Musicals have been an important part of our culture and history. Dated back to ancient Greece, musicals are a source of entertainment used to tells stories for centuries.
The most important components in a musical are its music, the dialogue, and a good story. Music is the single most important element because it's the way it attracts and captivates massive audiences.
In the past, musicals were put together in a couple of months, but today, musical theater is a much bigger and powerful industry, and putting a production together can take years and millions of dollars.
Musicians and composers work together, for months at a time, to create the perfect original score for a musical. That hard work has resulted in the music we all know and love from all our favorite musicals. Music by Stephen Sondheim or Elton John is amongst the most popular in the industry, but there are many other beautiful songs to consider.
The greatest music is found in the greatest musicals of all time, like The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Rent, Grease, Dream Girls, West Side Story, or any Disney classic. Broadway and West End London have created magical stories with some of the best and most beautiful songs of all time and we are here to tell you which are those.
We've looked at different researches and polls and concluded that classic musicals like Les Misérables, Grease, The Lion King, have some beloved hits, but newer productions like Hamilton aren't far behind. Continue reading to find out what songs are the public's favorite with a quick synopsis of each song.
If you like musicals but you don't really know much about them, we recommend you read our article Learning about musicals.
Les Misérables is a popular musical based on the novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, a French poet, and novelist. It has music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, original French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, with an English-language book (script) by Herbert Kretzmer.
Set in early 19th-century France, it is the story of Jean Valjean, a French peasant, and his quest for redemption after serving nineteen years in jail for having stolen a loaf of bread. The musical opened on March 12, 1987, and closed on May 18, 2003, after featuring 6680 performances.
There are two film editions of this musical, one from 1998 starring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, and Uma Thurman and the other from 2012 starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Amanda Seyfried.
This musical is known for its amazing production and the most beautiful songs. Two of these songs make it to the list of most popular songs from musicals.
The first is ‘Bring Him Home’, a ballad that could be more of a prayer than a song. According to BBC, "since its debut, the song has been adopted by those connected to the armed forces as a message of hope for loved ones stationed abroad or injured in combat."
The second song is ‘One Day More’ a song that brings the entire cast together with beautiful lyrics and a message of hope, and the great voice of each of the cast members.
Top songs from Broadway
If you are cast for a Broadway production you must know how to sing, dance, and be on stage. All the actors that have made history have had unforgettable performances on stage and made a song so popular that they are considered the best and greatest songs of all time.
Here is a quick list of some of the most beloved songs from Broadway and a short synopsis:
- Memory from Cats: this song, composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, is known for dividing the opinion between love and hate
- Ya Got Trouble from The Music Man: popular for introducing the theme of warning adults that their kids are turning into street-tough “cigarette fiends”.
- Satisfied from Hamilton: crazy story-telling technique as the story is told in a flashback on the amazing score by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
- And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going from Dream Girls: All-time Broadway classic, this song follows a character's speech after being rejected by her lover and friends.
- Some Other Time from On the Town: tells the story of three sailors on 24-hour shore leave in Manhattan and it holds an eternal message, “When you’re in love, time is precious stuff
Are you planning to study musical theater? Learn Why and where you should study musical theatre.
Top songs from films
The movie industry disrupted theater production but it brought us the best music lyrics to dance and sing-along to! Here is a quick list of some of the most beloved songs from the film industry and a short synopsis:
- Circle of Life from The Lion King: composed by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice, this song is one of Disney’s most-loved songs that talk about life and birth.
- Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: outstanding performance by Marilyn Monroe.
- Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz: described as a "timeless ballad" sung by Judy Garland.
- You’re the One That I Want from Grease: this great musical number needs no explanation, every generation of kids will sing and dance to John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.
- I Wan’na Be Like You from The Jungle Book: in this Disney classic, King Louie comes up with the catchiest of tracks to try and get ‘man’s red fire’ from Mowgli.
Continue reading about Favorite musicals of all time.
History of musicals
As we already mentioned, musicals are dated back not only to the ancient Greeks but also to ancient Rome and ancient India. They used to host performances in massive coliseums and atriums where actors would sing and do dance numbers on a stage.
During the Renaissance, plays used to be the most popular form of entertainment and they used to last long hours. These plays started to get broken up by actors who would sing or do a dance number.
Theatre made it to New York through London in 1752 and it wasn't long before performative arts became a big source of entertainment in the United States, especially in New York.
This is how the hubs of the musical theater that we love were born in Broadway and West End London. Theatre used to be the most popular form of entertainment until the film and movie industry took over.
Learn more about musicals in our article Musicals at a Glance.