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Top 10 Musical Theater Dads

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Father’s Day is upon us and so we turn to the font of all knowledge, the musical theater. Here’s a highly subjective list of the top ten musical theater dads. It’s not easy but we winnowed down a list that included the dad in Next to Normal, Captain Andy in Show Boat, Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady, Mr. MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie, Daddy Warbucks in Annie, Jasmine’s dad in Aladdin, “The Old Man” in A Christmas Story, Jerry Cohan in George M!, Baron Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, Meyer Rothschild in The Rothschilds, Mr. Darling in Peter Pan… well, we could go on and on.

So, after all that here’s the Top Ten Musical Theater dads.

The number one dad in all musicals is Tevye, the milkman in Fiddler on the Roof. Although he’s browbeaten by his wife Golde he mostly calls the shots or at least he thinks he does. Tevye’s a great father because he’s aware enough to know that one has to keep up with progress, and there’s a balance of the new and the old traditions. But uppermost in his mind is the happiness of his daughters.

Here’s another favorite musical comedy character who stands up to his wife when enough is enough. Once his patience is at the breaking point he intones the immortal line, “I has spoken!” Of course, that’s Pappy Yokum proud father of Abner Yokum of Dogpatch, U.S.A. Li’l Abner is one of most farcical of all musical comedies, and it also  actually makes a warning against the military industrial complex. Yes, it does! And Johnny Mercer and Gene dePaul’s score is one of the brightest of the 1950s.

Like Tevye, Carousel’s Billy Bigelow also wants the best for his daughter, but he doesn’t quite know how to go about it. He’s not the brightest guy, but his love for his daughter is the real thing. And though he’s lost his life through an incredibly bad decision, he’s allowed to return to Earth for one day to see his daughter all grown-up and graduating from high school. But when his emotions get the best of him he can’t handle it and he invisibly slaps his daughter. Though Billy is actually a spirit she feels the slap, but it doesn’t hurt as much as surprise her for she interprets the slap as a kiss. She somehow understands the truthfulness of emotion behind the slap.

Gregory Jbara played “Dad” in the Broadway production of Billy Elliot. He’s a great dad and an interesting character because he recognizes his son’s talents and steadfastly stands with him no matter how the society at large sees a boy who only wants to dance. Dad’s the one who takes Billy to dance class and allows him to begin to make the future that means the most to him.

Our next father of the year is someone who is not actually the father of the child but a father who vows to forgive and forget past infidelities and take the high road. We’re talking about Tony Esposito, the title character of Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella. Tony’s marriage doesn’t start out well. He runs into a waitress and falls in love with her. They haven’t even known each other long enough for her to recognize him when next they meet. Because Tony, decades older than the waitress Rosabella, proposes by mail and, thinking that she’ll reject him if she sees his real photo encloses the photo of his young, handsome foreman, Joey. When Roseabella shows up and discovers the deception she takes solace in Joey’s arms. Joey is the wandering type and decides to follow his dreams. That would be fine except now Rosabella is pregnant with Joey’s baby. But Tony steps up and announces to all that he’s the father and saves Rosabella from shame. That selfless decision makes Rosabella fall in love with Tony.

Here’s a famous musical with not one but two fathers, The Fantasticks. Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt give the characters two terrific songs, “Never Say No” and “Plant a Radish” and never in any other musical has a philosophy of raising children been so expertly and humorously explained. Huckabee and Bellomy control the shots while their kids are happily unaware.

Another pair of fathers who stubbornly stand their ground proud of their son and who they are. We’re talking about Georges and Albin, the gay proprietors of the nightclub, La Cage Aux Folles. Though Georges is the biological father Albin has taken an equal role in raising their son Jean-Michel. The drama (and comedy) begins when Jean-Michel announces he’s engaged to the daughter of the head of the anti-gay, ultra-conservative "Tradition, Family and Morality Party." The whole thing’s a farce but in the best Jerry Herman tradition it’s the depth of feelings that give the show its soul. Here’s a show that should be compulsory viewing by every rightwing conservative.

And speaking of a gay parent there’s Marvin and his son Jason in William Finn’s March of the Falsettos.  Marvin is having his own problems with his younger partner, Whizzer as well as trying to be a good father to his son. Jason’s worried that he might grow up to be gay. Through many trials and tribulations, many of which don’t lead to happiness all around, Marvin can finally embrace Jason. And Jason, to his relief finds himself with a newfound appreciation for the curves of the female sex. The show finishes with Marvin telling Jason that he loves him and no matter what happens in the future, he’ll always love and support him.

 Well, that’s our top ten greatest musical theater fathers. They may come from different backgrounds and have different ideas about raising their children, but what it all gets down to is that fathers and their offspring have a strong bond. And if everyone can learn to understand each other happiness can result.


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