Look, I know. Musical theatre is polarising. But before you close this tab, let me talk through 15 examples of great tracks that just happen to be from musicals.
‘Sydney’ from Muriel’s Wedding
More and more new musicals are making a play at writing the kind of pop songs you might hear on a night out. I reckon if this one came on at Scary Canary when I was freshly eighteen, it would’ve gone off. Best of all, you can now see it in action at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre, and in Brisbane from September.
‘Fortune Favours The Brave’ from Aida
Elton John is no stranger to musicals, but amongst The Lion King and Billy Elliot, his adaption of Aida is often overlooked. You’ll wonder why after hearing its opening song.
‘When You’re Home’ from In The Heights
Before writing his game-changing musical, Hamilton, Lin Manuel-Miranda penned this story about a Latino community in uptown NYC. ‘When You’re Home’, a duet between reformed African-American hood, Benny, and his Puerto Rican love interest, Nina, takes influence from a range of musical cultures. It’s a track.
‘I Am The One’ from Next To Normal
Pulitzer-Prize winning Next To Normal is a unique work of musical theatre. It tackles mental illness, drug abuse and grief, but is also bursting at the seams with gritty rock songs. This one is a classic.
‘Seasons of Love’ from Rent
On oldy but a goody. Arguably the most important musical of the 1990s, Rent’s act two opener is as fresh today as it was when it was written some twenty-five years ago.
‘The Bitch of Living’ from Spring Awakening
The entire Spring Awakening soundtrack could be on this list. With music written by rock star Duncan Sheik, this musical explores the sexual awakening of a group of 19th century teenagers. This particular track is one of the better ensemble numbers of the show.
‘Let it Sing’ from Violet
One of my friends told me that when she saw this show on Broadway, this got a standing ovation. You can hear why.
‘Open Road’ from Glory Days
This one is obscure even amongst musical theatre die-hards. Closing after just one performance, Glory Days has been immortalised as one of Broadway’s biggest flops. This track, however, is a diamond in the rough, following one character’s journey to learn more about himself.
‘Dead Girl Walking’ from Heathers
Yep, that Heathers. For fans of the iconic film, this musical needs no introduction. For those unfamiliar, think ‘80s Mean Girls with guns. ‘Dead Girl Walking’ sees Veronica (Winona Ryder in the film) getting freaky with mysterious newcomer JD.
‘Everybody’s Talking about Jamie’ from Everybody’s Talking about Jamie
I caught this musical when I was in London, and boy was it a good time. The story follows aspiring drag queen, Jamie New, who lives in a working class part of England. This song opens act two in style, as the title character begins to rise above the bigots around him.
‘Gold’ from Once
It was probably inevitable that cult independent film, Once, would one day be made into a musical. Full of beautifully understated folk music and a rare kind of earnestness, it’s not a typical musical by any stretch. This number, like its namesake, is shining and brilliant.
‘Helpless’ from Hamilton
Hamilton is the first musical in a while to really cross over into the broader cultural consciousness. Like its predecessor, In The Heights, it’s a melting pot of different stylistic influences. ‘Helpless’ is just one of its many bangers.
‘I’ll Be Here’ from The Wild Party
Love songs are a staple of the musical theatre canon, but few are as emphatic as ‘I’ll Be Here’. Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party never made it to Broadway, probably owing to the fact that another musical based on the same source material was produced concurrently. But this one has certainly lived on in the hearts and minds of Broadway buffs.
‘Hair’ from Hair
Hair is often regarded as the first rock musical, bursting onto the scene fifty years ago. With a slew of great rock songs on its soundtrack, this musical’s soundtrack still has the power it did on debut. It’s also touring later this year so keep your eyes peeled!
‘When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock’ from School of Rock
To paraphrase the musical [title of show], “some movies make great musicals, some just make musicals”. School of Rock is in the first of those categories, with this number a big part of the reason it’s seen such success.