Top 10 musical opening numbers of all time – as voted for by you
WhatsOnStage readers have spoken!
Here at WhatsOnStage we love listening to audiences – seeing your reactions, your votes in the annual WhatsOnStage Awards or your opinions about shows you've recently seen. Last week we asked you what your favorite opening number is from a musical – and the results are in! Check below to see how your top pick got on.
10) Jesus Christ Superstar – "Heaven On Their Minds"
The iconic classic features one of the best guitar riffs in musical theatre history, plus sets up the brilliant and knotty relationship between the two main characters – Jesus and Judas. It's, well, divine.
9) Six – "Ex-Wives"
Six, clocking in at a speedy 70 minutes, is one of the fastest shows in town. So the opening number, "Ex-Wives", has a lot of heavy expositional lifting to do – introducing us to the six wives themselves and their various nuances and grievances with a certain overbearing monarch. To achieve that and still create a catchy tune? Amazing.
8) Les Misérables – "Prologue / Look Down"
Les Misérables does a great job not simply establishing the context for protagonist Jean Valjean's plight, but also the tone for the down-and-out world of 19th century France, where poverty is rife.
7) Hairspray – "Good Morning Baltimore"
A cheery, brilliant opening number that is one of the main earworms in a musical chock full of 'em, granting us our first glimpse of one of the main characters in Hairspray, the town of Baltimore. As much as it's Tracy Turnblad's show, it's also a story about racial oppression and media obsession in America – so this piece sets up a world as much as a protagonist.
6) Waitress – "What's Inside / Opening Up"
Another earworm of a tune, Waitress welcomes us to Joe's diner with a song all about "Opening Up" – a wonderful play on words that establishes the warm vibes that ripple through a relatable and audience-adored musical.
5) Wicked – "No One Mourns the Wicked"
In terms of big, bombastic openings, they don't get much more striking than Wicked – taking you back to the end of The Wizard of Oz and telling you the story you know, before making you realise that there's a whole other tale to tell.
4) The Lion King – "The Circle of Life"
Honestly we thought this one might have gone all the way – ever since the film's first rousing moments, "The Circle of Life" has been synonymous with grandiose, galvanising moments in musical theatre. The song that spawned a whole generation of social media users ironically holding their pet cats above their heads.
3) The Book of Mormon – "Hello!"
Admit it – how many of you have heard a doorbell ring and instantly thought – "Hello". We bet it's a fair few. The hit piece about Mormon missionaries single-handedly made the door-to-door cold call cool again, thanks to this cheery up-beat number that introduces us to the main characters and context for the crackpot adventures of an unlikely pair.
2) Come From Away – "Welcome to the Rock"
Theatre is, ultimately, storytelling, and Come From Away may be one of the best musicals grounded in real, historical events – namely the fall-out from the September 2001 bombings. Its opening number is a mix of melancholic, soaring and uplifting, placing characters in a sad yet pressing context, giving the piece the momentum to hurtle through an unbroken 100 minutes of pathos.
1). Hamilton – "Alexander Hamilton"
What else could claim the top spot? Similar, in many ways, to Six's historical exposition, Hamilton sets up not only our main character, good ol' Alexander, but also his lovers, his comrades, his motivations and more. What is radical is that, unlike most musicals (save perhaps Blood Brothers), creator Lin-Manuel Miranda reminds us exactly what to expect at the end – the violent death of our leading man. "Just you wait..." he teases.