Emily Campbell picks her top ten songs that appear in musicals for Impact’s Music Essentials series.
Me and the Sky from Come from Away
Come From Away is a new musical; its first performance was in 2013 and it only came to the West End in 2019. It depicts the diverted planes of 7,000 passengers which had to go to the small airport of Ganda, Newfoundland in Canada because of 9/11. The narrative is based on the real stories of those on board who were stranded and the citizens of Ganda who welcomed these strangers into their community.
the songs stand out from other musicals
Me and the Sky is a melancholy solo by Beverley Bass, the pilot of one of the planes, who reflects on her experience of becoming a female pilot. It also explores how something she once strived to do had been turned into a bomb aimed to cause destruction. The musical has a small country folk band which makes the songs stand out from other musicals because of their unique sound.
A Soft Place to Land from Waitress
This song is a trio telling the story of friendship between the three waitresses but also the power of dreaming, and has some brilliant harmonies. It is gentle and calming and has a simple piano accompaniment which is all it needs.
Empty Chairs at Empty Tables from Les Misérables
Les Misérables tells the tale of the French revolution and is based on the novel by Victor Hugo. While all the songs are musically impressive, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables is particularly emotive because of its presentation of the harsh reality of conflict. The song depicts the loss Marius feels sitting alone in a café where he once sat with his friends who have now died. The song uses many crescendos to highlight the sudden pain Marius experienced at each of his friend’s deaths.
Burn from Hamilton
the empowering song features the iconic burning of Alexander’s letters on stage
Hamilton took the musicals world by storm with its innovative use of rap fused with typical theatre song features. It effectively explores the history of one of America’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, and features a diverse cast of actors.
Writer Lin Manuel Miranda said the musical was ‘America then, told by America now’. Burn is a solo sung by Eliza Hamilton which comes in the middle of the musical, telling of the heartbreak she feels when she discovers Alexander’s disloyalty to her. The empowering song features the iconic burning of Alexander’s letters on stage in defiance to ‘erase herself from the narrative’.
Defying Gravity from Wicked!
This is the most well-known song from the hit musical based on Wizard of Oz characters the Wicked Witch of the West (Elphaba) and Glinda the Good. The musical depicts their friendship, but also their own individual journeys. Defying Gravity is mainly a solo sung by Elphaba but features Glinda in some places. It is about Elphaba’s own self-discovery and her attempts to escape the limits put on her by others. The vocal melody is often syncopated which musically depicts the opposing views of Elphaba and Glinda working against each other.
Seasons of Love from Rent
Seasons of Love is the main chorus number in Rent and is joyous and uplifting. Its lyrics convey how love should be valued more than material things. It suggests you should live life loving not measuring time. Some stand out features are the stepwise melodies, choral harmonies and its use of cheesy ooos which help it become a song which depicts the characters coming together in unison. This is a classic show tune.
I Know Where I’ve Been from Hairspray
Hairspray is one of the typical musicals that people listen to because of its upbeat tunes and its feel-good factor. However, it also deals with topics such as racial discrimination and equal opportunity within the theatre world. I Know Where I’ve Been is a solo about the struggle of black Americans in a racist society and is sung at their protest against segregation.
The song begins with a stripped back instrumental, which becomes richer in texture as the song progresses. The accompanying choral vocals which are in harmony are typical of the Gospel genre and help the song to build. There is also the use of some interesting instruments such as a jazz organ which help give the song moments of colour.
And You Don’t Even Know It from Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
This new musical tells the story of Jamie New and his exploration of Drag, but also his journey of conquering prejudice and ultimately staying true to himself. And You Don’t Even Know It is song about the dream of a future where Jamie can prove his peers wrong. The song also explores being unashamedly you and doing it with pride. The use of a large orchestra with instruments such as the trumpet creates an atmosphere of celebration.
Still Hurting from The Last Five Years
The Last Five Years tells the story of a relationship and how it blossomed, but also the journey to its end. It does so in an interesting way, as it tells the story from both perspectives but in Cathy’s case from the reverse, starting at the end and finishing at the beginning. This solo is from the start of the musical and is from Cathy’s perspective as she comes to terms with her heartbreak. The song is accompanied by a mix of light string sections and piano sections which play together and separately, which arguably represents the individual characters and also where their lives cross.
In a Crowd of Thousands from Anastasia
This musical is based on the Disney film Anastasia. In a Crowd of Thousands is a duet that explores Anya’s realisation that she is in fact the Grand Duchess Anastasia and her recognition of Dmitry from when she was young when he had once bowed to her at a parade. This is a musical of self-discovery and identity, and this duet with its flowing melodies is easy to listen to.
Listen to these songs (plus many more!) on this Spotify playlist:
In-article videos courtesy of q on cbc, Waitress UK, Movieclips, Hannah, Kristin Chenoweth, BroadwayInHD, The Shows Must Go On!, Amazon Prime Video UK, Jason Robert Brown, and Anastasia The Musical via @youtube.com. No changes were made to these videos.
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