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Ironic Echo / Theatre

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Ironic Echoes in theatre.

  • In the musical version of The Addams Family, Morticia refuses to dance with Gomez after learning he's keeping something from her, telling him, "Not today." Later, Gomez is distraught that Morticia is leaving him and wondering if it's the end of his marriage and their family. He eventually proclaims, "Not today!"
  • In Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna, the Peacock Dance act gets the ironic echo treatment when the Black Peacocks separate Miranda and Romeo, and cast the latter into the Underworld, complete with a Dark Reprise of the Peacock Goddess's theme ("Enchanted Reunion"). Two acts later, Miranda's waterbowl is used to imprison Romeo during Cali's juggling act.
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  • In classical playwright Aristophanes' comedy Clouds, when the antihero Strepsiades asks why Socrates is suspended in the air, the philosopher responds: 'I am walking in the air, and speculating about the heavens.' After Strepsiades gets fed up with the sophistic prattling of the philosopher, he climbs to the roof of his academy and starts to burn it down. When Socrates, in a panic, demands to know what he's doing on his roof, Strepsiades parrots back: 'I am walking in the air, and speculating about the heavens!'
  • Dear Evan Hansen: "Think about it". It is said twice to Evan; firstly by Cynthia to encourage Evan to give a public speech at the memorial assembly for Connor, and secondly by the imaginary Connor, who wants him to decide whether he wants to reveal his lie to the Murphys or not.
    • Also, the line "All I/we see is sky for forever" is first sung by Evan as he's describing his (imaginary) friendship with Connor. At the very end of the show, it's sung again as Evan is writing his new letter (which is in itself something of an ironic echo) as a sign that things are potentially going to get better for Evan.
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  • In the stage play A Few Good Men, Lt. Kaffey does this to Col. Jessep in a deconstruction of his motives.
    Kaffey: You trashed the law! But hey, we understand, you're permitted. You have a greater responsibility than we can possibly fathom. You provide us with a blanket of freedom. We live in a world that has walls and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns, and nothing is going to stand in your way of doing it. Not Willie Santiago, not Dawson and Downey, not Markinson, not 1,000 armies, not the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and not the Constitution of the United States! That's the truth isn't it Colonel? I can handle it.
  • Exit, Pursued by a Bear: Nan has one line which the script pretty clearly sets up to be this - even though Kyle never actually says it onstage. (Making it more of an implied Ironic Echo.)
    NAN (A la Kyle:) "Look what you made me do. You know how I get. You made me."
  • Hamilton says of his son Phillip "You knock me out, I fall apart" twice in the show. Once, in "Dear Theodosia", when he's singing to the newborn baby. And again in "It's Quiet Uptown", when the Hamiltons are mourning his death.
    • In "Helpless", Eliza says to Angelica "this one's mine". She reminisces on these words and how false she discovered they were, following his adultery in "Burn".
    • "Washington On Your Side" and "The Election of 1800" are songs that use the same melody (and, in some parts, the same words) to describe two completely different feelings. In the former, Jefferson and Madison say that "it might be nice to have Washington on your side", condemning the president for almost always siding with fellow party member Hamilton. In the latter, Jefferson and Madison ask the same question - "it might be nice to have Hamilton on your side" in order to win Hamilton over so that he can endorse Jefferson for president.
  • Julius Caesar: In the climatic "Friends, Romans and Countrymen" speech by Mark Antony, Shakespeare has a clever balancing act of dramatic tension; Antony has pretended to not seek retribution against Caesar's murderers, and his speech follows one by Brutus in which the people of Rome were convinced that killing Caesar was necessary. Antony's speech utilises the phrase "But Brutus says that Caesar was ambitious, and Brutus is an honourable man". At first he appears to be in agreement with the conspirators; but his speech gradually begins to demonstrate the holes in their logic, and his repetition of the phrase "honourable man" becomes sarcastic, and then insulting.
    • Shakespeare later parodied this in Measure For Measure, where a character prone to getting his words mixed up tells a criminal "Prove it before these [criminals], thou honourable man!".
  • The Last Five Years is a show of ironic echoes. Especially the line in "See I'm Smiling" and "I Can Do Better" about "you, and you, and nothing but you. Miles and piles of you." However, there are many others.
  • In the stage version of The Little Mermaid, in place of the film's Vanessa sequence, six princesses, played by the same actresses as Ariel's sisters, compete to be Eric's bride in a singing contest, echoing the opening number "Daughters of Triton", and the tune they sing is the same the first verse of Ariel's "I Want" Song "Part of Your World", complete with the lyric "the girl who has everything".
  • The reprise of Somewhere That's Green in Little Shop of Horrors, cut from the film. The song originally was about the happy, quiet life of the suburbs that Audrey thought of as heavenly, with only the barest references to Seymour's love of plants. In the reprise, she's dying, and all that's left of her dream is to be with Seymour, somewhere that's green: in the man-eating plant that killed her.
  • When the trial in The Merchant of Venice seems to be going Shylock's way, he praises the judge (Portia in disguise): "A Daniel come to judgement, yea, a Daniel!/Oh wise young judge, how I do honor thee!" When she turns the tables and initiates the Humiliation Conga on Shylock, Gratiano, giddy with excitement, starts quoting Shylock until it becomes an Overly Long Gag: "A Daniel still, I say, a second Daniel!/I thank thee, Jew, for teaching me that word."
  • In an unusual variation, Merrily We Roll Along is told in reverse order, so the ironic echoes are heard first. For instance, Mary's rather desperate reprise of "Old Friends" is after the friendship has fallen apart; we don't hear it sung genuinely until several more timeskips back.
  • Used in Les Misérables, which uses identical melodies rather than lyrics for many of its songs. For example, "Valjean's Soliloquy" is a triumphant tune that culminates in him resolving to turn his life around ... while "Javert's Soliloquy" is a mournful, distressed one that culminates in his suicide.
    • The two songs mentioned above even use some identical lines in the coda, with the differences providing the contrast]]:
      I am reaching, but I fall,
      (second line different: And the night is closing in,/And the stars are black and cold,)
      As I stare into the Void,
      (third line different: To the whirlpool of my sin./To a world that cannot hold.)
      I'll escape now from the world,
      From the world of Jean Valjean.
      (final lines different: JEAN VALJEAN IS NOTHING NOW!/There is nowhere I can turn.
      ANOTHER STORY MUST BEGIN!/There is no way to go OOOOOOOOOOON!'')
    • A somewhat subtle example — the line "Jean Valjean is nothing now" can also be seen as this. It first appears in "Valjean's Soliloquy" when Valjean resolves to forsake his old identity and become a better man. In "Confrontation," it's sung by Javert after he has learned that the mayor he's been serving is actually Valjean, a convict who has broken his parole and whom Javert has resolved to capture.
      • Valjean tells Javert "You know nothing of my life/the world!" to which the latter throws back "You know nothing of Javert!"
    • And another one - at the barricade, Valjean prays for Marius to survive, asking God to "Bring him home." Later on, when Valjean feels that his life is all wrapped up and he's ready to die his prayer is similar, but changes to "Bring me home".
    • Then there's "Little People". This song introduces Gavroche as a bright, upbeat sort of kid who has a lot of potential. Its reprise is one of the biggest tearjerkers in the whole play: the rebels are running low on ammo, and Gavroche goes out to loot some from the dead soldiers, singing this song as a sort of Determinator mantra despite being shot repeatedly. He doesn't even finish the song.
    • Valjean and Javert's first meeting.
      Javert: You will starve again! Unless you learn the meaning of The Law.
      Valjean: I learned in those 19 years, a slave of the law.
    • And a musical example: the revolutionaries' rousing rebellion song "Red and Black" is instrumentally reprised as they get oerwhelmed by the French army and are massacred. It's played as a funeral march.
    • Another musical example: "Bring Him Home" is originally sung as a prayer by Valjean to persuade God to let Marius survive the upcoming battle. A very subdued instrumental reprise is played after the rest of the students have all been killed, leaving Valjean and Marius as the only survivors.
    • The Complete Symphonic Recording manages to get two Ironic Echoes in pretty much simultaneously. Once the students realise that the people aren't coming to join them, they sing a brief reprise of "Drink With Me" (originally a fairly mellow friendship-affirming song, now it's more like an acceptance that they're basically on a Suicide Mission). As they sing the last line ("If I die/I die with you"), a brief instrumental reprise of "Castle On A Cloud", a song originally sung as a dream of better things, plays underneath it. Cue the tissues...
  • In Miss Saigon, Chris asks Kim, "How in the light of one night did we come so far?", as they fall madly in love and spend the night together. But at the end of the show, as she lies dying in his arms, she asks him the question ("How in one night have we come... so far?"), but this time, it's mourning their lost chance at happiness.
  • The Phantom of the Opera uses both identical melodies and lyrics. "All I Ask Of You" is a joyous love song between Christine and Raoul, but when the Phantom sings it to Christine, it's a desperate plea for her love. And most notably, the final lines of "Music of the Night", "You alone can make my song take flight, help me make the music of the night", are a passionate declaration of love, but when the Phantom sings them at the end of the show, he is now despairing of having lost Christine. "It's over now, the music of the night."
  • Pippin sings several times throughout the course of the show that "Rivers belong where they can ramble/Eagles belong where they can fly/I've got to be where my spirit can run free." At the end of the show, he decides "I'm not a river/Or a giant bird that soars to the sea/And if I'm never tied to anything/I'll never be free."
  • In South Pacific, "Younger Than Springtime" initially describes Joe Cable's newfound love for Liat. But after he refuses to marry her (unwilling to confront the prejudice they would face as an interracial couple), the song's reprise now represents the end of their relationship.
  • In Noah Smith's stage version of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, when he first meets Helen, Jekyll quotes Faustus's speech on meeting Helen of Troy in Doctor Faustus. Bits of the speech come back several times later in the play with ironic twists put on them.
  • Used repeatedly in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Nearly all of the main characters get ironic echoes, and most of those echoes are much darker the second time round.
    • There was a barber and his wife, and she was beautiful... - the first time Todd is mourning the wife he was forced to leave behind. The second time he's still mourning... having just realised that he's responsible for her death.
    • Eminently practical and yet appropriate as always... - first time a genuine compliment from Todd to Mrs Lovett, regarding her idea of making his victims into pies. The second time he's trying to get her guard down...
  • In Under Milk Wood, we hear that Bessie Bighead puts flowers on the grave of Gomer Owen who "kissed her once by the pigsty when she wasn't looking, but never kissed her again although she was looking all the time." That line gets a laugh. Later on, after we learn that Bessie has Down Syndrome or something of the sort, and that Gomer kissed her because he was dared, when the same line comes back it isn't so funny.
  • Vanities: The Musical: During "The Argument", the Dark Reprise of "I Can't Imagine", Mary briefly echoes her previous "I Want" Song "Fly Into The Future". In the last reprise of "Nothing Like a Friend" from the Theatreworks version, Mary sings "I want(ed) to see if i even like my friends".
  • Wicked: "As someone told me lately, everyone deserves the chance to fly!"
    • And the song "I'm Not That Girl". First act, Elphaba sings it, but in the second, Glinda does.
    • "It is my personal opinion that you do not have what it takes. I hope you'll prove me wrong. I doubt you will." Madame Morrible allows Glinda to join the sorcery seminar at Shiz. Years later, Glinda allows the guards to take Madame Morrible to prison.
    • Elphaba, in The Wizard and I desires a "celebration throughout Oz that's all to do with me." Later, the Wizard says that she'll have a "celebration throughout Oz that's all to do with you." This proves true when the Munchkins celebrate her death.
    • The first scene and the last scene. They're exactly the same scene, but the first is told from the Munchkins' point of view and the second is told from Glinda's point of view, with the appropriate changes in emphasis and tone. In the latter, the Munchkins continue to chant "No One Mourns the Wicked" while Glinda laments.
    • Elphaba refuses to believe Fiyero when he tells her that she's beautiful—he insists "it's not lying, it's seeing things in a different way". Elphaba uses the line on Fiyero after he turns into the scarecrow.
    • In Defying Gravity, Glinda and Elphaba start shouting angrily at each other, saying 'I hope you're happy now, I hope you're happy that you hurt your cause forever' and 'I hope you're happy too, I hope you're proud how you would grovel in submission'. Later, as Elphaba prepares to run away, she calls Glinda to come with her. Even though Glinda agrees that together they would be unstoppable, she still feels she can't and tearfully mutters 'I hope you're happy, now that you're choosing this'.
  • Common in older theatrical writing, particularly in the Victorian period. Gilbert and Sullivan's The Yeomen of the Guard has a lot of this, the most obvious being the repeat of "I have a Song to Sing-O", first as Jack and Elsie working together to entertain a crowd as street performers, and then at Elsie's wedding to Fairfax, as him trying to win her back, and her rejecting him, as gently as she can, with the only change in lyrics making it worse, by indicating the rest of the story the song tells, where the jester gets the woman back, will not follow. However, that's only the most obvious; lines bounce around characters and situations throughout the work, reflecting ironically on the changing circumstances.

Alternative Title(s): Theater


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