Theatre Thursdays: These Characters Are Really Nice Guys

The friendzone and the entitlement it represents are a constant topic of discussion in the feminist community. This mentality presumes that men are entitled to women’s attention, and it also paints the rejected men as the victims instead of sympathizing with the put-upon women. They were Nice Guys, after all, why didn’t women reward their kindness with sex?


Is… Is the Phantom actually wearing a fedora?

I recently had the tremendous pleasure to see Norm Lewis as the titular Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, and well, the performance was spectacular. But it also got me thinking about the way that the tragedy of the Nice Guy is often an implicit part of theatrical romances. And while at first I thought that these narratives vindicated the Nice Guy struggle, I actually realized that theatre is a great place to go to see Nice Guys laid low.

phantom of the opera mirror doll

It’s basically a 19th century fleshlight. Or one of those creepy anime-girl body pillows.

The Phantom of the Opera is pretty much the quintessential Nice Guy™: he feels entitled to Christine’s attention, constantly does her favors she doesn’t want, and deeply resents that she still falls in love with Raoul instead of him. He goes so far as to murder members of the opera’s cast and crew in a long game whose end goal is to force her to stay in his catacomb with him forever. He even—and I can’t emphasize enough how creepy this is—he even has a life-sized mechanical Christine doll that leans forward to offer a kiss when prompted. When Christine outplays and humiliates him, he abducts her and attacks Raoul, threatening to murder him too unless she promises to stay with him forever. In the end, he does realize what a tool he’s been, but only after he’s managed to alienate anyone who had any reason to be kind to him.

"I idolize you even though you can't remember my name."

“I idolize you even though you can’t remember my name.”

It didn’t hit me until several years after I first saw Wicked that Boq is totally a Nice Guy™. He idolizes Galinda without actually knowing much about her, and prioritizes winning her attention over actually forming connections with people who, you know, reciprocate his interest. “I’ll be right here, waiting, all night,” he tells her. In an attempt to divert his attention elsewhere, Galinda suggests a way he could really impress her: by asking Nessa, the nice young lady in the wheelchair to the dance instead. But later, when Nessa calls him out, suggesting that he was only nice to her because he pitied her, he’s forced to lie and say he really does love her. This lie traps him in a years-long relationship and eventually results in his being turned into the Tin Man. Even then, he blames this on Elphaba, Nessa, and Glinda, rather than realizing that, had he just not been a creep, he would have never ended up in this situation.

And then there’s Seymour Krelborn, from Little Shop of Horrors. Seymour is just a Nice Guy™ with a big ol’ crush on his coworker Audrey. Audrey is a spacey gal with an abusive and sadistic boyfriend, and Seymour just knows that he’d be better for Audrey than the other guy. He tends her injuries, listens when she talks, and even names his new plant after her. The song “Suddenly Seymour” is basically a Nice Guy’s wet dream: the girl he wants realizes how wonderful he’s always been to her and returns his affections.



The thing is, though, Seymour’s a total sociopath, and he’s not any better for Audrey than the other guy was. His plant is a flesh-eating alien that brings its keeper his deepest wishes in exchange for meat, and Seymour is too addicted to the good life it brings to feel any real remorse over murdering several people to feed said plant. Sadly, the movie version of the show plays Seymour as the hero: in the end, he defeats Audrey II, rescues Audrey I, and the two of them live happily ever after. However, in the stage version, his hubris (and the giant talking alien plant) get the better of him, and he loses both Audrey and his own life to the plant he’s given so much to.

The problem is, not many people realize that these shows all eventually show that men who feel entitled to women are (often murderous) assholes. In the same way that many viewers and readers of Romeo and Juliet dismiss it as a romance about stupid teens rather than a tragedy about inter-familial strife, many theatre-goers see the relationships between these men and the women they stalk as tragic rather than creepy.

Yes, the Phantom is a tragic figure because of his disability, and because he was treated as a freak his entire life. But, say it with me, kids: traumatic backstories explain bad behavior—they don’t excuse it. The Phantom doesn’t deserve Christine because his life was sad, or because he taught her to sing, or because he got her great roles—Christine chose to be with Raoul, and that’s what matters.

Boq on the surface appeals to any kid with a crush on a much more popular kid. But as with all crushes of that nature, he didn’t really know Galinda at all; he was just in love with the idea of her. He attempted to guilt Galinda into giving him a chance to prove how much better he was than the date she had chosen, and was manipulated in turn. Galinda wasn’t being bitchy—she was every woman who’s ever gone to a club and felt uncomfortable rejecting a handsy stranger outright.

seymour little shopSeymour is a sad kid; he’s a nerdy little orphan living on Skid Row who’s given the chance to become rich and famous. But he’s given a choice: respect the value of human life, or feed the plant, and he chooses the latter. Murdering someone in cold blood for power? Not so romantic. Thankfully, though, the storylines of these shows do vilify their characters’ icky actions. You just have to pay attention to realize it.

7 thoughts on “Theatre Thursdays: These Characters Are Really Nice Guys

  1. NAILED IT. Thank you for writing this! This is also why I find myself pulling away from heterogamous romances plots: it addition to never seeing myself represented, there’s too many that can go wrong with a male-female romantic couple: Nice Guys, pregnancy plotlines, rape plotlines…

    So, speaking of Phantom and growing to hate it because of the creepy Nice Guy vibes–
    I’m going to recommend bendingsignpost’s Bel Canto to any Phans who also like Sherlock:
    It’s like Ben took everything that was good about Phantom, gave all the characters agency, wrote amazing queer characters into the plot, AND managed to write about the opera in a beautiful way. All that in a fanfiction.

    • This could happen in same-sex romantic plots too. Think Kurt and Blaine in “Glee”.

      • Do you mean the former (problematic elements) or the latter (decent queer love story without Nice Guys)? I don’t watch Glee, so sadly I’m not familiar with that plot and Google isn’t being particularly helpful. Thanks!

  2. I would just like to say what a well written article this was! I found it to be very intriguing and you made some spot on points. However (and I’m sure you have no interest in my opinion on the matter but here it is) while I agree with your interpretation of the Phantom and Boq I think your opinion of Seymour is a little off.

    Seymour is a murderer with a tragic flaw as you said but among the guy’s many crimes being a Nice Guy is not one of them. The difference between him and the typical Nice Guy is that he didn’t believe he was entitled to her whatsoever. True he believed the man she was with was bad for her, but so did every other character (and anyone who is against abusive relationships). That is one of the biggest problems in Seymour and Audrey’s relationship he doesn’t think that he deserves her or that he is good enough to be with her without his fame and riches (which of course, leads to his demise).

    Another flaw in your argument is that Audrey always had feelings for Seymour, unlike the other women mentioned in the article. She didn’t realize suddenly how good he was for her, as you say. I cannot say for the movie since i’ve never seen it (perhaps they omit this part?) but in the musical she says that she doesn’t deserve to be with Seymour because he is so good to her. And again later she says “I don’t deserve a nice guy”. So I don’t think Suddenly Seymour was so much her realizing he was deserving of being with her because he was nice more that no matter what she has done she still deserves someone who raises her up and makes her feel good about herself. I think that is an important lesson for everyone, especially those who have been in abusive relationships. Because when you have been degraded like she has been it can be hard to break that train of thought no matter how sweet and good and beautiful you are you still believe you deserve to be treated like shit because of what your abuser did to you.

    Seymour isn’t so much a villain in a dramatic classification as he is a tragic hero. Like Oedipus and Hamlet before him he does bad things due to a great weakness within himself, and he and everyone else around him pay for it in the end. However his love for Audrey is not what should condemn him in our eyes. He is genuinely kind to her not to get something in return but because he truly cares about her. Even when he knew she was with someone else he didn’t start to hate or resent her as many Nice Guys do (trust me, i’ve had to deal with many of them in the past). You put a gif of him complimenting her but that isn’t proof of him as a bad guy. That is how you are supposed to treat the person you care about! She compliments him plenty of times too, because they are in love. You do that when you love someone.

    Sorry if that came off as rude, I come up against this argument so often and just like “Beauty and the Beast is Stockholm Syndrome!!1!” it is unfounded and gets my goat more than it should.

    • “Seymour isn’t so much a villain in a dramatic classification as he is a tragic hero.”
      Sorry for my English but the version where he tries killing himself at the end (throwing away all his fame and wealth beforehand) and then gets eaten by the monster he raised is definitely a classic form of tragedy.

      The Phantom oozes the Nice Guy trope, but Seymour didn’t really strike me as such because of how he never once harassed or accused Audrey like the Phantom did to Christine.

      Sure, Audrey’s his weakness, and he did some terrible things in her name, but it wasn’t out of a sense of entitlement.

      Let’s look at why he did all these things to begin with:
      Seymour’s an orphan who lived on the street until his boss gave him a job and a place to live.
      “Treats me like dirt, calls me a slob,
      Which I am…”
      This implies that Seymour is probably unqualified for any other job.

      Then his boss says the shop might close. Seymour could very well end up on the street again.

      He wasn’t obsessed with power and fortune, he was desperate to keep what he already had. If the shop closed, not only he would end up homeless, but Audrey would end up as a call girl (as hinted at with her working at club, wearing degrading outfits when business was bad for the shop).

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