I love to play with Narrators. I’ve always loved to play with Narrators. When i was a teenager and ran across the Bob Fosse holy trinity of Narrators (Cabaret/Pippin/All That Jazz) i was utterly fascinated, inspired and immediately set about playing with them in my own work. I really have a thing for when Narrators become a meta elements, more than just a voice doing a job.
This is a list of my top Narrators. This mean SPECIFIC roles, not just people who narrate. Yes, Morgan Freeman would win hands down for best person to get to narrate something, but i mean specifically an interesting narrator role. I also insist that the narrator has to be their own character. They can’t be the main character doing aside voice overs. They CAN dip into and be part of the cast in a limited regard. But they exists fundamentally as themselves, as Narrators and/or Masters Of Ceremony
10. The Criminologist from Rocky Horror Picture Show
It’s not that the guy has a big part, but it’s just so… memorable and fun and awesome.
9. Into The Woods
This is classic example of the kind of playing with the Narrator i love. He starts off as a straight Narrator, but dips into the play every so often as the long lost father figure. The two roles can strangely coincide at moments but THEN, in one of my favorite moments in musical theater, the cast, who’s getting absolutely buggered in Act 2, decide they don’t like how he’s telling the story AND KILL HIM. OMFG i LOVE this idea. On the other hand, i am seething with anger because they thought of it first and now i can’t do it without ripping them off.
8. Kurt Vonnegut- Breakfast Of Champions:
Bringing a book into this is a bad idea. Literature opens up a whole nother universe of Narrator possiblities and examples i can’t afford to get sidetracked on right now. But i must. I really must. The reason why is there are quite a few examples of the Narrator actually being the author and actually inserting themselves into the work itself in order to converse with the protagonist. Cerebus, Animal Man, The Dark Tower series, the list goes on. It’s a rarely used trope, but it’s out there and here’s the thing: Vonnegut did it first (i believe) and went so batshit with it, no one has come close to touching the jaw dropping existential awesomeness in which he did it. I can’t talk about playing with Narrators without bringing up Breakfast of Champions, i just can’t.
7. The Man From Another Place – Twin Peaks
This one isn’t actually a Narrator. At all. Hell, you can’t ever really understand him. And yet conceptually… conceptually he IS like a Master Of Ceremonies existing on another layer of reality, a sub-level to ours. He is the go between between that level and this one and the entities who exist on both. He’s… he offers the most heavy conceptual ideas of how to play with MCs and the most creative and wild speculations. He is a huge influence in ways that cannot be put into words.
6. The Big Lebowski:
What is not to love about the Narrator? Every line he delivers is gold to be quoted and requoted. He belongs in an over the top John Wayne movie but is instead describing The Dude and helps to strangely sell the idea that this lazy, washed up hippy reject does in fact, against all first rational impressions really have his thumb on a higher spiritual way of Being. Also, i reiterate, every time he shows up on screen i want to memorize every word he says and say it about people i know while walking along beside them.
5. Winnie The Pooh:
Oh you don’t think Winnie The Pooh is worth a serious discussion? You too grown up for The Pooh? I pity you and the fruits of your loin. For many of us, this was the very first exposure to breaking the 4th wall. 5 years old, watching a cartoon special on TV (especially back in the day when a cartoon on a. not on saturday and b. on prime time! was an enormously big deal. You’d wait for WEEKS for this shit.) And boom, breaking the 4th wall, going meta on your 5 year old mind. It was awesome. i never looked back and from then on, i was prepared at any moment to break the 4th wall of reality. (This is actually true. In elementary school i used to suddenly turn and address the audience of godlike beings who was watching us from the outside reality much like we watched TV people living their lives. I would make asides to them all the time.)
4. The Central Scrutinizer from Joe’s Garage:
What can i say? I know every word to this triple album. I have for years. Back in the youngin’ days you’d snigger over the songs on album 1 and all the sex jokes (of which there are a lot), but as you grow older, the insane musical shit that happens later and the sheer unapologetic darkness of Zappa’s uncompromising message stay with you and never gets old. The Cental Scrutinizer is classic play on the Narrator trope. He sometimes dips into the actual story, he ACTS all knowing, he THINKS he’s all knowing, but clearly he is unreliable and to be ultimately fought against and disdained. Although at the end even he fades away and unmasks himself as Zappa after the message has been delivered. (Watermelon In Easter Hay. Holy shit.)
3. The Stage Manager from Our Town:
This SHOULD be number one. It really should and i apologize for that. The others had a more personal impact on me so they’re getting the higher rating, but if this list were objective, this would be number one. You cannot hold a discussion, a real discussion, about playing with a Narrator and various Narrator tropes without using discussing the Stage Manager. I’ll even go so far as to say the Stage Manager is the archetype to which all else is compared. I… i can’t even begin to discuss The Stage Manager because you can’t start talking about how the playwrite (Thornton Wilder) plays with the Narrator and stop in less than a half hour. The Stage Manager is EVERYthing… guide to the audience, dipping into the action, key to our understanding of the world we’re witnessing, an omnipotent catalyst (for Emily’s Day)… the town itself evolves a consciousness and that consciousness has a certain amount of godlike attributes and THAT is the Narrator.
Everything i did with Lloyd the Narrator in the Dieselpunk Opera ultimately traces back to seeing Pippin when i was 15 years old. I loved the songs, i liked the whole artist finding himself thing,. but HOLY SHITBALLS the ending BLEW MY LITTLE 15 YEAR OLD MIND. Seriously, it was the end of Pippin that did this thing to me that changed everything and set me upon a certain course and set of ideas that not only guided a whole shitload of my artistic explorations but culminated years and years later in The Dieselpunk Opera.
This Narrator is not 4th wall breaking, not meta or mystical or omnipresent or any of the fancy things all these others are. He is just simply a Master of Ceremonies. But no other single Narrator inspired me to the degree the MC from Cabaret did. He’s dark. He’s decadent. He IS in control of the show and he is strangely… otherworldly. But not in the usual fantastical ways i often enjoy. It’s just a great character built so well by the original Joel Grey. He’s a blueprint for an archetype which i imagine has also inspired reams of other artists creating and playing with Narrators.