Follow TV Tropes


Bittersweet Ending / Theatre

Go To

Bittersweet Endings in theatre.

As said on the main page, spoilers are unmarked.

  • 1776 ends with the Continental Congress signing the Declaration of Independence- with the knowledge that they have a long, arduous war that they have little chance of winning to look forward to, considering their army is a shambles and the British Navy was the greatest in the world. Hindsight tells us they'll win eventually (since it is based of history), but they don't know that.
  • Advertisement:
  • The modern musical version of Aida turns the Downer Ending from the original opera into this. Radames and Aida still die, but Amneris goes on to make peace with Nubia in their honor, and the final scene shows the modern-day reincarnations of Aida and Radames finding each other again.
  • Avenue Q ends with Princeton discovering that he might never find his purpose in life. But his friends are there to remind him that lots of people never find their purpose, and that it's best to enjoy what we have for now.
  • A Chorus Line: Paul is injured with a 50/50 chance of ever being able to dance again. And only some of the dancers will be accepted into the chorus line; the others have to go. In both cases, such is the reality of show business.
  • Cyrano de Bergerac: Roxane knows the truth of Cyrano Playing Cyrano for Christian and assures the dying Cyrano that she will mourn him, De Guiche discovers that is Lonely at the Top, Roxane realizes that she has been Loving a Shadow for fifteen years and that all her suitors abandoned her or are dead, Ragueneau not only doesn't cook anymore, but he never could keep a stable job and is very angry because Molière stole a scene from Cyrano, and OnlySaneGascon Le Bret rebels against destiny, because he never understood the self-destructive tendencies of his best friend and he could do nothing to help him.
  • Advertisement:
  • Dear Evan Hansen: Evan admits his lie to the Murphys, even though the truth crushes them and destroys his relationship with the family. But, he ends up reconciling with Heidi, and after a one-year Distant Finale, Zoe. Even though Evan's relationship with Zoe ends up being relegated to a status of Amicable Exes, his final letter reveals he has changed over the course of the play, and has embraced himself as a socially awkward, yet resolute man.
  • Finale ends with the world ending, but at least the main characters all got to tie up all loose ends and spend their last few days enjoying life.
  • Fuddy Meers: Claire remembers all that happened before her condition until she falls asleep in the car at the very end.
  • Fun Home's musical adaption: Bruce kills himself, but Allison is able to come to terms with his death and moves on, completing her autobiography with a picture of him catching her in a pool.
  • Advertisement:
  • Hamilton: Aaron Burr shoots Hamilton and gets his revenge, only to immediately realize that the world was "wide enough for the both of us" and that he is permanently doomed to be history's villain forever. Unlike most of the other Founding Fathers, Hamilton runs out of time and dies too young to ensure his legacy. However, he gains the post-mortem respect of arch-nemeses Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and Eliza works tirelessly to cement his earned place in American history and to accomplish all the things her husband never got the chance to. She succeeds.
  • Hamlet: Hamlet succeeds in avenging his father through the death of Claudius. Too bad his mother, his girlfriend, her family and himself all died in the process, leaving only his best friend Horatio alive.
  • The climax of Shakespeare's Henry V sees the vastly outnumbered English defeat the French at the (in the play) decisive Battle of Agincourt. The victorious Henry charmingly woos the French Princess Katherine to seal the deal. But the Chorus reminds the audience that "this star of England" would die just a few years later, and his son, unfit to rule, would lose France and "make his England bleed."
  • I and You: Despite sharing a kiss and finding mutual understanding with each other, Anthony and Caroline will likely never see each other again since he's dead, and never got the chance to meet her before he died. However, Caroline finally gets the liver transplant she desperately needs and her health can finally recover, allowing her to see the world the way she dreamed of while she spent months if not years confined to her house due to her illness. While she'll never see Anthony again, it's strongly implied she'll always remember him and that she gave him the closure he needed to move on.
  • By the end of Act II in Into the Woods, only Cinderella, Little Red, Jack, The Baker and the Princes with their new wives end up surviving the Giantess' Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • In J.B., J.B. indeed gets his health and his wife back in the end, but the town where he once made his fortune is now completely destroyed, to say nothing of what happened to all of his children. Still, Hope Sprouts Eternal, and the play ends as J.B. and Sarah begin to rebuild their home.
  • In Jenufa, on the day of her wedding the titular heroine discovers that her baby whom she thought dead of natural causes has been murdered by her stepmother. The whole village now knows she had a child out of wedlock, and the stepmother is taken to trial. However, the two have a forgiveness duet, the jerkass father of the baby who abandoned the heroine is finally exposed with his villainy and no girl wants to look at him again, while Jenufa's fiancé assures her he'll never leave her side whatever happens and she realizes she now loves him and not the previous guy.
  • Love Never Dies: It turns out that Christine loved the Phantom more all along — her son Gustave is the product of a one night stand they had before she married Raoul — and Raoul accepts this. Unfortunately, Meg Giry, driven mad by the Phantom never paying attention to her and being unaware of how much she did to build his fortune in America (she was forced into prostitution by her mother) tries to murder Gustave. When the others confront her, Christine is accidentally killed...but she dies in her true love's arms and Gustave is ready and willing to accept the Phantom as his father, so he is no longer alone in the world.
  • Les Misérables: Jean Valjean dies, as did a good number of the main cast. However, unlike most of the other casualties, who were either murdered, committed suicide, or died in misery and squalor, he dies with Cosette and Marius by his side, and is welcomed into Heaven with open arms by Fantine to a triumphant reprise of "Do You Hear The People Sing?" The song even highlights his contentedness at being able to learn how to love after spending a significant portion of his life mired in fear and/or hatred.
  • The Nutcracker: Clara/Marie has her wonderful adventure with the Nutcracker Prince in the Land of Sweets, but in the end, in most productions, it turns out to be All Just a Dream. Some productions like Mikhail Baryshnikov's particularly highlight the sad element, having Clara show clear distress as the Prince and other fantasy characters slowly drift away from her just before she wakes up. Other productions end more sweetly, though: for example, George Balanchine's iconic New York City Ballet version ends with Marie and the Prince happily flying home in a sleigh, leaving it ambiguous whether Marie is dreaming or not, while others, like the Royal Ballet's in London, have an Or Was It a Dream? ending by having Clara wake up only to meet Drosselmeyer's nephew, who looks just like the Prince.
  • Perfect Pie: Francesca leaves, admitting that she can't bear to stay for fear that she'll become Marie Begg again, with Patsy concluding that this is the last time they they'll ever see each other again. But the bond between them has been repaired, with Francesca finally able to move past the guilt and trauma she's been carrying ever since the accident and Patsy saying that she'll never forget her.
  • The Phantom of the Opera: Christine gets her Tenor Boy Raoul, leaving the Phantom alone and miserable.
  • The Pillowman: Katurian is executed despite his innocence, Tupolski gets away with it completely, and Ariel is ordered to burn Katurian's stories. He keeps them instead.
  • Ramona: In the current version of the Ramona Pageant, Felipe manages to save the rancho from foreclosure and convince Ramona to marry him, but Alessandro is dead, as is Eyes of the Sky.
  • The ending of RENT is this with a hint of Fridge Horror. Mimi survives her brush with death and she and Roger finally admit the depth of their feelings to each other, but she's still infected with AIDS in the 1990s, as are Roger and Collins, which means their days are limited (Word of God is that, despite her miraculous recovery in the moment, Mimi in particular doesn't have long to live). Not to mention Angel is still dead, a fact which the viewer is keenly reminded of in the final scene.
  • Although it's usually considered tragic, Romeo and Juliet finishes with the ending of a terrible feud which was probably going to have killed a lot more than five people over the years had it been allowed to continue.
  • In the musical Spring Awakening, Melchior finds that his pregnant sort-of girlfriend, Wendla, is dead. Racked with guilt, he attempts to commit suicide, but Wendla's and Moritz's ghosts come to him and convince him to go on with his life.
    • The ending of the original play is even darker, coming close to a full-on Downer Ending. In that show, Wendla's ghost doesn't appear at all, while Moritz's ghost essentially tells him that the afterlife is miserable. So Melchior is alive and will go on, but not only are Wendla and Moritz dead, at least the latter will be suffering for eternity.
  • Nathan of Thrill Me does get his parole, and so gets to go out and live his life. However, there are only two characters in the show, and this makes it look like the only meaningful relationship of Nathan's life was with Richard, who is now dead. The ending can be played better or worse—anywhere from Nathan still being fully obsessed with Richard to Nathan finally beginning to get over him—but regardless, Nathan gave up most of his young life to a bad relationship, and only now gets any chance at starting over. Not to mention the fact that a convicted murderer being set free isn't necessarily the best ending.
  • Tribulation Trail ends with most Of humanity dead, and occasionally the lead as well. But Christ has won and God has set up a new heaven. But the point of the whole show is: What is your choice?
  • Wicked. Even though the protagonist survives, and Glinda banishes both Morrible and the Wizard, Glinda is still left alone believing every close friend she's ever had to be dead. Fiyero, now cursed as a scarecrow, and Elphaba might have survived but can never return to Oz. Glinda and Elphaba come to terms with the irreversibility of fate and circumstances and ultimately realize that the fact that they met and changed each other was what really mattered.
  • Gilbert and Sullivan's The Yeomen of the Guard ends with one happy couple and poor Jack Point realizing his love is well and truly lost to him.

Alternative Title(s): Theater


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: