The Black Crook
“The Black Crook” is often times considered the very first musical, but many different themes from the production are still being used in theatre today. “The Black Crook” was adored by audiences for its exquisite sets, costumes, and large ensemble pieces, but one element of the production that still takes a toll in theatre today is the characters. By studying “The Black Crook,” you can see the formation of basic character roles and structure that are still used in the world of performance today.
Photo: Public Domain
From the very first scene, the characters start coming into their roles. In the first scene you meet Rodolphe and Amina. Speaking lines such as, “Oh, how wearily the days and nights have passed since you left me! (Act 1. Scene 1),” it is clear from the first moment of the play that there is an element of romance. Throughout the rest of the play, Rodolphe takes on the role of the protagonist, and eventually hero, while Anima fits directly into the role of the ingénue and love interest of Rodolphe. This simple boy/girl romantic structure can be seen all the way through theatre, from the bedroom of Romeo and Juliet, to the plots of Rodger’s and Hammerstein and so on!
As the show progresses, we start to meet the opposites, or antagonists, to Heroic Rodolphe. Evil Count Wolfenstein tries to marry Amina, taking her from Rodolphe. And then, Hertzog makes a deal with the evil Zamiel- one life every New Year and he can live forever. And this is where we start to see the structure of the “evil one,” “bad guy,” or simply, “the villain.” Each of these characters play an important part to the story of the show, but also have one general thing in common- they are all evil by nature. This idea of being “evil by natural” has been seen in many books, plays, movies, and nowadays is very common in children’s productions. The antagonist plays an important part- the opposer of the protagonist. And because of this, the character role of “the evil one” has been used in productions time and time again.
And lastly, this production shows us the generalized structure of big ensembles. In “The Black Crook,” there are many groups that perform on stage at one time- dancers, gnomes, fairies, etc. Although they are usually each the same character (same animal, community villager, etc), the ensemble represents the bigger idea, which is the group. Using a grouping of people, characters, or even just voices is a very effective manner of getting across an important point, showing a majorities opinion, showing large population numbers, etc. And this technique is used constantly in theatre today. From the pirate’s of “Pirates of Penzance” to the working girls in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” ensembles play an important role in theatre of any age.
When it comes to the performing arts, it is always important to notice the structures that have shaped its evolution. The basic formation of character roles shown in “The Black Crook” has been used in many past productions, and is still frequently used even in contemporary theatre. Although theatre has changed enormously since “The Black Crook,” the roles of these characters provide a structure found throughout theatre history.