The big hits in musical theater
If you like songs that tell stories and are full of passion and personality, it’s likely that a few of your existing favorites come from musical theater, but what else is out there that you might have missed? These are a few of the shows we love most, each of them bursting at the seams with great tunes you’ll soon be playing on repeat.
My Fair Lady
If you like the classics, you’ll find few more jam-packed with wonderful songs than My Fair Lady. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion with music by Frederick Loewe, it’s a show for everyone who loves London, romance or the romance of London. Listen for the sweetness of I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face and On the Street Where You Live, the winsome Without You or natural crowd-pleaser Get Me to the Church on Time.
Head over Heels
From a piece of musical history, we come right up to date with Louise Gund’s latest Broadway production, a sizzling tribute to the Go-Go’s co-produced by Gwyneth Paltrow. A right royal romantic comedy based on The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, it stars Drag Race diva Miss Peppermint and will give your ears a treat with the likes of Beautiful, Mad About You and Our Lips Are Sealed as it challenges its characters to keep on believing We Got That Beat.
Little Shop of Horrors
A perennial audience favorite boasting music by Alan Menken with wonderfully playful lyrics by Howard Ashman, this story of a sweet but ambitious young flower shop worker incited to murderous misdeeds by a talking plant features beautifully structured pieces like Skid Row and Grow For Me alongside the gleeful meanness of Dentist and the seemingly star-crossed romance of Suddenly Seymour.
Adapted from the John Waters film and set to music by Marc Shaiman, who co-wrote the lyrics with Scott Wittman, the 2003 winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical takes on social issues with I Know Where I’ve Been without ever losing its energy or its light touch. It’s full of feisty numbers like Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now and You Can’t Stop the Beat, while Ladies’ Choice, as sung by Zac Efron, reached number two in the billboard charts.
The Phantom of the Opera
One of the biggest musical hits of the ‘80s, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s classic tale has enjoyed over 10,000 performances on Broadway and has been staged in 27 different countries. Still running today, it’s a dark romance whose lush orchestral score reaches its peak with the sinister yet heartfelt ballad The Music of the Night. It is also notable for the beguiling All I Ask of You and Point of No Return.
One of the all-time most celebrated songs from a musical, Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, originally sung by Julie Covington and later by the likes of Madonna and Sinead O’Connor, has come close to eclipsing the fame of the Andrew Lloyd Webber show from which it emerged despite that show becoming an international hit and the first ever British winner of a Tony Award for Best Musical. Other great songs from the show include Buenos Aires and Waltz for Eva and Che.
War of the Worlds
Originally developed as a studio album by Jeff Wayne, based on HG Wells’ science fiction classic, and later developed into a stage musical which has toured the world, War of the Worlds incorporates a diverse range of tunes, from the mingled lament and rousing call to action of Parson Nathaniel to the impassioned hymn to a battleship that is Thunderchild and the cleverly unreliable A Handful of Men. Few musical numbers are as alien or as haunting as The Red Weed.
If you like your musicals playful but vulgar and a little bit dangerous, it’s hard to beat Grease, Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s 1971 hit which became the 16th longest-running show on Broadway with two major revivals. There aren’t really any bad songs in the show but the likes of Summer Nights and You’re the One that I Want have enjoyed enormous popularity, while Greased Lightnin’ never loses its power to thrill.
Annie Get Your Gun
In the whole history of musicals there have been few talents to equal those of Irving Berlin, and this 1946 Wild West romp showcases some of his very best work. There’s No Business Like Show Business has become the anthem of the entertainment industry, and who can forget the playful fun of Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)? Other hits from the show include They Say it’s Wonderful and You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun.
If you’ve never paid much attention to musical theater, this list should give you some idea of what you’ve been missing. There’s a great deal more to discover, so have fun doing it!
Garon Cockrell is the Founder and Editor of Pop Culture Beast and host of The Pop Culture Beast Show. He founded the site over seven years ago to have a place on the internet to write about the things he loved. Since then, Garon has become a best-selling author (Demonic and Other Tales), an award winning screenwriter (Best Screenplay 2013 Motor City Nightmares Film Festival), and a cast member on the top rated podcast, Never Not Funny.