Long before mash-ups, some of the greatest composers ever to work in Musical Theatre created the perfect fusion of melody and rhythm, changing tempo, introducing themes, and combining the best bits of songs to entertain and entice audiences as they settle in for a night at the theatre.
Now, you’ve been casting your votes, humming along and tapping your toes to decide the greatest Musical Theatre Overtures ever written – and the results are in! Due to a three-way tie for tenth place, here are the TWELVE shows which made your TOP TEN Best Ever Musical Theatre Overtures:
1st Place – Gypsy
Music Jule Styne, Lyrics Stephen Sondheim
You voted the Overture for GYPSY your NUMBER ONE – and it’s easy to hear why: Although you may not hear Sondheim’s words in the overture, they somehow permeate every bar of Jule Styne’s melodious and pulsating score. Add the show’s orchestrators, Sid Ramin and Robert Ginzler to the mix, and you have the perfect recipe for an overture – and in your opinion it’s the greatest ever.
West Side Story
Music Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics Stephen Sondheim
Sondheim keeps turning up, doesn’t he? Again, you won’t hear his lyrics here, but you can’t really separate his words from those Bernstein melodies in your head. It does exist as an overture and featured in the film, but you won’t find it played in stage versions which makes it a slightly controversial number two in our list!
3rd Place – Candide
Music Leonard Bernstein, Primary Lyricist Richard Wilbur
It probably won’t surprise you to see Bernstein’s name appearing again – or to hear that Sondheim also wrote additional lyrics. The show may drag – the overture certainly doesn’t! Here’s the maestro himself conducting…
4th place – Phantom of the Opera
Music Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics Charles Hart & Richard Stilgoe
Despite not featuring on our original shortlist, this Lloyd Webber classic received so many votes in the “other” category that we just had to include it, although it’s not really an overture at all since it only features the title song. Not bad though, for a man who spends his life paddling around in sewers…
5th – Merrily We Roll Along
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Yes, that’s right. This time, not content with just doing the words, Stephen Sondheim thought he’d have a go at the music too. Possibly after seeing how much more money you get. We rather like this version…
6th Place – Mack & Mabel
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Eventually, more and more composers and lyricists cottoned on that if you write it all yourself, you get more money. Jerry Herman also achieved every composers dream by meeting Torville & Dean! Here they are putting his music to skating…just don’t tell Jerry they had to cut a bit of his overture out!
7th place (two way tie)
My Fair Lady
Music Alan Jay Lerner and Lyrics Frederick Loewe
My Fair Lady made a stage star of Martine McCutcheon when she took on the role of Eliza Doolittle at the National Theatre. Unfortunately, the Eastenders Actress took her character’s surname a bit too literally – which was fine until she was spotted “recuperating” at the Ivy.
Music Richard Rodgers & Lyrics Oscar Hammerstein II
It’s surprising not to have more Rodgers & Hammerstein shows in the top ten – such was their dominance in Musical Theatre throughout the mid-20th Century that one wonders if they simply had all the other composers killed like Andrew Lloyd Webber did in the 1980s?
Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter
Incredibly, Anything Goes turns 87 years old this year. It’s still as fresh as ever thanks to numerous re-writes and revivals. Had Porter not died he would be approaching 128 years old so it’s unlikely he would be writing anything as good now…thankfully he left us this.
10th Place (three way tie):
Guys & Dolls
Music & Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Guys and Dolls is one of those great shows that allows theatre directors who have run out of other ideas still to suggest things at meetings.
Music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill
Another top ten appearance for Jule Styne, who also took the top spot for Gypsy. It was recently revived and made a West End Star of understudy Natasha J Barnes.
Singin’ In The Rain
Music Nacio Herbert Brown & Lyrics Arthur Freed
The film starred Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds and is widely regarded as the greatest movie musical ever made. It also made a great stage vehicle for Tommy Steele who allegedly upset backstage staff so much that he ended up singing in far more than just rain…
You might like to check out these other shows which narrowly missed out on a top spot, but which come with a personal recommendation:
Annie, Bells Are Ringing, Carousel, Cyrano, Dear World, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Finian’s Rainbow, Fiorello, Hallelujah Baby, Irma La Douce, Jesus Christ Superstar, La Cage Aux Folles, Little Me, Mame, No No Nanette, Of Thee I Sing, On The 20th Century, Promises Promises, Sugar, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, The Fantasticks, The Man of La Mancha, The Music Man, The Wiz, What Makes Sammy Run, Wildcat
We’d like extend special thanks to all our facebook friends at Broadway Babylon and The Musical Theatre Appreciation Society for voting and offering up their expertise.
Love London Theatre? Check out our Must See Shows for 2017.
Overtures are one of the best things about a musical. I feel like the orchestra is a character in the musical. They give you so much joy, love, and excitement. Hear me out on this, but I truly believe those three emotions are the strongest musical emotions