The 10 Best West End Show Tunes
By Alex Kingston
Wednesday 5th June 2019
London’s West End is home to a dozen phenomenal musicals, ranging from old classics, such as Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera, to newer hits, such as Hamilton and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. In this article, I will be exploring the best show tunes that can currently be heard in London’s West End. In order to have a wide array of songs featured within this list, I have limited myself to one song per musical. Whilst favourite show tunes are highly subjective, in order to create the fairest list possible, I have taken into account a number of different factors, including the popularity of such songs and the purpose that they serve in their respective shows. So, without further ado, here are the 10 best West End show tunes:
10 – When I Grow Up – Matilda the Musical
When I Grow Up takes place shortly after the beginning of Act Two and sees the show’s immensely talented child actors take centre stage. The children of Matilda’s school join together in the playground to talk (well… sing) about their fantasies of what adulthood will be like. They speak of eating sweets every day and watching TV until their “eyes go square”, therefore highlighting a child’s innocent perspective of adulthood. The song is highly endearing and is a true delight.
9 – Defying Gravity – Wicked
Defying Gravity is the finale of the show’s first act and takes place shortly after Elphaba, the show’s protagonist, discovers that the Wizard of Oz is not the heroic figure that she had originally believed him to be. After this revelation, Elphaba powerfully declares that she will do everything in power to fight the Wizard and his sinister plans and aims to defy gravity. Prior to this point in Wicked, Elphaba has very little confidence, however in this number she at last finds power through her own outsider status. It is arguably the most iconic song from Wicked, and rightfully so. This song is notable for its final riff, which requires a vast amount of talent to successfully carry out.
8 – They Live In You – The Lion King
After enjoying some father-son bonding time, the young prince Simba asks his Father, Mufasa, if the two of them will always remain together. Mufasa responds by teaching Simba an important lesson about life and death, stating that even after someone dies, they can be found watching over you in the stars. Whilst perhaps not the most well-known song from The Lion King, I personally adore it due to its heart-warming message. ‘They Live In You’ provides a moving perspective of death, and tells us that no matter how we feel, we are never truly alone.
7 – If I Were a Rich Man – Fiddler on the Roof
Fiddler on the Roof centres around poor milkman Tevye, who is the father of five children and is, unfortunately, short of both money and resources. Whilst hard at work, Tevye takes a break to speak to God, asking Him why he must live in poverty. He then goes on to fantasize about a life of wealth and luxury, providing a detailed explanation of what life would be like as a rich man. The song is highly popular and is often mentioned in popular culture.
6 – Get Down – Six the Musical
The musical Six is a modern retelling of the lives of the six wives of Henry VIII presented as a pop concert, as the wives take turns singing and telling their story to see who had the worst time with Henry and will become the group’s lead singer. Get Down is performed by Anne of Cleves, detailing her life after King Henry VIII divorced her. The song speaks of the privilege and power Anne acquired after the dissolution of her marriage to Henry. She received a sizable settlement, along with her very own palace in Richmond upon Thames. The song takes inspiration from pop icon Rihanna and features a number of highly witty and clever historical references (for example: “I look more rad than Lutheranism”). Six features a number of exceptional musical numbers, but personally, I feel ‘Get Down’ retains a slight edge.
5 – Bad Idea – Waitress
Bad Idea is the finale of the show’s first act and deals with the beginning of protagonist Jenna’s affair with her Doctor, Jim Pomatter. Despite the attraction that the two characters have to one another, there are multiple obstacles prohibiting their potential relationship. For example, both Jenna and Jim are married to other partners and, if this wasn’t enough, Jenna is currently undergoing a pregnancy. As a result of these factors, the two characters determine that to enter this affair would be the wrong move. Despite this, they still go ahead with it, declaring that they could both do with a ‘bad idea’. The song is funny, clever and catchy; no matter how many times I listen to it, it never gets old!
4 – The Music of the Night – The Phantom of the Opera
This song takes place shortly after the infamous Phantom of the Opera has lured the young Christine Daaé to his lair. He attempts to seduce her with his ‘music of the night’, with his beautiful voice putting her into a trance-like state. The Phantom sings passionately about his unspoken love of Christine and urges her to forget the world she has previously known. He asks her to “surrender” herself to her “darkest dreams”, and to “purge” all her earlier thoughts. ‘The Music of the Night’ is truly and utterly haunting; not only does it seduce Christine, but it is likely to seduce many audience members as well.
3 – Spotlight – Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is the story of Jamie New, a 16-year-old schoolboy who decides he wants to go to his school prom in a dress. Jamie acquires red high-heels in preparation but is afraid to be seen in them in fear of being taunted. His best friend Pritti steps in, however, and tells him to ignore the haters. Whilst Pritti acknowledges that it won’t be easy, she declares that it is important for Jamie to step “out of the darkness” and “into the spotlight”. The song carries an extremely important message, and also serves as great motivation in times of need. If that isn’t already enough reasons to love this song, ‘Spotlight’ also features an infectious beat that is extraordinarily catchy.
2 – Stars – Les Misérables
Les Misérables is primarily centred around Inspector Javert’s relentless pursuit for former thief Jean Valjean, with Javert hoping to bring the escaped convict to justice. ‘Stars’ takes place shortly after the re-emergence of Jean Valjean and sees Javert reaffirm his commitment to finding and punishing his long-term foe. He compares himself to the watchful stars, and authoritatively declares that he must bring order to this world of chaos. Whilst there are multiple songs from Les Misérables that I adore, there is something about ‘Stars’ which really resonates with me. Despite the fact that Javert is the show’s primary antagonist, this song is perfectly written in a way that helps the audience to gain a full understanding of his motivations and rationale.
1 – Wait for It – Hamilton
Hamilton is, without doubt, my favourite musical of all time. I have great admiration for the score and have listened to the Original Broadway Cast Recording over a dozen times. As a result, I must confess that I do find it challenging to single out one Hamilton song as my favourite. Despite this, my choice would have to be ‘Wait for It’. The song is a soliloquy performed by Aaron Burr midway through the first act of the show, whereby he speaks of his underlying determination in response to Hamilton’s swift rise to power. Aaron Burr is arguably the show’s main antagonist, but this song really helps Hamilton’s audience to understand, sympathise and perhaps even relate with this tragic hero. As someone who has always been personally cautious in life, I too feel a personal connection with this song. The song’s lyrics are exceedingly profound, and its melody is rather memorable as well. For the above reasons, I have chosen ‘Wait for It’ as my favourite West End show tune.