We could all do with a bit of escapism every now and then; more now than then, if you catch my drift. Musical theatre, and the film adaptations of those beloved shows, are my favourite form of fantastical escapism because they truly have it all; heartfelt lyrics, sensational scores and giant talking alien plants. Trialling a soundtrack can also be an excellent way to try out a show you’re not sure about before committing to getting tickets and experiencing it in all its glory. Here are a selection of songs from musicals that are on my current playlist.
This is a classic choice, but for all the right reasons. It’s still a stunning, uplifting, empowering zinger of a song; you just want to belt it out after having a crappy day at work. It has a beautiful message of breaking convention and defying the odds, with a sparkling melody and unearthly soaring vocals. Every Elphaba brings something different to the role, and I simply couldn’t pick a favourite, but I particularly like Idina Menzel and Alexia Khadime’s interpretations of the song.
The Origin of Love
from Hedwig and the Angry Inch
This is the most obscure musical on this list, but this rock musical about genderqueer rockstar Hedwig has a cult following, and has a stunning soundtrack of songs inspired by Bowie, Iggy Pop, country, punk and a touch of broadway musical. This song is based on a story from Plato’s Symposium and tells a vivid narrative of how humans were originally (what we would recognise as) two people merged back to back, and how fearful deities tore us apart, and that we seek the love of others to try and mend the wound. The story is not supposed to be taken literally, as the mix of gods from different pantheon’s illustrates, but the muddled mythology still packs an emotional punch and its like a beautiful, bittersweet fairytale. My favourite version of this song is from Neil Patrick Harris’ Broadway run, with his emotive singing still being polished enough to ensure you can hear every word.
Although most people’s favourite song from this groundbreaking musical is My Shot, I think the opening song instantly illustrates just how stellar the writing and composing is; the combination of classic musical-theatre prologue with contemporary rap and hip-hop styling is so fresh and compelling. You must watch writer/composer/performer Lin Manuel Miranda break this out for the first time during a poetry jam at the White House; he is so animated and it is amazing watching people laugh, knowing now that it was the beginning of a multi-award winning Broadway phenomenon. This is history as it should be told; with respect for then, and an ear for the now.
December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)
from Jersey Boys
I’m not generally a fan of jukebox musicals, as usually they just remind you that you could be listening to the superior originals (We Will Rock You and Mamma Mia! suffer particularly with this), but the style of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is so well captured by every cast of the Jersey Boys I’ve heard that I’m soon caught up enough in the song to stop comparing. This song is so catchy, and I defy you not to dance along. And yes, I know this song is about losing your virginity. Ah, the classics.
Take Me Or Leave Me
‘Everybody stares at me, boys, girls…I can’t help it baby’…I can’t be the only person who walks down the road singing this…right? I could have chosen lots of songs from Rent, but this is refreshingly flirty song challenging a newly married partner to accept the person she’s married for the sexual being she fell in love with. This might be the sexiest break up song ever written, and it’s certainly winning in a near non-existent category of lesbian break-up show tunes.
Mean Green Mother From Outer Space
from Little Shop Of Horrors
Apparently this song wasn’t in the original stage show, but it’s my favourite from the 1986 film, with Levi Stubbs from the Four Tops voicing murderous plant Audrey II and clearly having an absolute blast doing it. This song is hilarious and so energetic, and honestly, how can you top a giant carnivorous puppet plant spinning a hand gun and shooting whilst singing a badass boasting villain song in the style of Motown/R&B?
Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me
from The Rocky Horror Picture Show
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is undeniably problematic,, and things that were revolutionary when it was created now seem painfully backward or inappropriate. One of the triumphs of the kitschy outsider classic that still stands up today is Janet’s suggestively-titled song. Even in the 21st century, society and culture remains disapproving and repressive of women embracing their sexuality, and Janet’s joyous sexual awakening in this song is exhilarating, as she owns her desire and explains EXACTLY what she wants: ‘toucha, toucha, toucha touch me – I wanna be dirty!’
You Can’t Stop The Beat
Oh, this song is just pure joy. Hairspray’s story of racial hatred, intolerance and segregation should be something historically bizarre and unrelatable, but sadly is becoming more relevant again than ever. But honestly, this song is lit af, and it’s about time this was blasted out on marches to remind people that you can’t stop the beat of progress however hard you try. Run and tell that!
Words by Heidi Teague