I grew up with musical theater: watching, listening, singing along, and hearing random clarinet parts from my basement (my dad is a pit musician). Growing up and leaving home, I found out that apparently, not everyone's family listens to musical soundtracks on car rides! Most families also don't discuss the orchestra parts in great detail or belt the lyrics to every other song on a playlist of old musicals. I guess that's just part of what makes my family so much fun.
But the good news is, musicals are still very much loved outside of my family. I haven't had to look very far to find other people who get excited about soundtracks just like I do. Or at the very least, my roommates let me play stuff on a fifteen-minute car ride to Target.
Whether you consider yourself a grown-up "theater kid" or just casually enjoy musicals, here's nine of my favorite numbers that never fail to make me smile. These are motivational, exciting, and of course, lots of fun to sing. GET HYPE!
"So Much Better" -- Legally Blonde
The Act I finale of "Legally Blonde" is my favorite power song. "So Much Better" comes in right after our hero, Elle Woods, finds out that her ex has gotten engaged. A little backstory: the show opens with her and her friends certain that he's about to propose, but instead, he dumps her. He's about to go to law school, and he needs someone..."serious." Elle, determined to win her ex back, works to get into Harvard Law School, but once there, struggles to keep her grades up. At the end of the first act, Elle finds new success when she's chosen as one of the top students in her class--and gets to unleash some sick burns on her ex. (Yes, this is based on the hit movie. And yes, the music makes the whole thing "so much better!")
Honorable Mention from this show: "What You Want", "Bend and Snap," "There! Right There!"
"Agony" -- Into the Woods
"Into the Woods" has been my favorite musical since childhood. The first half is a combination of classic fairy tales with all of the characters working towards their wishes. The cast stars a Baker and his wife, Jack (from the beanstalk), a witch from next door, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and two Prince Charmings. In this number, the two Princes lament over the fact that their love interests are either missing (Cinderella) or in an unreachable tower (Rapunzel).
This one is certainly a sing-along favorite. And the reprise is just as funny. This musical is great for kids...even though the second act is pretty depressing. This musical is a blast to watch or listen to, and if you ever have the opportunity to be a part of the orchestra, TAKE IT, because it's also a lot of fun to play.
"So Long, Farewell" -- The Sound of Music
"The Sound of Music" is a classic, favorite feel-good musical. The Von Trapp family is introduced to their new governess (played by Julie Andrews in the 1965 film) who inspires the children by teaching them how to sing and play music. Their father, deeply affected by the loss of his wife, is distant; but Maria turns everything around for the children, making their home a much happier place and helping them build a better relationship with their father. This song is cute, if for no other reason than because it's performed by the seven Von Trapp children!
Honorable Mention from this show: "My Favorite Things"
"I Believe" -- The Book of Mormon
From the creators of animated TV comedy "South Park" comes this musical, described as "an atheist's love letter to religion." And as you'd expect from the creators of one of the wildest shows on television, this soundtrack is NOT for children, and is, in fact, quite alarmingly offensive at times.
However, that doesn't mean that it's not good. "Book of Mormon" is a modern musical comedy that's far more R-rated than most musicals, but it brings to the table all of the best parts about a stage musical. It's hilarious, the music is complex and fun, and the show holds its own with some of my favorite musical songs to sing along to. "I Believe" is sung in the second act as our main character starts to lose hope and faith in the world around him.
Honorable Mention from this show: "Hello!"
"Here I Am" -- Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" is near the top of my musical watching wishlist. If I ever get the chance to see this show, it'd be a dream! In the meantime, I have to settle for the soundtrack.
"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" follows the story of two con men fighting for territory. They agree that whichever one of them can con a rich woman out of a million dollars can stay in town, but the other must leave. The original Broadway cast starred the excellent John Lithgow, and let me tell you, it's hilarious. This is another "not for children" show, but parts of the soundtrack are G-rated. "Here I Am" is one of them. It introduces the con men's target, Christine, who turns out to be smart enough to hold her own...
"I Wanna Be a Producer" -- The Producers
If you haven't seen this movie, you should. "The Producers," written by comedic film actor/writer Mel Brooks, follows the story of an accomplished Broadway producer and an accountant who aspires to be a Broadway producer. Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane are the perfect pair that premiered the show on Broadway, and they were reunited to film a movie based on the musical.
I'd still love to see the musical on stage someday, but the movie adaptation is worth a watch in the meantime. In "I Wanna Be A Producer," Broderick's character professes his dreams to the audience, setting the stage for ridiculous disasters to ensue.
Honorable Mentions from this show: "Springtime for Hitler" (from the characters' hilarious "designed to flop" musical); "We Can Do It."
"Together, Wherever We Go" -- Gypsy
Maybe this one just makes me nostalgic because I sang it with my sisters for our elementary school talent show, but it really is a great song. It's about the importance of coming together with people you care about and taking care of one another. It's a wholesome reminder that no matter what happens, you'll always have the people you love.
"Goin' Back to Hogwarts" -- A Very Potter Musical
This parody musical from University of Michigan students (and eventual graduates) who have dubbed themselves Starkid Productions features a young Darren Criss as Harry Potter and inspired two sequel musicals. The performances were recorded and posted on YouTube by the production group, prompting a cult-like response from Harry Potter nerds everywhere. The parody musical and its sequels are definitely what I would call PG-13, but they're a blast. Starkid went on to write and produce several other original musicals, including some more parodies of beloved stories. The opening number "Goin' Back to Hogwarts" is the world's first exposure to Starkid, and they only get better from here.
"All That Jazz" -- Chicago
Okay, you've got me. "Chicago" is a musical about murder. BUT, the music is great. It's impossible not to feel like dancing, tapping your toes, or singing while listening to this music. "All That Jazz" is the show's opening number, occurring right after the singer murders her sister (and performance partner) + husband. What ensues is another crime of passion, two women defending themselves in court for their lives, and lots of excellent music. This movie adaptation is pretty good too! This is another one on my live musical bucket list, but the movie will suffice in the meantime.
Honorable Mentions from this show: "Both Reached for the Gun," "Cell Block Tango"