We all love a good lead character. From Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz to Maria Von Trapp in The Sound of Music we fall in love with characters and the tales that they tell. Most of the time though, so much attention is given to the spotlighted character we somehow forget to pay homage to those that are kind of, shall we say, set along the side.
So this list is dedicated to all the secondary characters in our favorite musicals that make us laugh, cry, wonder and sing along.
1. Scarecrow, Tinman and Cowardly Lion
The Wizard of Oz is a great musical romp through the imagination of L. Frank Baum who penned the books that the movie was eventually based upon. Sure, Dorothy is the main focus as is her long trek to get back to Kansas but what about the guys who are there to help her along the way? While each of them in their own right deserve a spot on this list singularly, it is hard to deny that together they are one entity and thusly we shall present them in that way.
First we have Scarecrow, he is so sure that he is lacking the brain power, actually the literally brain, to help him find a life outside of his cornfield. He charms us with his limp dancing from a body that hasn’t been used in so long and singing tunes that we can’t help but recite when we aren’t watching the movie.
Then we meet Tinman, who is rusted solid until Dorothy and Scarecrow use the oil can to help him get free. Once he is able to move about he tells the duo about his lack of a heart and how he longs to get one so he can feel.
The three set off to see the Wizard and come upon the Lion, who chases them and tries to scare the trio but in turn he starts to cry because Dorothy slaps him for chasing Toto. This is when they realize that the Lion is, in fact, a coward, and when the truth comes out he tells them of how he longs for some courage.
Yet, when they reach the Wizard he tells them all that they have had the possessions they are searching for and have always had them. When we look closely at these fabulous and lovable secondary characters in this musical we learn that this is indeed true.
It is Scarecrow who comes up with all the great ideas on their adventures, it is Tinman who cries when things go wrong because he feels so much, and it is Lion, who faces all his fears in spite of them, because he has the courage to do so. After all, it doesn’t take courage to do something you aren’t afraid of, it takes courage to move forward even when you are afraid.
It is these secondary characters that we learn how what we want to possess in ourselves is most likely there if we just look deep enough for it.
2. The Baroness, Max Detweiler, Mother Abbess and the Nuns at the Abbey
The Sound of Music is another musical we all have learned to love in our childhood. Yet, when you look past Maria, the Captain and their seven children, who are the focal point of the film, we find that the characters there are just as full and well-rounded as the stars.
The Baroness is the love interest of the Captain, at least before Maria steals his heart away. She serves a great purpose for the story. The Baroness is the reason the Captain leaves his family and his children for great lengths of time. Yet, his reasons for doing so is not because he is selfish and doesn’t care for his family. The Captain misses his deceased wife and everything at home, including the children remind him of her.
It is when Maria introduces music back into the home that the Captain remembers what it was like to have a female presence in his home. It is also the Baroness who first sees how Maria and the Captain care for each other and, as much as she loves the Captain, she steps down with style and class.
Then there is Uncle Max. He is loud and a swindler and he continues to try and get the children to sing in a local festival. He is so determined to showcase them that he goes against the Captains wishes and books them anyway while the Captain and Maria are on their honeymoon. Of course, inadvertently, Uncle Max saves the family by giving them an excuse to leave their home when they are caught trying to escape the Nazis. It is Uncle Max who is the unsung hero in this musical.
Of course, we have the woman of the Abbey. The Reverend Mother and the Nuns who, at first, question how to solve a problem like Maria but in the end, also help them get away from the Nazis and venture over the mountains toward Switzerland. It is through the Abbey and its inhabitants that Maria is first sent to the von Trapp household as a governess and it is here where Maria runs when she is afraid of her new feelings.
Maria and the Captain get married at the Abbey with all of the women in attendance. These side characters in The Sound of Music serve a great purpose in the fate of our loved von Trapp family yet their contribution is so subtle it is easy for viewers to miss.
3. Fagan, Artful Dodger, Nancy and Mr. Brownlow
In Oliver! we are so enthralled with the innocent little orphan boy who seems to get mixed up with the wrong people the importance of the other characters seems to get pushed to the way side. The Artful Dodger is the boy whom Oliver first meets and that meeting ultimately changes the course of his life. It is Dodger who teaches Oliver to pick pockets and brings him to Fagan to become part of their crew.
Of course, Fagan plays a major role in the development of Oliver’s life. It is when Oliver is sent out to pick pockets and is arrested and meets Mr. Brownlow, who just happens to be his long lost wealthy uncle. Yet, the jump from picking his pocket to being saved is a long one.
Fagan also gets Oliver mixed up with Bill Sikes. Sikes uses Oliver for a robbery and when it is botched they barely get away. So now we have Nancy. Poor Nancy who is so in love with Sikes she can barely breathe. Nancy is very aware of the type of guy Sikes is but maybe she thinks she can’t get better. Maybe there is something about him we just can’t see. Either way, Nance risks her relationship and ultimately her life by helping Oliver escape the clutches of Sikes and returns him to Mr. Brownlow where she knows the boy will have a chance at a better life.
These secondary characters in Oliver actually play a great role in the fate of our lead character, much more so than he does on his own.
4. The T-Birds and the Pink Ladies
Grease is a musical that came out in the late seventies and once it was released everyone found themselves singing “Beauty School Dropout” and “Greased Lighting” to themselves throughout the day. Of course, we all were on the edge of our seats wanting to know if Danny and Sandy would end up together forever. What about the rest of the gang?
Rizzo is one of the best characters in the musical who goes through as many growths and changes as the lead characters. She is easy and couldn’t care less about who she is with as long as she is having a good time. Yet, little does she know that a tryst with Kenickie will leave her possibly pregnant and in love.
Of course, we learn that she isn’t with child but her love and feelings are very real. This leads us to Kenickie. He is a tough guy who seems to care about nothing other than building his car, hanging out with his friends, and beating the rival gang in a car race. Still, when he learns of the possibility that he may have impregnated Rizzo, Kenickie grows up and tells her he “doesn’t walk away from his mistakes.”
Then there is Frenchy who drops out of Rydell to attend beauty school and it ends up a mess. Her boyfriend Doody is just trying to figure out how to make her happy. Jan wants to lose a few pounds while Putzie is just trying to get her to give it up. Sonny is in love with Marty who can’t be bothered with him because she is after popular disc jockey Vince Fontaine.
All in all, this group of friends grows up and learns their individual lessons and finds love while Danny and Sandy try to figure out how to stay together. All of the T-Birds and Pink Ladies deserve a shout out because without them this movie would be far less entertaining.
For more great secondary characters, check out the musicals available to watch today here.