Dysfunctional Broadway Musical Families – And You Think Your Holidays Are Hell!

Dysfunctional Broadway Musical Families – And You Think Your Holidays Are Hell!

The holidays, whether we want to admit it or not, are just around the corner. We like to idealize the perfect Thanksgiving or Christmas, picturing the whole family gathered around the table wearing fuzzy pullover sweaters and eating turkey, or standing around the piano, eggnog in hand, singing Christmas carols in harmony while a fire crackles in the fireplace. Perhaps some of you come from families where this kind of devil magic happens, but I suspect that there are more of us in this world who have suffered the dysfunctional family get-togethers where family gets drunk, passive-aggressiveness reigns supreme, and someone overcooks the damn turkey.

This got me thinking…what Broadway musical families could outshine any of us with a dysfunctional holiday gathering. Below are the Top-Ten Dysfunctional Musical Families who will make your crazy kin feel like a sing-a-long with the Von Trapps.

Next to Normal:

Can you imagine the angst-ridden meal with the Goodman family, including the empty chair at the table for their dead son Gabe?  It would be “Just Another Perfect Day”. Mental illness is not something to laugh at, but it is fair to say that Diana’s bipolar disorder would certainly shape the day and help to heighten the holiday tension. The family has trouble communicating, so conversation throughout should be sparse. If you like your holidays in a cold and icy silence, maybe this is the place for you. As for me, I would hope and pray that I was off the radar like “Invisible Girl”.        


We have already seen the domesticity and calm brought about by Marvin’s “I Want It All” mentality when a self-centered man, his neurotic ex-wife, his on-again/off-again lover, his pubescent and moody child and his ethically compromised psychiatrist all gather for a meal, so you can only imagine the additional stress imposed by a holiday gathering. Add to this that you are likely to have a visit from the ever-present pesky lesbians from next door, one of which is a mediocre kosher caterer, and you know it’s going to be a long day. “Four Jews in a Room Bitching” has nothing on the craziness you’ll encounter here.   


Julie Jordan Bigelow and her daughter Louise are the town outcasts, so it probably won’t be a big crowd at their holiday table. However, you never know if the stuck-up Snow family is going to show up with their fleet of children to crash the proceedings. There is always the chance that the ghost of an abusive dead husband might show up as well, so the festivities should be fraught with merriment and tension. This is one clambake I would happily skip.     

Laura Osnes and Steven Pasquale in Carousel.


The characters in Dreamgirls create the ultimate showbiz family “We Are a Family”, but there is a great deal of anger and resentment shared in this bitter bunch. You know how hard it is to get family to leave? Imagine a member who adamantly sings “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” when you insist that the occasion is over and you want your home back from loud, demanding divas. Stop by for drinks, but hightail it out of there before things start “Steppin’ To the Bad Side.”


Pippin returns home from college and his drunken father barely even recognizes him. Pippin’s stepmother Fastrada is a serpentine backstabber who spreads very little sunshine throughout the castle. His half-brother Lewis is a preening peacock with no brain (and just a touch of an Oedipus complex) and Grandma Berthe, the one fun relative, has been banished to the country. Add to this Pippin’s tendency for insipid whining and neediness for attention, and you start to get the picture of how this could go badly. There are no “Simple Joys” to be had here.    

Bye Bye Birdie:

Harry MacAfee isn’t exactly the most relaxed man on a good day, so the thought of sharing a strenuous holiday with him and his family at their Sweet Apple home is bound to conjure anxiety and his signature, monologue rants. Do you have kids? He won’t want them there. He calls them “laughing, singing, dancing, grinning morons.” You like rock & roll music? You are too progressive for his tastes. It’s no much that it would be an unpleasant gathering, but unless you can handle constant complaining at rapid fire, a trip to the MacAfees will require a double dose of your anxiety meds, plus an extra dose for the host.   

Kiss Me, Kate:

Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi were hopelessly in love at one point in their marriage, but as time went on, his ego grew and her “diva” blossomed. What was once Romeo and Juliet transitioned into The Taming of the Shrew, and you know the last few holidays before their divorce were peppered with sarcasm, thrown dinnerware, and the occasional, carefully placed turkey leg. I know we are supposed to believe that, by the end of Kiss Me, Kate, that they have reconciled, but these are two high octane drama queens. That kind of animosity doesn’t just go away, no matter how “Wunderbar” the sex is.   


Well, let’s start with the fact that the meal will look like no holiday feast you’ve ever seen on The Barefoot Contessa. Chinese take-out is the bill of fare, with egg rolls and chow-mein filling in for turkey and dressing. Mama Rose will be at the head of the table, not carving the bird, but ever-ready to carve up your self-esteem “Chew baby” “Spit out Louise”. Of course, the meal could go brutally in another direction and feature a “Little Lamb” if times are desperate. I know…some people…

Boyd Gaines, Laura Benanti and Patti LuPone in Gypsy.


Who wouldn’t want to sit at the “Round Table” where a king, his wife, and her lover (who also happens to be his best friend) are sharing a meal? I guess by today’s terms, where blended families of the step variety put aside their differences for the sake of the kids, this might not be the biggest deal. Considering, however, that we are talking about medieval times where infidelity and betrayal were handled with torture devices, I am not sure all guests would make it until dessert. But hey, if it’s Thanksgiving, at least we know the weather will be pleasant…after all…”The winter IS forbidden ‘til December.”  

Sweeney Todd:

This is the kind of family gathering where you either want to bring your own food or announce that you are a vegetarian. Yes, the meat is probably fresh, but the giblet gravy might reveal a fingernail or two. More daunting would be the company, a brooding barber with the flair and charm of a serial killer, and a manic “chef” with a penchant for cooking human flesh. I wouldn’t stick around for pie either. I hear they have been “popping-pussies” into them and there isn’t a dollop of ice cream big enough to make that hairball come up comfortably.

Suddenly, my family is looking like fun. “Edelweiss” anyone?  

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