Last weekend, BBC Radio 2 celebrated all things musical theatre, playing hours upon hours of the nation’s favourite show-tunes. During the show, musical theatre royalty Elaine Page OBE announced the top twenty greatest songs from a musical, which were voted by BBC Radio 2 listeners from a shortlist of songs, compiled by a panel of experts in the field.
Let’s take a look at the results:
20. ‘Seasons of Love’ from Rent.
The song that taught us all how many minutes are in a year. The powerful ensemble piece is often associated with AIDS awareness as Rent focuses with living with and losing loved ones from the disease.
19. ‘Send in the Clowns’ from A Little Night Music.
This Sondheim classic was written for British actress Glynis Johns (Disney’s Mary Poppins), who originated the role of Desiree Armfeldt on Broadway. In the song, Desiree muses over her life choices after failing to save her relationship with Fredrik.
18. ‘The Room Where It Happens’ from Hamilton.
’The Room Where It Happens’ is only the first song in this list from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop phenomenon. Aaron Burr becomes frustrated with Hamilton’s rise in power and reflects on how he wants to be able to make important decisions on political affairs, like Hamilton.
17. ‘You Will Be Found’ from Dear Evan Hansen.
Written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, this song has become an anthem for today’s youth in shedding light on anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Appearing at the end of act one, ‘You Will Be Found’ follows Evan’s motivational speech about his (false) friendship with Connor, and how lonely he feels after his passing, which quickly goes viral.
16. ‘Gethsemane’ from Jesus Christ Superstar.
This emotionally powerful song features in the sung-through rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber. During the final week of Jesus’ life, and in a prayer to God, he questions his fate and why he must die on the cross.
15. ‘All That Jazz’ from Chicago.
Chicago is globally renowned for its murderous narrative. Its opening number, ‘All That Jazz’ is sung by Velma Kelly, welcoming her audience to her show, just before the police arrest her for murder.
14. ‘Alexander Hamilton’ from Hamilton.
Another opening number! Providing an outline of Alexander Hamilton’s life, and the people who influenced him along the way, ‘Alexander Hamilton’ was originally part of Miranda’s ‘The Hamilton Mixtape’ which he performed for President Obama at the White House after reading an adaptation of Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton.
13. ‘Summertime’ from Porgy and Bess.
This jazz classic serves as the opening to Gershwin’s musical, and acts as a lullaby from a young mother to her baby, before the real action in Porgy and Bess begins.
12. ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’ from Hairspray.
The show about social change in the 1960s ends with a blinding showstopper, which sees the whole company join together to celebrate the acceptance of diversity on live television.
11. ‘Memory’ from Cats.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s heartfelt showtune narrowly misses out on the top ten. Cats made quite the stir with its CGI-heavy film adaptation in 2019, but Elaine Page’s original performance is a beautiful plea for acceptance as Grizabella remembers her glamourous past.
10. ‘America’ from West Side Story.
Sondheim’s ‘America’ is more than just a heavy dance number. A strong political message takes centre stage as Anita and Rosalia argue about what it would be like to live in ‘free’ America, without the struggles of immigration.
9. ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story.
Traditionally a beautiful ballad between star-crossed lovers, ‘Somewhere’ (often referred to as ‘There’s A Place For Us’) has been covered by a number of artists including Barbra Streisand. In West Side Story, Tony and Maria dream of a place where they can live happily together, away from everybody who tries to separate them.
8. ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ from Evita.
The famous balcony scene, where Eva Perón directly addresses the crowd, has become iconic in musical theatre culture. Based on the life of the former Argentinian First Lady, ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ reflects how the show’s protagonist initially desired fame and glory but her duty was always to the people of her nation.
7. ‘Circle of Life’ from The Lion King.
With this opening number to the popular musical The Lion King, Tim Rice and Elton John has created one of Disney’s best-loved songs. Starting with the iconic Zulu chant, ‘Circle of Life’ is about appreciating life and the wonders of the world.
6. ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ from Singin’ In The Rain.
The titular song, made famous by Gene Kelly, will make you want to dance in puddles all day. This iconic number has become an anthem for spreading joy in a gloomy situation.
5. ‘Over the Rainbow’ from The Wizard of Oz.
Known as Judy Garland’s signature song, ‘Over the Rainbow’ won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1939. In the beautiful ballad, Dorothy dreams of escaping the dreary life she is living in Kansas.
4. ‘This Is Me’ from The Greatest Showman.
Written by Pasek and Paul, the fight song ‘This Is Me’ has become the anthem of self-acceptance. Performed by Keala Settle, the empowering song sees The Greatest Showman’s ensemble love themselves no matter what.
3. ‘Defying Gravity’ from Wicked.
Wicked’s signature song ‘Defying Gravity’ ends the first act as Elphaba rises into the air on her broom. The power ballad has encompasses female empowerment, not staying silent, and fighting against an unjust authority.
2. ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Misérables.
This moving number is now a song of hope for those in the armed forces because of its heartfelt message. In ‘Bring Him Home’, an emotional Jean Valjean prays to God to save a dying Marius, and to take him instead.
1. ‘One Day More’ from Les Misérables.
This song has meant a great deal to musical theatre fans during the pandemic. Its message of hope resonates today, as we all hope theatre can reopen soon so we can have ‘one show more’.
Listen to the original BBC Radio 2 countdown here. You can catch Musicals: The Greatest Show on BBC One on 7 February 2021 at 7:40pm.
Words by Emily Shepherd.
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