If you’ve been reading my blog for quite a while, you may remember how I used to publish posts under the heading “The Writing Files”. While I did abandon these quite a while ago, I am now resuming them as I delve even deeper into the world of writing. Though I am by no means extremely experienced in the field, I will attempt to give advice or to write on the topic to the best of my ability.
So, if I’ve never told you guys this before, I’m a bit of a musical fan. I LOVE the Disney stuff (well, duh), but I also Rodgers and Hammerstein’s masterpieces, as well as a few more recent Broadway musicals such as Tuck Everlasting, Finding Neverland, etc. Recently, I discovered the 1997 animated film, Anastasia, has made it to Broadway. Updated with new songs, and a significantly longer run time, this Anastasia was reviewed poorly in comparison to its cartoon predecessor. After ensuring that it was clean, I went ahead and watched a video filming of it on Youtube.
Now, it wasn’t that the musical was bad – I could get into a whole review on it, but what I want YOU all to take away from this experience is my take on the villain, Gleb. Yes, Gleb. If you loved Rasputin and his albino bat, I hate to disappoint because their replacement is a military officer whose father pulled the trigger on Anastasia’s family. Now, while that certainly sounds like there could be plenty of conflict offered, I was disappointed to discover that this character made a scant number of appearances in the show’s overall run time – about four or five times to be exact. In each appearance his character seems a little different, but one thing is made clear: he has a thing for Anastasia. Now, that’s not to say he pursues it; the villainous part of him that wants to honor his father’s name and finish the job is unable to do so.
This is where I really want you to pay attention, because Gleb has all the potential to be an interesting villain, especially when you consider how similar he is to another famous literary/film villain. He too is in love with a young woman, but his duty not only to his job, but to what he believes his spiritual calling in life drives him to not only push her away, but destroy her so none others can have her. Can you tell who it is? If you guessed Frollo, from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, you’d be correct. Frollo is exactly the same type of villain that Gleb is, just done a little better. Why? Well, lets examine a few important points side by side and lets just see if we can’t discover why.
Note: I’ll be using the animated film as a reference for those of you who haven’t read Victor Hugo’s hefty classic.
Frollo – When we are first introduced to him, he is attempting to run down a gypsy woman who clutches a child. She makes it to the church only to die in the arms of the vicar, whom Frollo looks upon in disdain. Her child, deformed beyond belief, he takes to murder, but the vicar impresses upon him that he must not, for it is his sacred duty now to take care of the child whose mother he has driven to an early death. The disgust is plain on Frollo’s face.
Gleb – When we first see him, Gleb is singing a portion of the song “A Rumor in St. Petersburg”. The comedic and entertainment elements are high as a crowd of Russian comrades run around, half having fun, half cowering to ensure that the “equal” government doesn’t take them in for being a spy. As the song ends, Gleb runs over a street sweeper named Anya. He thinks she’s cute, asks her if she wants to share a little breakfast, and waves her off with a bit of a daft smile.
Frollo – During the expository song, “Hellfire”, Frollo not only reveals his burning desire for Esmerelda, he also clearly outlines where his belief system lies on that point, something that has been built up to at this point. Thus far we’ve seen how he treats the misfortunate and the gypsies, and we’ve seen the surprise he feels whenever Esmerelda is close to him. For “Hellfire” to reveal that he cares for her is not only surprising, but makes him all the more terrifying when he admits to the belief that killing her will purge his immortal soul of all sin.
Gleb – While Gleb’s song, “The Neva Flows” does offer a little expository background on his father’s role in the Romanov’s death, at this point we already know he has a duty to ensure that the rumored “Anastasia” does not arise and his attraction to Anya was already made clear. Learning about his father’s role in the Romanov’s death doesn’t drive the story forward; it is instead a fact that could have been told without a lengthy song.
Frollo – Ultimately, Frollo decides to continue his reign of terror and dies a grim death, but not before he has threatened every single character in the cast, as well as made Quasimodo’s quest for freedom and happiness seem near impossible.
Gleb – During one of the final numbers of the show, Anastasia sings a sad song, longing for Dimitri. In bursts Gleb, gun in hand as he goes on about how he is going to kill her and finish the job his father started. Anastasia takes this all in stride given the fact that Gleb has been an unknown enemy to her this entire show. While she and her friends have been concerned about being caught, their fear is of the Russian government as a whole, which could have served as a villain just as well as Gleb. Ultimately, Gleb’s lack of menace makes his decision not to kill Anastasia utterly unimpressive and climactic.
The biggest difference between Frollo and Gleb is their lack of appearances. Due to the fact that Gleb only appears a few times, his standing is generally unknown. Is he a villainous adversary? A sympathetic man in uniform? Who is he? If Gleb is a threat, it is never shown, which is a shame because Ramin Karimloo (who plays said villain) can certainly sing.
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