and see everyone else’s demise as a chance for them to climb to the top. Javert, however, means well and is serving the law. He thinks he’s doing the right thing. He’s misguided in his understanding of humanity. But finally, he sees the good side of humanity in Valjean. And well… he doesn’t see any way to escape from everything that he’s been wrong about except through suicide


      5. You are on point about the Thenardiers. Their only goal in life is survive. They didn’t even care that their own children will killed during the uprising. I never could understand why they act the way they do.

        The book explained in so much more detail why Javert committed suicide. He was conflicted. He saw the good in Valjean for once but still feels like he needs to turn Vavljean in. He sees the world in black and white and shows no mercy. He may seem like the villain of the piece, but in reality it is the Thenardiers


      6. The book and the musical have different strengths when it comes to Javert’s suicide. In the book, we get more of an explanation of everything going on in his mind. But in the musical, there’s something about the energy wafting off of the actor that you can just feel the conflict Javert is struggling with. Both do a really good job of showing his inner conflict, I think


      7. I definitely agree. And it adds a sort of extra level of pain and sorrow to his death, I think. Sometimes I just can picture Valjean visiting Javert’s grave (supposing that he got one…). Somehow, I feel like that’s the sort of thing Valjean would do. In a lot of ways, I think that Valjean and Javert knew each other better than anyone else knew them


      8. It comes from the fact that Javert couldn’t even love like the other characters who died could. The tragic nature of Les Mis is part of why the musical moves me in the way it does


      9. I think that in some ways, Javert’s upbringing and childhood burnt the understanding of love out of him.
        I remember the day I realized that Les Miz had become a favorite of mine. It was largely because Les Miz has spirit and it’s inspirational and moving in a way that not many things are


      10. Les Mis moves me due to many aspects of it. Despite all of the heartbreak and tragedy going on, it has this special underlying spirituality found within it. The spirituality of the piece is what I emotionally connect to. The character’s stories and their songs are quite special too. Les Mis is such a masterpiece and knows how to move you in very unique and powerful way. A story of hope, compassion, sacrifice, humanity, love, forgiveness, and redemption. The spirituality of the piece is a big reason why I love feeling all of the heartbreak that is shown in this tragedy


      11. When it comes to shows, I have to ask to see shows from my parents. They do pay for my tickets since we do go together. It is coming in December of 2017. Les Mis has had an interesting pattern of when I saw it live: 2013-2015-2017?


      12. Nice! I’m probably going to go on my own this time which kinfa freaks me out but is kinda exciting at the same time.
        That is an interesting pattern! It’ll be interesting to see if that continues on through the years!


      13. The first time was interesting. I saw the movie December of 2012. Well, it did come to Charlotte, but before we could get tickets, it sold out. But luckily in November of 2013, it came to my community college.

        Than that Bristol Pilgrimage happened to be summer of 2015 and 2015 was in the middle of the show’s 30th anniversary.

        Well, a big reason why I rely on my parents for shows is because I don’t drive. Going to the theatre is still something I love doing with my family


      14. I drive so I could go to the theatre alone or even take the metro but I really like going with someone else if you know what I mean. It’s kinda lonely sitting in a theatre all alone before the show actually starts up and during intermission. And then, not having someone to talk to about the show on the way home is kinda lonely too. But I don’t think that my family will be in town when Les Miz comes to Seattle in June of 2018. Maybe I’ll get someone from school to come with me.
        Going to the theatre with my family is one of my favorite things to do because it’s just so much fun and full of great experiences all around!


      15. When my family goes to the theatre together these days, it usually is either just me and a parent or just 3/4 of us. Rent is only with me, my mom, and my dad. I bet Les Mis will not be all of us, but so hope I get to go


      16. My brother never comes to the theatre. He prefers to stay at home. It’s rare that I can get my dad to come along because he doesn’t like the idea of leaving my little brother at home alone at night. Sometimes my sister comes along but it really depends on the show. My mom is usually the one who comes with me. But actually, I’m sending my dad and my little sister to see The Secret Garden musical in April as a birthday present for my sister because she and my dad read that book together years ago so it’ll be nice for them to be able to go together. It’s really fun going to the theatre all together but it’s hard to get everyone to go these days. I just love all of the memories that I have of going to the theatre all together as a family


      17. Last year, all four of us did go together. Before mom got tickets, she wanted to make my sister wanted to see Newsies. My sister was interested and what got her interested was that it was a Disney musical.


      18. That’s awesome! My brother is hard to get interested in anything theatre-related though I know he’d really like to see The Fiddler on the Roof live if it ever comes to Seattle. I wish I could get everyone in my family to want to see a musical live together but the closest I’ve gotten to making that happen was when I took everyone out to the local high school to see their production of Beauty and the Beast for about $5 a ticket. Had a really great time that day. There’s just something so special about getting everyone to come along!


      19. Growing up, my sister went to all the musicals my family went to see. She is older than me and it is at an age where she can decide for herself if she wants to go.

        I love seeing musicals with my entire family and love going on dates with my mom to the theatre and even went on one theatre date with my dad. It even was special when I saw Wicked with my school, which added special meaning to the show since my school changed me for good


      20. Both of my siblings are quite a bit younger than me but they generally stay at home when I go to the theatre so my dad stays at home with them. My brother has expressed interest in seeing Phantom live and it’s my sister’s favorite so we might all go together.
        Although I usually can’t rally the whole family to want to go, I can usually get someone to go with me like a friend or cousin or someone. It’s always so much more fun to go with someone else than to go alone, I think. I’ve never actually gone to the theatre alone but I can only imagine that it has to be more fun going with someone else


      21. I would agree. The only times I went alone was at school and seeing a show is more fun if you went with somebody. But I sort of feel like even you were alone were went with somebody, the audience sort of becomes one


      22. That’s true! That’s a unique thing about the theatre experience! This is kind of weird but whenever I go see a show, I like to talk about it all the way home so it’s kind of nice to have someone else around to hear their thoughts too. I don’t even know why I enjoy doing that so much. Ah, well. I’m sure that Les Miz will still be worth it if I go by myself! And you’re 100% right! The audience definitely functions as a single unit in a way!


      23. When I saw Wicked with my dad, he gave me the better seat since I originally sat behind the tallest guy in the auditorium. By the end of the show, he said something like I can tell why you love this show so much. I think he spent more time watching me than watching the musical. I did go the third time since it was the first time he saw the musical


      24. My dad rarely goes with me but he usually sends me to see shows. I always tell him that it’s okay–I can by my ticket on my own or that he should come with me since he always buys two tickets. But he alway says the second ticket is for my mom anf that we can just tell him all about it. I can usually drag my dad out to the Seattle Symphony especially if Bach is included but when it comes to musicals, as much as he loves them, he usually just stays home. He went to see The Sound of Music with me once and he was yodeling for the next week. I love going to see musicals with my dad and I think that maybe the fact that it’s so rare that he comes ariund that makes it so special


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