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Sure, it’s the lead actors who enthral us when they tread the boards in London’s most fabulous musicals, but we also can’t get enough of their comedic foils.
They may not be strong or confident or glamorous, but these characters are experts at dropping one-liners. They crack us up with their utter absurdity and often touch our hearts with their spot-on wisdom.
From faithful companions to foppish monarchs, here’s a round-up of our favourite spotlight stealers.
These two characters – a bossy little meerkat and a gaseous warthog – add to the delight of Disney’s landmark musical The Lion King. After young Simba runs away because he believes he’s brought shame to the Pride Lands, Timon and Pumbaa take him in. Although it’s mostly in the self-interest of not being eaten, they quickly bond with the guilt-ridden lion cub. Not only do they teach him to eat beetles, but they also share their “problem-free philosophy” in Hakuna Matata. Of course, when the time comes that Simba must face his tyrannical uncle Scar, this nutty pair stays by his side, proving that friendship knows no bounds.
The smash hit musical about one of America’s Founding Fathers can be intense, but you won’t be able to keep a straight face when you meet this catty caricature of King George III. Dressed in his finest regalia complete with a crown and scepter, every time he takes the stage in Hamilton the music shifts to an upbeat, breezy pop melody. When King George delivers You’ll Be Back to the colonists sounding like a bitter ex, audiences go crazy. Although he only has three songs in the show, he kills it each time thanks to lyrics like “…and when push comes to shove, I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love”, followed by “da da dat” and his mad cackling laugh.
The musical remake of this beloved 1990 film centres on pie-making prodigy Jenna. Not to take anything away from her, but it’s the oddball fairy tale romance between these two quirky characters that makes us giddy every time we watch Waitress. Dawn, another waitress at Joe’s Pie Diner, goes on a blind date with an eccentric guy called “Ogie” (short for Oklahoma). She’s awkward about relationships, while he’s an expert in “spontaneous poetry” and determined to win her heart. Their courtship and resulting wedding ceremony – complete with its American Revolution re-enactment theme – not only have us doubled over with laughter but also feeling like anything is possible.
Giving a modern twist to Shakespeare’s most famous love story, this exuberant musical is filled with hilarious characters. As Juliet’s gender-fluid BFF, May is the kind of person every woman needs in her corner – someone who always has your back, with a flair for fashion, of course. When Juliet runs off to Paris, May is right there beside her with advice about moving on with life post-Romeo. But everything changes when they meet Francois at a party and a comical love triangle ensues. As it turns out, Francois is also grappling with some major life issues (including the ultimate overbearing father) in his own uniquely humorous way.
Played by Arun Blair-Mangat and Tim Mahendran, May and Francois have amazing chemistry on stage together, and it shows in the video below where they take to the streets of London to see how well the public knows & Juliet’s iconic pop songs.
Every single character in this musical about American missionaries who go to Africa to convert the natives is funny – as you’d expect from the creators of South Park. But among the squeaky-clean, always-friendly elders, no one plays second fiddle to Elder McKinley. He’s the tap-dancing leader of District 9 in Uganda. Unfortunately, Elder McKinley has a large crush on Elder Price and is constantly struggling to suppress his sexuality, which goes against the teachings of his religion. In one of many uproarious numbers in The Book Of Mormon, he shares how to “treat those pesky feelings like a reading light” and just Turn It Off.
Since originating as a film in 1988, Hairspray has gone from screen to stage and back again, set to return to the West End with Michael Ball and Paul Merton as the Turnblads. A devoted wife and mother, Edna hasn’t left her home “since she was a size 10”. Embarrassed about her weight, much of her humour is self-deprecating. However, her husband Wilbur, who owns the Hardy-Har Hut joke shop, is still madly in love with her. He actually compares her to a “stinky old cheese” in the song Timeless To Me, and it’s a laugh-out-loud joyful moment. Plus, audiences love when Edna gains confidence and decides “I like the way I am” while teaching her daughter and everyone else about tolerance and unapologetically being yourself in You Can’t Stop The Beat.
Drag queens make some of the best sidekicks. That’s why we love Hugo Battersby (aka Loco Chanelle) in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. He’s the owner of Victor’s Secret, a store selling drag queen attire. Jamie, a 16-year-old who’s trying to figure stuff out, meets and befriends him. Not only does Hugo protect the vulnerable teen from three local bullies, but he also offers plenty of sage advice while encouraging Jamie to find his own true drag self.
Sometimes the funniest character on stage is the one you love to hate. Child-tossing tyrant Miss Trunchbull fits that bill in Matilda The Musical. She’s the headmistress at Crunchem Hall Primary School. Usually played by a man, this large-bosomed villainess has a tight bun and wears a frumpy dress. A former world champion hammer thrower, she likes to punish students in her tortuous cupboard called the “Chokey”. You just never know what to expect from Miss Trunchbull. Although she’ll scare you, she’s also sure to crack you up – especially during songs like The Smell Of Rebellion, when she suddenly leaps over a vault during an intense physical education lesson.
Find more information about your favourite West End productions by heading to our Theatre Guide.