""Who Am I? I’m Jean Valjean!"
The character in a song is undoubtedly one of the most important clues to insight into the traits of a role. A character in a story has many identifiable traits that an actor can use to find suitable material for an audition. This is the case especially when auditioning for or wanting to be seen as a particular role within a show. Character traits include but are not limited to:
The most subjective of these being Character Type, because many characters can fit into multiple categories of these.
In Audition Source, I’m trying to compile a number of these common character Types that can fit into and connect with enough similar characters based on their traits. I use a number of common Archetypes, as well as a number of familiar character tropes or traits that can be identified in a multitude of characters through out musical theatre’s wide library of material. These include the following so far:
Leading Man/Lady: This one is more broad than most types as it encompasses most characters that are “lead roles” already. However there are certainly some things that come to mind when you think of a “Leading Role” type of character. Usually they are confident, a leader of some kind, larger than life, or even heroic. Some examples of a quintessential Leading Man/Lady include Curley from "Oklahoma!" or Billy Bigelow from "Carousel" and Dolly from "Hello Dolly" or Evita Parone from "Evita."
Character: Another VERY broad type is the Character type. Typically these are the comedic relief or have some more unique aspects to themselves that set them apart from the cast in a specific way. Because this can vary from character to character and performer to performer, the Character type is a commonly used term when it comes to a wide variety of roles. Examples of a Character type role would certainly include Elder Cunningham from "Book of Mormon" and Adelaide from "Guys and Dolls."
Villain: The antagonist of a story. Sometimes evil, sometimes misunderstood. It depends on the circumstances of the plot. The villain acts as a stopper between the hero and their goals. The villain isn’t always necessarily bad and can even change at times like the Witch from "Into the Woods" or maybe they aren’t explicitly seen as the villain of the story until revealed to be a villain like The Wizard from "Wicked." Always remember to consider context within a story when deciphering a character's type.
Romantic Youth: Also sometimes referred to as the ingenue. This character is all about love. They might be helplessly in it or maybe everyone is helplessly in love with them. Examples of these would be Tony and Maria from "West Side Story" or Orpheus and Euridice from "Hades Town."
Parental: They may be a parent or a surrogate for a parent. Raising a child or acting as a Patron or Matron to another character is the defining characteristic. This could include Tevye or Golde from "Fiddler on the Roof," Marme from "Little Women," or Arvide from "Guys and Dolls."
Song and Dance: This character is all about show biz! Typically they may be seen in a “show within a show” situation as a character who’s primary function is entertainment, or perhaps that is their main purpose as a role within a show such as in a song cycle or other similar piece of theatre. Examples of a Song and Dance character would be Don Lockwood from "Singin’ in the Rain," Reno Sweeney from "Anything Goes," or Ula from "The Producers."
Scholar: A scholar it could be any kind of character that has to do with intelligence or wisdom, not necessarily with school. They could be into books or computers or obsessed with religion or scriptures either way they are passionate about learning. Examples of a scholar might be Chip Tolentino from "Spelling Bee" or Henry Higgins from "My Fair Lady," Hermione from "Harry Potter" (Not a musical but a perfect example) and Vivian from "Legally Blonde."
Traditionalist: A character with a specific moral code, that might be considered by some to be dated or rooted in a tradition of some sort. A great example of this might be Tevye from "Fiddler on the Roof" (at least at the start of the story) or Javert from "Les Miserables," Aunt March from "Little Women" or General Cartwright from "Guys and Dolls."
Lustful: This character’s primary traits and themes have to do with sex, passion, pleasure and desire. They might be an object of desire or constantly desiring others. Examples of this might be Adolfo from the "Drowsy Chaperone" or Sally from "Reefer Madness."
Rebel: A fighter and passionate believer in ideals that may go against the grain of society. This character sets themselves apart in their story as a pioneer for new thoughts and or beliefs. Bobby Strong from "Urinetown" or Jesus from "Jesus Christ Superstar" as well as Jo from "Little Women" or Janice from "Mean Girls" would be some great examples of characters who are rebellious in nature.
Tragic Hero/Heroine: Not always necessarily a hero, but a character with either a tragic backstory or fate. Usually haunted by their past, or flawed by their traits which cause their stories to not get such a happy ending. Perfect examples of these could be the title role from "Floyd Collins" or Nancy from "Oliver!"
Best Friend/Sidekick: Plenty of main characters in musicals have a best friend or sidekick character who is there to offer a helping hand of some sort when the going gets tough. Typically these characters have a bit of a comedic relief or contrast to the main character in a way that is complimentary to them. Some great examples of this type include Willard from "Footloose" or Carrie Pepperidge from "Carousel."
Braggart Warrior: Usually a male role who oozes with masculinity or at the very least feigned macho pride. The most iconic Braggart Warriors include Gaston from "Beauty and the Beast" and Miles Gloriosus from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."
Everyman: The role who longs to "be like everyone else." Their primary goal is to belong to something or the search for deeper meaning and existence. Some perfect examples include Princeton from "Avenue Q" or Ariel from "The Little Mermaid."
Comedic Romantic: Typical in a romantic comedy. This character is hopelessly in love to the point that hilarity ensues in their pursuit of it. Billy Crocker from "Anything Goes" and Elle Woods from "Legally Blonde" are some great examples for these types.
Lovable Con: Not necessarily having the best intentions at first or maybe they never change for the better, either way we love them despite their shenanigans. Harold Hill from "The Music Man" and Cora Hoover Hooper from "Anyone Can Whistle" are some of the most iconic examples of the Lovable Con.
Many characters can display a combination of these traits/archetypes.
For example, Jean Valjean from "Les Miserables" is a Leading Man as he is the main character of the story. He has a larger than life complexity and personality that most Leading Men/Ladies need to stand out above others. He also is a man of strong principals and becomes quite religious after his encounter with the Bishop, so I would also say he is also a Traditionalist. At the same time he also has a rather haunted and tragic backstory with a bitter end, so he would easily fit into the Tragic Hero character as well. These traits combined can help an actor identify other characters that maybe fit into similar categories to make finding appropriate audition materials easier. Some immediate characters who come to mind would be Jesus or Judas from "Jesus Christ Superstar", Sweeney Todd, or even the Phantom from "Phantom of the Opera" to name a few.
While archetypes and character types can be useful there are, of course, a plethora of factors at play which make some characters more unique than another. These ultimately play out through the actions they take, their inner thoughts devised by the actor, director or writer, source material, setting, and interpretation. Many authors, especially in contemporary work, never explicitly name an archetype or character type for the roles in their musicals or plays. Each character is unique in their own particular way. Recognizing these types can help an actor make relevant choices in their repertoire for auditioning for these various roles. Many good actors can play multiple types, but plenty of actors have learned to identify the type they are most marketable as when playing a role.
The main criticism to note about categorizing characters and actors by type is that it can be very subjective at best, and discriminatory at worst. To one casting director, someone may appear to be a heroic protagonist, while to another they may consider the actor to not fit their own vision of what that hero looks like and cast them as a villain or character type instead. Ultimately there are parts of the casting process that are just out of your control. Sometimes bringing a piece that someone may consider out of your own type can play off in a very positive and unique way that works out beneficially for the actor because it made that actor stand out. Ultimately, it is up to you as the actor to figure out what you do best to market yourself as the best candidate for the role you are seeking.
You can read my previous article on finding your type casting and the history of Archetypes here: http://www.jordansidfield.com/blog/whats-my-type
What are some other character types not on this list from musicals you can name? Add them to this list by commenting down below. If you liked this article, please like and share it with your friends. Thanks for reading, and as always: break a leg!