My first real introduction to the wonder of music coming to life on stage was when I saw my first musical. My dad always played the trumpet in the orchestra for the New Plymouth Operatic Society’s annual productions. I remember heading to my first show when I was just five-years-old. It was an impressive take of Anything Goes and it had me hooked. It meant the world to me when I got to play Little Cosette in a production of Les Miserable a few years later.
I love music from all genres, but there’s something so special about going to a stage show, old or new, and watching a story be brought to life only through music. I’ve seen a few over the years, almost every time I’m brought to tears by the spine-tingling vocals, the incredible scores erupting from the orchestra pit and the acting on stage.
I listen to the songs from all the favourites over and over, in fact they make for particularly good singalongs on car road trips! Making this list has been no easy task, especially because I love far more than one song from each musical, but here is my top 10 favourite songs from musicals.
- One Day More – Les Miserables
This song is the last song of the first act, when Les Miserable reaches its peak moment of intensity. All of the major characters come together to sing on the eve of the 1832 Paris Uprising. It’s an incredibly emotional song about love, family, war and heartbreak. The many voices sing in melodies over the top of each other before all coming together with a huge chorus in a sort of war cry. I feel like this song must be what inspired the phrase ‘spine-tingling’. It is the most powerful piece of music I’ve ever heard.
- All I Ask of You – Phantom of the Opera
This is the ultimate love song. Christine and Raoul sing to each other saying all they need from one another is to love each other. Their voices soar above each other in this emotive duet. The contrast of Raoul’s deep and gentle voice works magically alongside the powerful and far-reaching operatic vocals of Christine. But put simply, can you get an opening verse more romantic than this:
“No more talk of darkness
Forget these wide-eyed fears
I’m here, nothing can harm you
My words will warm and calm you”
- On My Own – Les Miserables
On My Own is every teenage girls angst song – I swear. It’s a tale of heartbreak, poor Eponine can’t get the love she wants from her dear friend Marius. Yet although it is incredibly sad, there’s something uplifting about the way it is sung. It starts out softly, but as the story unfolds, power is built in the voice and it’s impossible not to listen. The orchestra beneath the melody is full of strings which add to the effect.
(I probably should do another list – top 10 songs from Les Miserable because it’s been hard enough only choosing two for this list).
- I Know Him So Well – Chess
If ever there was a musical power ballad – this is it. Especially when sung by the wonderful Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson on the original soundtrack. In this duet, two women – a wife and a mistress, express their bittersweet feelings over the man they love. It’s raw, passionate and captivating in every way.
- Edelweiss – The Sound of Music
This is such an uncomplicated song but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enchanting. The acoustic guitar melody, the rich mans voice complimented with a woman’s harmonies, and of course the beautiful lyrics all make for a tender song. In the show it is sung by Captain von Trapp as a subliminal goodbye to his beloved homeland, the flower is a symbol of his loyalty to Austria. You can feel the sentiment in every word of the song.
- Endless Night – The Lion King
The Lion King stage show is spectacular. Every second of it blew me away when I was lucky enough to catch it at the West End. I was a bit nervous because it’s my favourite ever movie, that the songs written to fill the gaps in the stage show wouldn’t work. Well boy was I wrong. The Lion King film score by Hans Zimmer is genius, add in Elton John and Tim Rice’s hit songs and it’s instant magic. On stage Endless Night – which fills the gap in the movie when Simba is wondering whether to go back to Pride Rock and looks at the sky, yelling to his father for help – is the perfect combination of the two. The lyrics in this song are so emotive and the African chants layered underneath help it to reach a compelling climax. It captures the scene of the story perfectly and brings a tear to the eye.
- Memory – Cats
Perhaps one of the most iconic songs ever, Memory is one of the saddest but most compelling stories told. The fact it’s about a cat shows just how clever writers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Trevor Nunn are. In the show it makes every bit of sense in the story, yet it speaks to every human listener, in every context, with it’s poetic lyrics.
- Chim Chim Cher-ee – Mary Poppins
This uplifting song is a delightful moment in the story of Mary Poppins. It’s such a simple subject, Bert sings about his job as a chimney sweep. But anyone who knows the story would find it impossible not to love this. Bert’s unstoppable optimism, despite having a job most would consider awful, is contagious. Not only that, but once you’ve seen it performed on stage it takes on a whole new life, watching chimney sweep men tap dance upside down along the top of the stage isn’t something you forget quickly.
- Defying Gravity – Wicked
If there’s a song I wish I could sing, this is it. It’s an ultimate showcase of a female voice. The singer has to give it everything they have to get on top of those notes, and if done well – it is sensational.
- Any Dream Will Do – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat
I know my list has been pretty soppy and full of sad songs so it’s time to finish on a happy note. Any Dream Will Do has a contagious melody, which immediately makes you want to sway in time, click your fingers and sing every word and echo. It’s so catchy I think it’s impossible not to love.