Who are the greatest ever Musical Theatre prisoners? We may finally have a route out of lockdown, (even if it is a winding yellow brick road with Boris Johnson auditioning for the part of Scarecrow) but some of the most famous characters from the musicals were no strangers to a prison cell themselves. And so, as we finally eye a return to live performances, we’re taking a look at ten of Musical Theatre’s greatest escapes – characters who spent time under lock and key but made a spectacular prison break!
10: Billy Crocker (Anything Goes)
Time in lockdown: 1 song
Anything Goes is a Cole Porter classic, with the cleverest lyrics and most convolutedly entertaining plots of any West End or Broadway musical. Billy is the show’s romantic lead and gets into all sorts of scrapes when he stows away aboard the SS American – ending up in the ship’s brig with Public Enemy no.13, Moonface Martin. They then attempt an outlandish escape disguised as Chinese prisoners – and because this is a musical, they’ll probably get away with it!
Anything Goes at the Barbican Theatre from 5 June 2021
9: Tracy Turnblad (Hairspray)
Time in lockdown: 1 night
Hairspray celebrates a world where everyone should be able to love who the heck they want. Sadly, 1960s Baltimore isn’t quite there yet. Following a protest march, fisticuffs break out and Tracy lands herself in solitary confinement. Of course, this is a musical, so it’s the kind of prison where Zac Effron can sneak in and stage a daring rescue during an up-tempo dance number. Now that’s our kind of prison!
Hairspray at the London Coliseum from 22 April 2021 (subject to change)
8: Edgar (Batboy)
Time in lockdown: Just long enough to stop biting people
Our next nominee for the award of Greatest Escape Artist has to go to the enigma that is Batboy. The show famously flopped at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 2004, but not before it became a cult classic, partly for the now-legendary scene in Act Two where various woodland creatures had an orgy – including for some reason, a tortoise. Although Edgar (Batboy) is initially caged, he is quickly tamed and turns out to be a highly entertaining, if slightly dangerous houseguest. Covid-19 showed us why it’s a bad idea to eat bats – Batboy showed us why you shouldn’t sleep with them either.
7: The Jersey Boys
Time in lockdown: 1 Weekend
You might think their dance moves were criminal, but the Jersey Boys actually landed themselves in jail over an unpaid debt by Tommy DeVito. Fortunately, the group only had to endure the one weekend before being freed. The Jersey Boys are better known to many as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, who recorded some of the biggest hits of the 1960s – Big Girls Don’t Cry, Sherry, December 1963 (Oh, What A Night), My Eyes Adored You, Walk Like A Man and Working My Way Back to You.
Jersey Boys at the Trafalgar Theatre from 2 June 2021
6: Roxie Hart & Velma Kelly (Chicago)
Time in lockdown: Roughly the length of a court case
“A tale of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery – all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts.” Velma Kelly is behind bars when the show begins – Roxie isn’t far behind. They definitely win top prize for most glamorous musical theatre prisoners, if not for wife of the year. But then, who hasn’t been tempted to kill their husband at least once during lockdown? Chicago is what happens if you DO give in to temptation…
5: Luis Alberto Molina (Kiss of the Spiderwoman)
Time in lockdown: 3 Years
Kiss of the Spiderwoman (no relation to Spiderman) pairs two unlikely cell-mates in a South American prison. It sounds a bit depressing, but fortunately there are lots of songs by Kander & Ebb (the team behind Chicago and Cabaret) and this is the sort of prison where you get Chita Rivera popping in every five minutes with a new song. Molina’s liberation is more escapism than escape – but who wouldn’t lay down their life for a Broadway megastar like Chita?
4: Mickey Johnstone (Blood Brothers)
Time in lockdown: 7 years (with parole for good behaviour)
Blood Brothers is much missed in the West End, where it ran for an incredible 24 years. That’s even more time than one of its leading characters, Mickey, spends as a musical theatre prisoner during the show. While Blood Brothers isn’t exactly a laugh a minute, it’s a refreshingly gritty take on what can happen if you watch too many Marilyn Monroe films – and it’s always nice to know that somewhere, a character in a musical is having a worse day than yours.
3: Joseph (Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat)
Time in lockdown: Around 13 years
Although the bible indicates that Joseph spent around 13 years in chains, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice decided only to leave him locked up for the interval. Still, it’s nice to know that you can have an ice-cream while you wait for him to be released.
2: Jean Valjean (Les Misérables)
Time in lockdown: 19 Years
Les Misérables is the ultimate tale of musical redemption. Imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving family, Jean Valjean (disguised as Wolverine from X-Men) escapes lockdown when he is released on parole by Russell Crowe (disguised as a Thunderbird). Things take a turn for the worse when Valjean, unable to find a job, is reduced to stealing nicknacks from the local church. Fortunately, the vicar proves to be the nice sort (like the Vicar of Dibley) and Valjean is promoted to Mayor.
1: The Hebrews (The Prince of Egypt)
Time in lockdown: An entire generation
In top spot, our award for Best Lockdown Survivor has to go to the Hebrew people, who spend almost the whole of The Prince of Egypt in slavery before staging a rather impressive exit through the Red Sea. That’s because the show’s leading man just happens to be Moses, whose lovely singing voice is second only to his gift for performing miracles. The songs are pretty special too – that’s because Stephen Schwartz wrote them – he also wrote Wicked.
The Prince of Egypt at the Dominion Theatre from 3 May 2021 (subject to change)
We had so much fun researching this list – it’s amazing just how many musical theatre prisoners there are! Perhaps you have a favourite you’d love to set free – either from our list or from one of the following shows, all of which feature characters in lockdown for at least part of the story:
- Anyone Can Whistle
- All Shook Up
- Bad Girls
- Behind The Iron Mask
- Bombay Dreams
- City of Angels
- Fleet Week
- The Full Monty
- Irma La Douce
- Jailhouse Rock
- The Life
- Little Me
- The Man of La Mancha
- Martin Guerre
- Our House
- Prisoner Cell Block H: The Musical
- The Producers
- Reefer Madness
- The Scarlet Pimpernel
- Smokey Joe’s Café
- Sweeney Todd
- Thoroughly Modern Millie
- Welcome to the Club
- Wonderful Town
Let us know if we’ve missed any of your favourite musical theatre prisoners. And if you’ve enjoyed this post, you’ll love our feature 10 times London theatres closed but bounced back better – proving you just can’t keep a good show down!