The 50 Most Beautiful Songs of Musical Theatre (Part One)

Here is a list of the 50 songs I think are musical theatre’s most beautiful. They are not in any particular order, and they are only taken from shows that I have personally seen, or that I have been shown by other people. So here we go with the first 10:

If I Loved YouFrom Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical Carousel, this is a song you can only fall deeper in love with after each listen. Marking a moment in the story where Julie and Billy declare their love for one another, hesitant and hopeful, this song is a perfect embodiment of a girl’s first step into the world of love. With beautiful music and lyrics, this has to be Rogers and Hammerstein’s greatest song, and is without a doubt one of their best known.

Send in the ClownsStephen Sondheim’s 1973 classic A Little Night Music is up their as one of musical theatre’s greatest, and this song has got to be his most heartbreaking and emotional. In my opinion, it is the greatest lament in musical theatre, as the character of Desirée reflects on the ironies, foolishness and disappointments of her life, including the rejection by her former lover Fredrik. Employing a complex triple meter, Sondheim wrote this number especially for Glynis Johns, the actress who originated the role of Desirée on Broadway. The song has become one of Sondheim’s most celebrated, and has been recorded by such greats as Judy Collins, Frank Sinatra and Barbara Streisand. Send in the Clowns is undoubtedly as highly regarded by professionals as it is by theatre audiences around the world and possibly the most beautiful rendition of this classic is by Judi Dench at Sondheim’s 80th birthday BBC Proms special.

A Boy Like That/I Have a LoveNow when I was younger, and my sister can confirm this with great displeasure, I would watch the 1961 film version of Leonard Bernstein’s 1957 musical West Side Story almost religiously everyday, sometimes winding back the video and replaying it twice or three times a day. Despite Jerome Robbins’s iconic and revolutionary choreography and Stephen Sondheim’s wonderful lyrics, it was Bernstein’s beautiful and timeless score that first struck me and the whole story drew me in effortlessly. Little did I know at the time that this show is based on one of the most beautiful and tragic love stories ever told, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Not only would I watch it, but I’d spend the rest of the day singing every song. To be honest I could have put half of the numbers in my list quite easily, and there is another to come in a future post, but this has to be one of my favourites. This duet between Anita and Maria is passionate and fiery but equally, mournful and heartbreaking. Not only are you swept into a whirlwind of emotion, you’re left completely exhausted as you live every breath, every gesture, every note sung. Not always the most remembered or credited song from the musical, I believe this song has been at times underestimated and overlooked for some of the show’s bigger numbers, but unjustly so. Now, even though both Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno were dubbed over in their songs, these two are two of the most beautiful actresses I’ve ever seen, and it’s no wonder Moreno won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

Another Suitcase in Another Hall – A wonderful piece of music from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1978 production Evita. Cataloguing the story of Eva Perón, this song is in fact sung by Colonel Juan Domingo Perón’s Mistress after Eva dismisses her and enters a relationship with the Colonel, seeking a further rise in status. The lyrics of the song describe the Mistress’s familiarity with the unhappiness of having to move on after a failed romance, and contemplates how she will move on from such a heartbreak. At this point in the musical, it is most definitely the Mistress and not Eva, who the audience have empathy for. The very simplicity of this song makes it so beautiful.

Whistle Down the Wind – Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1996 musical adaption of the 1961 film Whistle Down the Wind, the title song doubtlessly holds the most beauty. Swallow, an innocent young girl and her friends discover an escaped killer who they believe to be Jesus Christ and hide him in a barn from the angry townspeople. In this song, Swallow is singing for friendship, loyalty, love and protection. With some of his most powerful lyrics “So try and stand the tide, Then you’ll raise a banner, Send a flare up in the sky”, this is again a song that is sometimes overlooked for some of Lloyd Webber’s more iconic numbers.

People – Now in my opinion any list would be seriously flawed if it did not at some point include Barbara Streisand. This song is taken from Jule Styne and Bob Merrill’s 1964 musical Funny Girl, which remarkably failed to win any of its eight Tony Award nominations, losing out to Hello Dolly! Telling the story of Fanny Brice, in this song Fanny is singing of her love for future husband Nick Arnstein. Although recorded by other greats such as Dionne Warwick, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin, this is unquestionably Streisand’s signature song, and the lyrics are so relatable, “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world”, that it is impossible not to rank this song as one of musical theatre’s most beautiful.

Children of EdenSo now we move on to Stephen Schwartz’s 1991 musical Children of Eden, based on the stories of the biblical book of Genesis. In this title song, Eve who has been shunned from the Garden of Eden, and whose son Cain and has murdered Abel, is close to death, and so makes a final prayer that her descendants will one day be able to return to the trust that was once lost by her and Adam’s actions. Despite it’s poor reviews, limited run on the West End and no Broadway transfer, this musical is still incredibly popular amongst community theatres across the United States, and this song is without question the highlight of the production.

Still Hurting – From Jason Robert Brown’s 2001 one act musical The Last 5 Years. This show follows the story of a broken relationship, seen from beginning to end through the eyes of Jamie, and simultaneously from finish to start from Cathy’s perspective. This is the first song of the production, and essentially records Cathy’s heartbreak at the end of her marriage. Musically quite simple, when teamed with the lamenting lyrics, you are immediately drawn into the desperation and emotion of the story at its beginning by witnessing its end.

Sun and Moon This duet is from Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s 1989 musical Miss Saigon. Incidentally these two previously paired up to write the musical the song next on my list hails from. Inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, this show is based around Saigon during the Vietnam War, and tells the story of an American marine who falls in love with a Vietnamese bar girl who becomes pregnant with his child. At this point of the show, this song is a declaration of love between the two characters, who after spending the night together, have vowed to leave Vietnam for America. The roles of Chris and Kim were originated by Simon Bowman and Lea Salonga at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London, in a production that lasted from 1989 to 1999, and which earned Salonga an Olivier Award. The Broadway production at the Broadway Theatre spanned from 1991 to 2001, again earning Salonga an award. This time a highly coveted Tony.

Stars – As previously mentioned, this song comes from Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s most celebrated and successful collaboration, the long-running and perhaps the world’s most popular 1985 musical Les Miserables. Originally a 1980 production in France based on Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name, the story is of an escaped convict Jean Valjean, who is hunted by the God-fearing Inspector Javert. The show recently celebrated it’s 25th Anniversary in a concert at the O2 Arena in London, a world tour commencing at the Barbican theatre where it originally opened, and can currently be seen at the Queen’s Theatre. In this song, Javert is comparing his hunt for justice and Valjean with the order of the stars, and it is in this song that the audience really starts to empathise with Javert, who is largely considered to be Valjean’s antagonist in the show. After seeing the show a few times at the Queen’s theatre, and having the pleasure to watch such names as Hadley Fraser take on the role, my favourite portrayal of Javert has to be Norm Lewis, who was chosen personally by producer Cameron Mackintosh and can be seen here at the 25th Anniversary concert at the O2 Arena in 2010.

So here ends the first ten of my top 50 most beautiful musical theatre songs. As I said before, none of these are in any particular order, and I’ll be posting the next ten songs after my next review, so keep checking back. It would be interesting to hear some of  your ideas on the most beautiful musical theatre songs, so please leave your comments here. You never know, they may well be coming up on my list too…


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