The Different Reactions to Unrequited Love in Musicals | Musical Analysis

Guten Tag, Leute! Musicals are home to some of my favorite characters of all time. Many of these character have one thing in common: unrequited love. Characters like Éponine (LES MISÉRABLES), Sydney Carton (A TALE OF TWO CITIES), Elphaba and Glinda (WICKED), Franz Joseph (ELISABETH), Nancy (OLIVER!), Lucy (JEKYLL & HYDE), and the Beast (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST). And, while I am not excessively fond of him, the Phantom (THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA). Believe me, this list could go on and on. Unrequited love and the pain that stems from it is portrayed very well in song and thus, musicals thrive off of it. However, these characters each react to unrequited love in different ways. And, for today, I thought that I’d throw in my two cents on the topic! Of course, there will be spoilers both of the major and minor variety! Los geht’s!

ÉPONINE

Éponine is a character who could very well be called “the poster child of unrequited love” because she and her story are so well known! One of my favorite things about Éponine is that her love for Marius makes her a better person. Even though she knows that he doesn’t return her feelings, she continues to stand beside him. This, in my opinion is brought out perfectly in the German version of “On My Own”: “Ja, ich weiß er hat mir übersehen! Ganz egal, ich muss zu ihm stehen!” [Yes, I know he overlooked me! Doesn’t matter, I have to stand beside him!] And, in the end, Éponine’s love for Marius (yes, though unrequited) moves her to sacrifice her life for his. Éponine’s love for Marius causes her to, in so many ways, become a hero in the 1832 portion of the story. 

SYDNEY CARTON

Sydney Carton, like Éponine is well-known for his unrequited love storyline. One of the best things about Sydney? He makes a complete change for the better and turns over a new leaf even though Lucie doesn’t love him in the way he wishes she could. While unrequited love is tough to deal with, I love to see how characters like Sydney still manage to use the momentum that the unrequited love arc has created and spin it into some great character development. Sure, Sydney is absolutely shattered when he finds out that Lucie is going to get married to Charles Darnay but he doesn’t revert back to his old self. In fact, it’s from that point on that Sydney’s best character growth happens. I’m doong a horrible job at explaining this so I’ll just direct you to “If Dreams Came True” (a song from the musical) as it perfectly shows what I mean. Besides all that, though, Sydney lays down his own life for Charles’ by taking his place on the way to the guillotine. And this here is one of my favorite things about Sydney. He managed to be happy for Lucie and Charles although it was painful for him and, in the end, he put Lucie’s happiness before his own.

ELPHABA AND GLINDA

This is a very… shall we say odd situation. Odd in the sense that whilst Glinda is in a relationship with Fiyero in the beginning, Elphie’s the one coping with the feelings of unrequited love and that, towards the end of Act II when Elphie and Fiyero enter into a relationship, it’s Glinda who’s dealing with the unrequited love. Both girls handle their situations pretty well. Sure, they’re sad that they aren’t “that girl” but in the end, they’re able to put aside their feelings of pain and manage to keep their friendship intact.

FRANZ JOSEPH

This one is also a pretty strange situation seeing as Franz Joseph married Sisi and, for a time, his feelings were requited. But, after a series of situations in which Franz Joseph emotionally abandons Sisi, Sisi slowly feels alienated from him and they grow apart. By the end of the musical, it’s clear that Franz Joseph still loves Sisi but that Sisi sees him as more of a friend. This is made pretty clear in “Boote in der Nacht” [Boats in the Night] when Sisi tells Franz Joseph all of the many reasons why their relationship was practically doomed from the start. While I’m not exactly a big Franz Joseph fan, I do have to give him credit for how he reacts to Sisi’s rejection. He doesn’t give up on her but he does let her go, knowing that it’s what she wants and what she needs. He also still faithfully stands by Sisi to support her and very clearly still cares for her.

NANCY

Nancy was one of the first fictional characters that I ever really felt an attachment to. As a kid, I really didn’t understand Nancy’s storyline as being one of unrequited love. However, now, it makes so much sense to me. While yes, Nancy and Bill are in a relationship, it is not a healthy one and it’s pretty clear that Nancy cares a lot more about Bill than he does about her. Bill never once says definitively if he does love Nancy. In fact, he dodges her questions. But, despite the abuse that Nancy suffers at Bill’s hands, she still stands by him, thinking that he needs her. Nancy’s hope is that she can change Bill and make him better. She doesn’t see how far gone Bill is. While her response to Bill’s abusiveness isn’t a healthy one, her intentions are good and I think that her love for Bill really does show what a kind, loving, sweet, selfless person Nancy is.

LUCY HARRIS

The interesting thing about Lucy’s case of unrequite love is that Lucy doesn’t necessarily know that Jekyll doesn’t return her feelings and that she really only crosses paths with him twice. Her other encounters are with Hyde who, contrary to Jekyll has a sort of obsession with Lucy. However, the audience knows that Jekyll’s feelings for Lucy really only go as far as friendly concern. Lucy likely understands this as well and doesn’t expect anything from Jekyll. She knows that whatever dreams she has of a future with Jekyll are merely that: dreams. Lucy, like Éponine, primarily falls for Jekyll because of his kindness–his sympathy–towards her. And, while Lucy knows that nothing can come of these dreams of hers, she uses those dreams, those memories of his kindness to get her through her tough times.

THE BEAST

Sure, we all know that in the end, all works out for the Beast. But, when he lets Belle go to find her father, the Beast feels as if Belle doesn’t return his feelings and thus, sings the “If I Can’t Love Her” reprise. In the song, he says “No spell has been broken, no words have been spoken. No point anymore if she can’t love me.” Here, we see the Beast in a despairing state. Since the spell hasn’t broken and since Belle has not told him that she loves him, it’s easy to see why the Beast might think that his feelings are unrequited. This scene is such a tearjerker because the Beast, in his despair, sees nothing else to do but “wait for death to set him free.” 

THE PHANTOM

It’s really no secret that I’m not a big fan of the Phantom and that I love Raoul and a lot of that stems from the fact that I don’t like how the Phantom operates and that I don’t like how he responds to the fact that Christine doesn’t love him. He responds by murdering people, kidnapping Christine, and threatening to kill Raoul if she doesn marry him. While I cannot say that I like the Phantom as a character or love interest for Christine, I will say that he does make the story an interesting one and that he is a character that I feel sympathy towards. Not because of the unrequited nature of his feelings for Christine but because of his horrible, sad past.

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So, those are some of my thoughts about some characters from musicals that suffer from unrequited love! What do you think? Vielen Dank und tschüss!

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19 thoughts on “The Different Reactions to Unrequited Love in Musicals | Musical Analysis

  1. Intersting post. Bizzarre in a way: I may have fallen in love with Beauty and the Beast before Wicked, but Wicked really was my first exposure to unrequited love where I understood feeling that is sad eventually leading up to Les Mis while I finally understood that unrequited love is not just sad, but heartbreaking.

    Odd, I would also use the word ironic in the Elphaba and Glinda situation. I’m Not That Girl was the first unrequited love song I connected to. Growing up, I did not see the irony and craziness and complexity of this unrequited love situation. I feel like I kept on overlooking the part when Glinda gets unrequited love for Fiyero, which sounds odd since whenever I thought of love songs from Wicked, my mind goes to As Long As Your’e. The first instance of I’m Not That Girl is interesting in the sense that Elphaba just found out she loves Fiyero so due to that there isn’t room for the song to be fully heartbreaking. It seems that literally moments after realizing she loves him, she quickly accepts the situation she is in even though I know she is going to end with him so it is a bit tricky to feel heartbroken in this song. Elphaba’s story doesn’t revolve around unrequited love, which is why that song is less emotional than For Good is. Elphaba and Glinda when they are dealing with unrequited love, they don’t let their love for the same boy get in the way of their friendship for each other. They handle their unrequited love nicely. But still a very odd situation.

    So Wicked may have introduced me to unrequited love, but I had no idea just how much I was quite unaware of how much hurt and pain and heartbreak unrequited love can cause. But Eponine showed me that especially due to the fact that her story actually revolves around unrequited love unlike Elphaba and Glinda. The thing that is unique about Eponine and her unrequited love is that she stands by Marius no matter what and shows true love towards him and that love is what allows her to raise above her upbringing. Eponine loves him due to the kindness he shows her and her situation is so heartbreaking due to the fact that he is the only person in her life to show her kindness. So glad “On My Own” made me understand unrequited love on a much deeper level, which is stronger and even more devastating and due to that, I was able to better understand I’m Not That Girl and that really shows why musicals actually rely on each other.

    I agree with about what you said about the Phantom. Unlike Elphaba, Glinda, and Eponine, he does not respond well to unrequited love. He actually responds to it in a very violent and revengeful way. Honestly, I feel bad for him, while part of it belong to the unrequited love, I mostly feel bad for him due to how poorly he was treated. I do not even love the Phantom at all.

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      1. In Wicked the unrequited love seems to be mainly placed on Elphaba, but then all of a sudden Glinda gets it. Even today, I am still surprised when that happens. It is very tricky in this situation. Bizarre how my first exposure to unrequited love in a musical happens to come from the most complex love triangle in musicals thanks to an unrequited love plot twist to finally getting a bigger understanding of it through a straightforward love triangle where there is no unrequited love change and that makes things less bizarre and complicated

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      2. The love triangle became more complicated when I saw Wicked last year the fourth time. One reason was because I was coming in knowing “I’m Not That Girl” was heartbreaking, which wasn’t detected the other three times. Then while watching, I noticed for the first time I think but I may be wrong that Elphaba just found out she loves him literally seconds before she sings that song. And in that lion cub scene, I really payed attention to Fiyero and I noticed something that he might have a crush on Elphaba in that scene, but no realizing it, was only trying to figure out why in the second act he suddenly started going out with Elphaba

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      3. I agree. I definitely think that Elphie only finds out about her feelings for Fiyero moments before she sings “I’m Not That Girl.” And I would have to agree that Fiyero has a crush on Elphie at that point or realizes that he has some sort of feelings for her but he doesn’t quite understand them. The Fiyero that I saw most recently played off that scene between them in a sort of flustered, awkward way so maybe that’s why I got that impression but I definitely think that you’re right!

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      4. The Fiyero I saw played that scene in a very flirty way so I began to ask that question. The Fiyero played it that he does not seem to understand what he is feeling because I do not think that he thinks his feelings are the feelings of having a crush. Due to having a crush on Fiyero at that point and if Elphaba doesn’t notice it either (which I think might be true), it makes I’m Not That Girl quite an insightful song

        I wanted to understand the love triangle more due to finally understanding “I’m Not That Girl” is heartbreaking. Due to that, I knew I would feel more vulnerable this time around when it comes to the love triangle and knew to delve deeper I would have to look for clues in Fiyero.

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      5. Absolutely! Fiyero really is an interesting character in that he is pretty important but that he’s a tough code to crack! It’s really difficult to really get to know him because we see him change so much and, because the story primarily focuses on Elphie and Glinda so we don’t really get to know Fiyero too well.

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      6. If only I can understand why I even love him. I think the biggest reason why I love him belongs to the love triangle. I was aware in high school that the love triangle provides an amazing emotional texture to the piece and gives it a wonderful complexity. Wicked is much more complex than I once thought it was

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      7. Definitely! It really adds to Wicked’s uniqueness! I honestly don’t know if Wicked would be as amazing to me if the love triangle wasn’t a part of it! After all, the love triangle causes the characters to change and grow so much! I’m not even sure how the ending of Wicked would have worked out if it weren’t for the love triangle!

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      8. In a way its craziness, its bizarre nature, its ironies feels Ozian so in a way it makes sense that in one act Elphaba gets unrequited love but in act two its Glinda. One thing I do understand for sure is why Fiyero broke up with Glinda: he broke up with her during Thank Goodness due all the rumors people are spreading about Elphaba, he cannot believe Glinda is supporting all of that so he breaks up with her and in that moment realizes he loves Elphaba. So my theory is probably right he had a crush on Elphaba starting with the lion cub scene.

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      9. Yeah, I definitely agree. It’s pretty awesome to see how much all of the characters grow throughout the course of the story and how small, subtle moments really can change a person’s entire interpretation of a scene!

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      10. I love just how much this love triangle has grown throughout the years. Due to I’m Not That Girl really being my first connection and exposure of unrequited love, it is special seeing it it grow. So the growth of this love triangle really shows just how much my understanding of unrequited love has changed throughout the years

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      11. I was a middle schooler when I first saw Wicked and it has grown a lot over the years. Not just the love triangle, but in other areas as well. I still feel like that 12 year old even though the emotions have the understanding of a 23 year old

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      12. Absolutely! Wicked’s really unique in that way! It’s one of those musicals that I always seem able to approach as a child! Even though I first saw Oliver! as a 6 year-old kid, I view it as an older person would but still get excited by the dance numbers like I did when I saw it for the first time all those years ago! Wicked, on the other hand, makes me feel like a kid again but, as you said, my understanding of the emotions run deeper than that of a seven year-old.

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      13. My emotions in Wicked are so much deeper than that of a 12 year old, but of someone much older. “Popular” makes me feel like a 12 year old the most because it was my favorite song from Wicked at that age and thats why it is still my favorite Wicked song. The dance and spectacle numbers still feel like how I felt when I saw them when I was much younger. Excitement is the only musical emotion that hasn’t changed one bit over the years: it has felt exactly the same over the years

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