There are few more focal figures in theatre than fathers. From nurturing and protective to overbearing and insensitive, they arrive in all forms.
Some dads are of epic proportions. Take Mufasa in Disney’s The Lion King; London-born R&B singer Shaun Escoffery has been playing Simba’s wise pop in the West End production for over a decade.
“He’s this whole kind of stoic character,” said Escoffery during an interview with Inflight Live Sessions in 2016. “He’s this warrior, he’s a father, he’s a husband, he’s a king.”
Unfortunately, not all dads show such fierce love or are as perfect in their parenting skills. Some are flawed and need a little work, but their hearts are in the right place. While others, well… they certainly know how to create drama.
Sebastien Torkia plays the grotesquely gaudy dad – Mr Wormwood – in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Matilda The Musical. In a touring video made last year for Norwich Theatre Royal, he reveals that playing one of Matilda’s parents is great as it allows him to do horrible things that shock the audience. “Plus they’re laughing at us because we do some silly things,” explained Torkia, “and so there’s comedy in there too.”
Have a look at the list we’ve compiled below to see how your dad compares to these unforgettable fathers of theatre – then be sure to tell him, and any other fatherly figure in your life, just how special they are to you.
The dream dads
Mufasa (Disney’s The Lion King)
Simba’s father was the majestic ruler of the Pride Lands. Not only is Mufasa kind-hearted and shows respect for all creatures, but he teaches his son important life lessons. During the number He Lives In You, in a particularly poignant exchange between father and son, Mufasa imparts that past kings exist in the stars and are always there for guidance. It’s a moment as moving as the now infamous wildebeest stampede. A protective father, Mufasa leaps into the gorge to rescue Simba and ultimately sacrifices his own life.
Atticus Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird)
Scout and Jem’s dad believes in truth and justice for all. Based on the 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, Atticus Finch was modelled on the author’s own father, and as a character resonates today. A lawyer in a small Alabama town in the 1930s, Atticus gets paid in vegetables, or whatever his clients can afford. When he represents a black man wrongfully accused of rape, Atticus not only stands up for the defendant’s rights despite the societal norms, but also teaches his two young children about compassion and conviction in their beliefs.
Wilbur Turnblad (Hairspray)
A simple sort of guy, Wilbur Turnblad is the father of dance crazy teen-turned-social justice warrior Tracy. He’s always there to provide encouragement to his plus-size daughter and wife in an unkind world. In fact, his love and devotion to both of them are unconditional. When Tracy and her friends get arrested for protesting, Wilbur even mortgages his Hardy-Har Hut joke shop to bail them out.
Alexander Hamilton (Hamilton)
In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical, the birth of Alexander Hamilton’s son Philip transforms him. Full of joy and an avalanche of emotions, he promises to be around unlike his own father before him. Hamilton also vows that he will “make the world safe and sound” for his child. Although Hamilton is unaware of what the future holds for him and his family, with the help of his wife he is able to navigate his way through life and channel his political ideals – ultimately becoming one of the founding fathers of America.
Sam Carmichael, Bill Anderson & Harry Bright (Mamma Mia!)
Imagine having not one, not two… but three awesome dads. That’s what Sophie discovers when she goes snooping through her mum’s diary in this joyful musical based on the songs of ABBA. In search of her long-lost father, three possibilities surface: Harry, an earnest banker who’ll spoil her financially; Sam, a super-sensitive architect who still loves her mother; and Bill, a sailor and travel writer who follows his heart around the world. In the end, it doesn’t even matter which one is Sophie’s biological father because she’s clearly hit the mother lode of paternal love.
Larry Murphy (Dear Evan Hansen)
Evan Hansen’s dad left when he was a boy, and his mum is absent from home while working to make ends meet. Although Larry Murphy had trouble connecting with his own son, to Evan he represents just the kind of dad he’s always longed for – someone kind, confident and ever-present. For a kid battling with crippling self-consciousness, Larry not only provides special shared moments, such as teaching him how to break in a baseball glove, but also gives Evan the attention and affection he’s sorely been lacking.
Dear Evan Hansen photo credit: Matthew Murphy
The flawed dads with good hearts
Lance Du Bois (& Juliet)
Lance Du Bois is a macho military man who likes the ladies (especially his son’s former nurse), and he expects similar behaviour from his offspring. To say he’s controlling is an understatement. Although Lance orders his shy son Francois to either get married or join the army, he does so with the best of intentions. Despite these difficult foundations, Lance ultimately accepts Francois for who he is and welcomes May, his partner of choice – plus there’s nothing like when Lance gets the family together to sing… Du Bois Band’s back, alright!
George Banks (Mary Poppins)
A workaholic who’s facing pressure at his job, George Banks isn’t a dad who’s in tune with his children. He’s also the product of his own difficult childhood, thanks to the world’s harshest nanny. Luckily Mary Poppins flies into Cherry Tree Lane and – with some time and plenty of magic – George learns that family is more important than ambition.
Derek Edward “Del Boy” Trotter (Only Fools And Horses The Musical)
Known for his dodgy deals, this fast-talking fly trader from Peckham will leave you feeling cushty. Although the Trotter boys had an absentee father, Del Boy essentially stepped up as a surrogate dad to his brother Rodney. Whether he’s scraping by, making a fortune or losing it, Del Boy is always there for those he loves – from Rodders to Grandad and his own son – even if they wind him up or grind him down.
Christopher has a form of autism and doesn’t think like other children do, so his dad struggles to care for him. Ed Boone would never deliberately hurt his son, but his lies about why his wife left them and what happened to the neighbour’s dog do just that. In much of the play Christopher is fearful of his father. But after an epic ride on the London Underground, Ed finally starts to grasp how his son operates and resolves to win his trust (which will not be an easy task) using a kitchen timer and other things unique to Christopher’s way of thinking.
Mr Heere (Be More Chill)
A divorced dad who works at home, Mr Heere battles with depression. He wants to be a good parent to his son Jeremy, a social outcast at school, but can’t be bothered to put on a pair of pants. However, everything changes when he realises his son is in danger and truly needs him. In The Pants Song Mr Heere sings, “when you love somebody you put your pants on for them”… which he finally does, committing to becoming a better father.
Harry Potter, Ron Weasley & Draco Malfoy (Harry Potter And The Cursed Child)
Who wouldn’t want their dad to be the Chosen One or his fellow Hogwarts alumni? In this eighth story in the Harry Potter series, the roles are reversed. Instead of breaking rules and getting into trouble, they are the ones setting rules and trying to rein in their rebellious teens. Harry, Ron and Draco are all very different fathers and their parenting styles may surprise, but even with a wizard for a dad, it can’t all magically fall into place.
Harry Potter And The Cursed Child photo credits: Manuel Harlan (above image) and Johan Persson (top image)
The dads you’re glad are someone else’s
It’s no wonder Elphaba grows up to become the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, having been raised by the wretched minister Frexspar. As he’s not her real father (that was a travelling salesman with a bottle of green elixir), Frexspar makes it clear that he hates the sight of her. After Elphaba’s mother dies delivering her sister Nessarose, Frex dotes on her beautiful but crippled sibling. He gives Nessarose jewelled shoes among other gifts, while the only thing Elphaba ever receives is his blame and resentment.
Mr Wormwood (Matilda The Musical)
Mr Wormwood loves to watch TV, while the thought of reading a book frightens him. In the number Telly he proudly admits, “All I know I learned from telly – this big beautiful box of facts”. Anything but a suitable parent for gifted Matilda, Mr Wormwood always has more important concerns, like maintaining his perfectly coiffed hair. To him good hair means a good brain, so he focuses on things like Oil of Violets Hair Tonic: For Men and barely acknowledges his daughter.
Billy Bigelow (Carousel)
Sure, carnival barker Billy Bigelow won’t win any awards for father of the year. An abusive man who hit his hopelessly devoted wife, he’s probably one of the most controversial characters in musical history. But in Billy’s Soliloquy you’ll hear how his heart is sort of in the right place… although he still arrives at the misguided notion that in order to create a better future for his unborn baby, he’ll have make some truly dramatic choices.
Monsieur Thénardier (Les Misérables)
A con artist, gang leader and robber of corpses… that should give you a pretty clear idea about the kind of fatherly figure Monsieur Thénardier makes. A horrific one. He and his wife were paid to care for Cosette, so they adopt her and turn her into a servant. Although Cosette escapes from that life with Jean Valjean, when they encounter Monsieur Thénardier years later, he cruelly tips off Inspector Javert to their true identities. There’s no love lost here.
For more theatrical productions that’ll make you want to hug your dad a bit tighter, head to our Theatre Guide.