Uncategorized Archives - London Musical Theatre Orchestra

How to record the music for a TV musical

By Simon Nathan, LMTO Principal Orchestrator

Over the last decade or so, it’s become increasingly rare for large orchestras to record the soundtracks to TV programmes. But earlier this year, LMTO was asked to record the music for Channel 4’s Prince Andrew: The Musical. A satirical look at Prince Andrew’s life with a focus on his famous interview with Emily Maitlis, the programme features just over 35 minutes of original music, penned by Kieran Hodgson (who also takes on the title role in the episode) and LMTO CEO & Artistic Director, Freddie Tapner.

Time in the studio is incredibly precious, so an enormous amount of preparation must be done in advance. Seven songs (six by Kieran and Freddie, and a seventh by comedian Munya Chawawa and composer Pippa Cleary) were written earlier in 2022, and were handed to me as piano/vocal demos. My job was to flesh them out into full orchestral scores. Once these first drafts had been completed, the vocals were recorded and then the whole show was shot.

When the filming was over, the orchestrations were sent back to me for a process I call “Mickey Mousing”: matching movements on screen with musical gestures (as Disney did in all their musical films until recently). A real example of this was adding woodwind runs while one of the characters is spinning the other around. Once the visual edits were complete, there were a few musical corners to tidy up, and then there were just five days to create, print and bind over 1000 pages of sheet music.

There are very few places in London able to fit 32 players in one room, especially when you consider that certain loud instruments (like drums) need to be sonically isolated from the rest of the players, in order to avoid something called “mic bleed”, in which louder instruments dominate the sound picked up by all microphones. We opted to record at the beautiful and recently reopened Angel Studios – one of the most famous and acoustically stunning studios in the world, which had both plenty of room and plenty of booths to isolate the louder instruments. Freddie, spearheading the whole project as Music Producer, took up the baton to conduct the sessions.

We recorded over two days. The first day featured drums, guitar (electric, acoustic, 12-string and banjo), bass (upright and electric), piano, harp and strings (8 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos). We recorded these instruments first because they provide the backbone of the arrangements, making it easier to fit the other instruments on top of them later.

On the second day we recorded six woodwind players, playing an esoteric selection of instruments as only musical theatre pit players can. We completed the lineup with two french horns, three trumpets and three trombones.

Prince Andrew: The Musical was conceived as a “love letter to musicals” and each song has a very different flavour, meaning that all the instruments were very differently busy in each one. The strings had to shift from playing Gilbert-and-Sullivan-esque accompaniments in A Different Kind of Duty, to lush Phantom-of-the-Opera countermelodies in Ex-Wife, to soaring pop strings in My Profiterole. The winds and brass were playing classic Broadway swing in I Nailed It one minute and whirling filmic passages in England Expects in another. The drums, bass, guitar and piano were creating oom-pah grooves for You’re Always Gonna Need An Andrew before tackling Pippa Cleary’s unmistakable pop style in Obey.

The recording engineer, Mat Batram, had to work closely with Freddie conducting in the live room and with myself and an assistant, Declan Corr, in the booth. Between us, we needed to try and faithfully recreate the notes on the page in as short a time as possible. We only had around 9 minutes to record each individual minute of music, so it was important to note any errors quickly and efficiently before moving on. Luckily the players from the London Musical Theatre Orchestra are the best in the business and there were more than a few moments in which the first take (which was essentially sight-read) made it into the final product.

While we were busy in Angel, others were beavering away in home studios to create extra tracks. Tristan Butler spent a day adding in all the percussion, while Andy Philip played in some additional guitar parts. Finally, I added the odd twinkle and sparkle with sampled instruments like celeste, organ, and even the odd choir here and there!

Following LMTO’s two days in the studio, Freddie and I attended “comp” day – the day in which the music producers sit around and choose which takes to use for every moment in the score. It can take a long time, but fortunately we managed to get everything finished in “only” 10 hours. We then sent our final version to our recording engineer, Adam Miller, who was left to do his magic. The music editor, Dan Brown, then took the files and ensured that each moment of music perfectly matched the picture onscreen, ready for dialogue and sound effects to be added on top. Within one week of setting foot in Angel Studios, we had a finished product ready to have dialogue and sound effects added in.

Freddie attended the dub (the session where all the audio elements of the show are pulled together) to make the final adjustments, in particular some fractional re-balancing of orchestra and vocals to make the jokes land as well as possible and to make sure that there was as seamless as possible transition between dialogue and song.

All of us at LMTO are delighted to have been involved in a project of this scale and ambition, and can’t wait for the broadcast at 9pm on 29th December 2022 on Channel 4. You’ll be able to listen to the album on all streaming platforms that same week.


The London Musical Theatre Orchestra line-up


Violins: Nicole Wilson, Jeremy Isaac, Patrick Savage, Helena Wood, Sonya Fairbairn, Ed Bale, Non Peters & Dave Larkin

Violas: Nick Barr & Polly Wiltshire

Cellos: Bozidar Vukotic & Nick Squires


Flute & Piccolo: Nina Robertson

Flute, Clarinet & Tenor Sax: Hannah Lawrance

Oboe & Cor Anglais: Ilid Jones

Clarinet, E-flat Clarinet & Alto Sax: Paul Saunders

Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Bb Contrabass Clarinet & Alto Sax: Jay Craig

Bassoon & Baritone Sax: Colin Skinner

Woodwinds for I Nailed It: Mikey Davis


Horns: Dave Oxley & Carys Evans

Trumpets: Pablo Mendelssohn, Luke Davies & Andrew Gathercole

Tenor Trombones: Phil Judge, Ryan Hume

Bass Trombone: Simon Minshell

Trombones for I Nailed It: Chris Traves


Guitars: Andy Philip

Guitars and Bass for I Nailed It: Phil Donnelly

Piano: Liam Waddle

Harp: Catrin Meek

Bass: Harrison Wood

Drums: Scott Chapman

Drums for I Nailed It: Matt Whittington

Percussion: Tristan Butler

How to write a great Act One finale

We all know there’s something special about an Act One finale. It’s the production’s parting gift to the audience before the interval so it has to make an impact, and, crucially, ensure they come back for the second half. So the last number before the curtain falls really needs to be bigger (musically, dramatically or both) than all that’s preceded it. So what makes the ideal Act One finale? It usually represents a key turning point for the protagonists, in order to keep the stakes high and the audience wanting more. The number might reflect a very specific, single moment in time, like Sondheim’s exquisite “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George, or could cover long periods of time – done to breathtaking effect in “Non-stop” in Hamilton. Often it involves most or all of the cast, and is energetic and upbeat, with plenty of dance in order to end the act on a high. 

There are of course exceptions and inversions to every rule, and more good songs than you can shake a conductor’s baton at, but we’ve chosen six crucial styles of Act One finales for you to explore. We’ve made a playlist of them, too, featuring all the other great finales we couldn’t fit into a single blog, so you can listen and marvel at their brilliance.


1. The big dance number

Musical integrity aside, one crucial function of the Act One finale is to send the audience out into the bars feeling uplifted, talkative and thirsty. A key way to do this is to include an epic dance break in your pre-interval number. Employ first-rate choreography and athleticism and you’ll have the audience breathless and eager for more. And this is musical theatre, so if you’re gonna do it, do it with tap. Look no further than the title number from Anything Goes, in which the entire cast performs an energetic, lengthy tap break before they carry on singing in five-part harmony, or “We’re in the Money” from 42nd Street, a veritable feast of glitter, feathers and bow-topped tap shoes, which builds and builds to an ecstatic conclusion. Not that it has to be all top hats and jazz hands – Billy Elliot closes Act One with “Angry Dance”, four solid minutes of ferocious tap performed by young Billy against a background of riot police and protesters. It’s high-octane, brutal and designed to shock. In fact, it’s exhausting just watching. But if you don’t feel out of breath by the time the safety curtain comes down, have you even been to a musical?

2. The montage 

The Act One finale is a key opportunity to gather together the disparate threads of story that have run throughout the act, in order to bring all the character’s journeys into one big frame. By layering the parts over one another, we feel as though we are following each individual journey, but also gain a sense of the company and overarching narrative as a whole. And as far as goosebump-inducing musical moments go, having lots of people sing different lines with different lyrics and have them all fit together into a seamless whole is about as good as it gets. The ultimate example of this technique is “One Day More” from Les Misérables, in which the counterpoint sung by the principals highlights the different struggles and emotions each is experiencing. A clear turning point has been reached in the story, and the curtain falls with each character following a slightly altered path. Each line borrows a melody already used in the act, but has been modulated so that the song doesn’t feel like a repeat, but seems just familiar enough for the audience to become instantly engaged. This counterpoint effect is parodied in Urinetown (they even throw in the Les Mis flag-march for good measure) and in The Book of Mormon’s “Man Up”, where you hear themes of several Act One songs with new lyrics folding over the main melody. And just when you think it’s going to reach a thoroughly conventional final note, well, let’s just say it goes beyond your average PG musical rating. 


3. The solo anthem

While most musicals end their first act with a whopping big chorus number, a few composers make the unusual-yet-usually-powerful choice to finish with a big solo moment, with minimal company involvement. Even an average song will sound impressive if it’s sung loudly enough by a talented chorus, so writers and performers have to work extra hard to make a small-scale finale work. So it’s gotta be a big song. Step forward “So Much Better” from Legally Blonde – a veritable marathon of a number that starts as a tender reflection on Elle’s lost love to a giant fizzball of excitement the minute she sees that she has been accepted for a prestigious internship. The pace and scale of the number reflect Elle’s feelings of elation: there are nine key changes (yes, really) as she moves from exciting thought to exciting thought, drawing the audience into this wonderful new discovery with each new verse.  

In contrast, Shrek the Musical uses an important personal anthem, but turns it inward, finishing Act One with emotional introversion rather than exuberance. “Who I’d Be” is about wishing for a different life, and the sad realisation that such wishing is futile. The music lilts along at the start, as Shrek enjoys his daydream about the person he wishes he could be, before it draws back to almost nothing as he reminds himself “an ogre always hides…an ogre always stays in the dark and all alone.” Despite the sombre mood, the song also makes inspired use of key changes as Shrek’s thoughts progress, even if the result is the complete opposite of Elle’s. Here the audience are drawn into his anguish, the pathos climbing increasingly higher as the music builds. Like “So Much Better” it’s a huge number to sing – a reminder that you can’t close an act with a solo unless you know the singer has the talent to bring the house down (almost) single-handedly. Brian D’Arcy James does this to magnificent effect in the original Broadway recording: each key change is searing, as he uses the full power to his voice to express the keenness of Shrek’s anguish. It’s enough to make you applaud even in isolation.

4. Upcoming tension

If they’re not ending your act with a traditional joyous song-and-dance number, a key weapon in the composer/lyricist’s arsenal is to employ a cliffhanger, leaving the audience on the edge of their seats and wondering what could possibly happen next. This can be implicit in the music or explicit in the action. In Waitress, the Act One finale is the moment in which Jenna and Dr Pomatter finally act upon their mutual feelings of attraction. It’s a joyous thing and a wonderful song, but the number is called “Bad Idea” – an unusual choice for a love duet. It’s a subtle cue, but as both characters are already married, audiences are left wondering how this newfound romance can possibly continue into the second act. 

Never one for subtlety, the title character of The Phantom of the Opera makes his Act One exit by singing heartbroken-then-furious reprise of “All I Ask of You” and sending the Paris Opera House chandelier crashing down towards the audience; a chilling warning that there is more terror to come in Act Two. And speaking of leaving an unpleasant taste in the mouth, Sondheim uses the Act One finale of Sweeney Todd for the hatching of Todd and Lovett’s wicked plan to put people into pies. They sing with macabre glee through a classic Sondheim word-fest about all the different flavours that will soon be on the menu, finishing with an uncomfortably jubilant, unpleasant-sounding chord (it’s Dbadd(2,#4), if you’re interested), leaving the audience in no doubt that things will only get worse when the curtain rises again. 

But Sondheim subverts the genre further in Into the Woods by resolving every storyline by the end of the Act One, so that the audience could easily think the whole thing was over. But given that the song is called “Ever After” (note the absence of “happy”) and that the piece is in a minor key and rife with clashes, I think it’s fair to say he’s warning the audience that there is more drama to come. With the spoken “To be continued” landing just before the final chord, the first-time viewer is sent into the interval asking “What could possibly happen next?”. Because the brilliance of the show lies not in the fulfilment of its characters wishes, but rather the unintended consequences of that fulfilment. And that’s Sondheim for you. 

5.The tearjerker

If you’re not going for a “Consider Yourself”-style upbeat number to bring down the curtain, a common choice is to hit the audience where it hurts with a great emotional punch. It usually involves the whole cast assembled (though there are notably solo exceptions – try getting through “Twelve Children” from Dessa Rose without crying your eyes out), belting out full rich harmonies to accompany a powerful message. “Til We Reach That Day” from Ragtime begins as a song of grief following a cruel, racially motivated murder, but it transforms into a song of hope, and the dream of a day in which such crimes no longer occur and in which all communities are equal. At first, only the African American characters are singing, but as the piece goes on, the immigrants and white Americans join in, creating a visual and aural image of what that bright future could really look like. 

This sense of community is used to similar great effect in Dear Evan Hansen’s “You Will Be Found”, which goes for the emotional jugular by breaking up the music with dialogue, so that each time the chorus returns it feels bigger, more urgent and more important. At the start, Evan is speaking awkwardly at an assembly, speaking directly to you as an individual with his simple message of hope, but by the end of the number the message has spread across the country, uniting tens of thousands of people who then speak to you with one voice. Surely no one can go into the bar with dry eyes after that. 

6. The high-stakes showstopper

Contrary to what you might expect, a large number of shows use the end of Act One, rather than Two, to pull out all the stops. There are plenty of joyous, sad or super-emotional finale finales, but the pre-interval number is frequently more upbeat and energetic – because nothing is resolved, tensions are mounting and opportunities for happiness still await. To triumph, the stakes must be high, and you can’t fly higher than in Wicked’s “Defying Gravity”. One of the secrets of this number’s success is the fact that it doesn’t give away any hints of its epicness early on; it starts off as a resolute, yet fairly quiet and personal, conversation between Elphaba and Glinda. But as soon as the key decision is made and Elphaba goes off to be a Big Deal, the music explodes out of nowhere and knocks everyone flat – by its sheer volume, if nothing else. Every member of the orchestra is suddenly playing at full-tilt, the strings set a driving rhythm (have a listen to that sumptuous cello line) that builds and slows and builds and slows in time for the heartstopping, surprisingly joyous-sounding conclusion. It’s no wonder Elphaba flies: how else could you match the feeling in that piece of music? The chorus (absent for most of the number) appear at just the right moment as angry hecklers and onlookers, practically screaming in harmony, and beginning the onrush of chills down the spines of onlookers. You’d think those clashes would ruin the moment, but such is Elphaba’s celebration of her freedom and power, she supersedes them and brings everything into blissful harmony for the final note. Glorious.

Want to listen to our selection of the best Act One finales? Check out our official playlist!

LMTO’s Playlist of Pure Joy

When times are tough, musicals help. Read below for our favourite happy showtunes, and have a listen to our official playlist!

Legally Blonde (Remix), Legally Blonde

The feel-good factor starts on the downbeat of this number. It’s the moment that protagonist Elle Woods realises that she won’t be cowed by people’s expectations and proves that she can do anything. The lyrics are punchy and confident (“Nobody screws with somebody who’s legally blonde”) so are bound to give you a boost. And the music is epic, moving seamlessly from funky pop to full-on Riverdance about four minutes in.

Good Morning, Singin’ in the Rain

Surely the best musical start to the day that’s ever been written. It’s three and a half minutes of silliness with a dance break to die for. And there’s some banging big band in there – just check out those trumpets! Listen to this first thing and you’re bound to start your day with a smile.

Go Go Go Joseph, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Could we really write a list of joyful music without including some Joseph? We’re spoilt for choice in this Andrew Lloyd Webber megahit, but this one wins because it starts off super depressing, then out of nowhere it becomes this epic disco number that simply demands to be danced to. It’s all about not giving up hope, and reminds us that, even if things seem tough right now, one day they’re going to be brilliant. It’s worth listening if only for the very last phrase, which is just so glorious we might cry.

Do-Re-Mi, The Sound of Music

Surely the words Julie and Andrews are enough to make anyone feel good. But you really don’t get more wholesome (or meta!) fun than Do-Re-Mi: a song about singing. It’s physically impossible not to join in, because it’s exquisitely simply and just repeats the same thing over and over again. And that’s a good thing! So embrace your inner child, don your imaginary dirndl and aim for that high C at the end. You won’t regret it. (Even though the neighbours might.)

La Vie Bohème (Parts A and B), Rent

This song is a celebration of the colourful and creative lives of artists, and those on the edges of mainstream society. Despite the fact that it essentially consists of a collection of lists (featuring everything from huevos rancheros to Stephen Sondheim) it’s got a killer piano riff that starts off slow, before building to an ecstatic finish that will have you dancing on the table and shouting joyfully at the world.

Anything Goes, Anything Goes 

This musical is coming up to 100 years old but the title number (all about things going topsy turvy) remains one of the best big band show tunes and one of the best musical tap numbers of all time. The moment when the chorus come back in after the dance break with the final, rousing “The world has gone mad today” in five-part harmony deserves a round of applause in itself. Time to knock out a time-step and join in.


You Can’t Stop the Beat, Hairspray

This song is simply impossible to resist. It’s about the unstoppable forces of nature, social change and music, and also how no one can resist a boogie. It’s scientifically impossible to listen to the first five seconds without knocking out a cheeky step-together-step-tap. (We’ve tried.) It’s a song and dance marathon with loads of verses (Motormouth Maybelle’s wins hands down), so if you sing along you’ll be exhausted by the end. There’s a rumour that the original company referred to it as You Can’t Catch Your Breath…we totally get it.

Oklahoma, Oklahoma! 

An oldie but a goodie. The final number of this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic is everything you want in a big chorus number. It’s got the kind of expansive, filmic sound you don’t often find these days and if it doesn’t give you goosebumps and make you want to shout “Yeow!” at the end, well, you really need to listen again.

Tomorrow is a Latter Day, The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon is FULL of joyful numbers but we think this one comes out on top, because no one can get to the end of it without laughing, smiling or crying–potentially all at the same time. It’s got it all: life-affirming, seize-the-moment lyrics, reprises of other numbers threaded through and the kind of acapella gospel moment that you never knew you needed. Ears be warned, explicit content within.

To listen to the full selection (plus extra suggestions), check out our official playlist.

LMTO Guide: Using an iPad/Tablet for Sheet Music

Full disclosure: LMTO is not affiliated with any of the products listed in this blog

So, you’ve seen all the cool cats playing and singing from tablets, and you want a slice of the action? Well, look no further – here’s LMTO’s guide to using a tablet for reading sheet music.



We recommend an iPad over other tablets. It’s the industry standard, and you’ll find the software available for iPad over other tablets is superior.

In general bigger is better, but you don’t need huge processing power or storage.

• 12.9” screen is best for two-stave instruments (eg piano/harp), 9.7” minimum for single-stave instruments, and ideal for singers.
• 32GB is more than enough storage.
• Second hand is fine. Any iPad made since 2016 which is compatible with Apple Pencil will be good enough to use.

Other Hardware

• Apple Pencil. Essential tool for marking up scores quickly.
• Page turn pedal. Recommended tool for easy page turns, even without bars rest. Recommended (and cheapest) option is this one.


Forscore. Industry leader by miles.
• Do not use iBooks, PDFReader or similar. Forscore is optimised for sheet music and will not fail you.


iPad Settings

• Do Not Disturb (avoids embarrassing messages flashing up on the screen)
• Silent Mode (avoids embarrassing sound alerts in the quiet bit in Music of the Night)

Forscore Settings

These are suggestions built up over five years of use, but the user may wish to tailor them to their own preferences.

Settings are found in the Forscore menu, top right of the menu bar.


• Swipe controls OFF – prevents a tap on the right turning into a swipe *to* the right
• Tap controls ON
• Double-tap to toggle controls ON – prevents a single middle tap causing trouble
• 2-finger tap OFF – clumsy page turns begone
• 3-finger tap LINKS – best feature immediately accessible
• Tap and hold ANNOTATE
• Tap and hold with 2 fingers CROP
• Tap and hold with 3 fingers LINKS – best feature accessible however you use 3 fingers

Page transitions

CURL. We sat with OFF for a few months, but found you need to see that a page has definitely turned, and curl is the least intrusive.

Flip between scores

SETLIST. ALL is really annoying because you feel you never get to the end of a piece. OFF is hopeless because the joy of setlists is that they flip between scores.

Up next

OFF. Not a useful feature, can be annoying,

Appearance and Metadata

Leave all as default.

Apple Pencil

• Automatically enter annotation mode ON
• Automatically exit annotation mode LONG – we keep trying SHORT because it’s quicker, but it’s a fraction too short for our style
• Prevent finger drawing OFF – if your Pencil runs out of juice you’ll want your finger
• Variable Width settings all ON

Annotation Tools

• Set your default to be an actual tool (we recommend a dark grey pen medium thickness) as opposed to NONE

Forscore Setup

Some Useful Annotation Setup Suggestions

Enter annotation mode (1 finger tap and hold anywhere on the page) and create the follow useful preset drawing tools:

• Dark grey pen medium thickness which looks most like a pencil colour (we set this as default)
• Black pen very thin for writing small instructions
• Red/orange pen medium thickness for pointing out really important bits
• White max thickness for covering up any printed material you want to hide (NB not the same as eraser!)


Stamps is the top left annotation tool and you should create your own stamps which you might use often. Eg a page turn symbol or a patch change symbol.


Shapes is the second from left annotation tool, the most useful of which we’ve found to be the white box for quick ‘erasing’ of large sections of music for cuts.


What follows are highlights of the very best features/use cases. This section is best practised before a rehearsal/gig.


3-finger tap. These allow you to navigate repeats or cuts really easily. Tap the left hand page for where the bit of music ends, tap the right hand page for where you want it to jump to.


Found in the main menu top left. Let’s say you have a single PDF containing multiple songs. Using bookmarks, you can say that pages 1-7 are called “Song 1”, pages 7-9 are called “Song 2” etc. Those bookmarks are then listed when you search for songs – so you can then use them in setlists.

MD usage: within PVs, bookmark each song. Means that you can find Defying Gravity or Bring Him Home quickly at those impromptu sing-a-longs.


Found in the main menu top left. Put all the charts for a single gig into one setlist, and they flow neatly from one to the other. Particularly powerful when combined with bookmarks.


2-finger tap and hold. Page not filling the screen properly? This will sort you out.

Dropbox/File Integration

Use the menu to download files direct from your Dropbox or any other cloud provider (once you’ve signed in).

Mark up and send

Want to mark up a score and send to a colleague? Mark it up on Forscore, then go to the menu, click share and Annotated PDF. Or – if they’re on Forscore, send as 4SC – it keeps all of the links and the annotations can then be edited.

Annotation Tips

Pretend it’s paper. Don’t think of it as a screen. Because of the wrist rejection algorithm, you can lean on the screen with your wrist/hand just as you would a piece of paper.

MD usage: when working on a new show and you need to keep track of notes, change the default drawing tool colour each day. Means that when typing up at the end of each day you can just look for eg the blue pen. Likewise if you’re making notes across a week’s worth of shows, colour code each show-watch so you can be show-specific with your notes.


MD usage: Let’s say you use the same chart but with different cuts/articulations for different gigs. This is where layers come in. Once in Annotation Mode, top right is the layers button. You can create a new layer for each version of the chart you need, and then turn each layer on and off as you desire.


Copyist miss out a page of your chart, or need to rotate a page? Rearrange is here for you. Access via the top right menu. You can add other PDFs into your current PDF using the ‘+’ at the bottom, you can reorder pages by clicking and dragging, and you can rotate pages using the arrows bottom left of the screen.

The Night Before Usage

Download all charts and import into Forscore.

Put iPad on charge overnight. Unplug when you wake up, plug in Apple Pencil while you’re having breakfast.

Always bring a charger!
Always bring a charger!


Always bring a charger!

Last Word

Whenever you use an iPad for LMTO, we will always have a spare on hand, but in five years of use across hundreds of users and iPads, we have never once experienced an issue with using the combination of settings above. Freddie, our conductor, even uses it to conduct from for any scores which print to B4 or smaller.

10 Totally Under-Appreciated Musical Theatre Songs

We’re big fans of the musical megabanger at LMTO: the big songs from the big shows well all know and love. Defying Gravity, One Day More, Don’t Rain On My Parade, you know the type. But we also love a little-known gem: a brilliant number tucked away in a Broadway flop, or a song from a show that never got the credit it deserved. And we’ve made a playlist of our favourites, so you can enjoy them, too! Read below for MD and composer Jordan Li-Smith’s top ten and have a listen. Maybe you’ll discover a new favourite while you’re at it…

What Would You Do? from Cabaret, by John Kander and Fred Ebb

I always have to remind myself that Cabaret was written in the 1960s. It manages to maintain its theatrical facade whilst holding up a mirror in the most shatteringly honest way, making it unbelievably ahead of its time as far as musicals are concerned. The music seems to be filled with darkness and tritones (I imagine Kander listened to West Side Story before writing this song), but what is more interesting is the hope which lines through the whole song. Each tritone phrase always stretches itself to the major resolution, with the general direction of the song doing every it harmonically can to get back to the major key. Frau. Schneider feels she cannot marry her fiancé as he is a Jew and has been strongly advised against such marriage by her long-time friend (who happens to be a Nazi). This song is her response.


Beautiful from Sunday In The Park With George, by Stephen Sondheim

Beautiful is never really a song people mention when talking about this show, so I want to give it some attention. It takes place near the end of the first act and is a duet between George and his mother. It’s a very delicate moment in the show, where it seems for the first time, George is genuinely trying to connect with someone, albeit still talking about his art. They sit and look at the view from the park and comment on how it is changing. His mother wants it to stay the same and never change and implores him to draw it all before it fades away. George tries to explain that the fact the world is changing is what makes it beautiful.His mother keeps her ground, yet concludes it is not the view, but George himself that makes it beautiful.


Raining from Rocky, by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty

Rocky was an overlooked show, in an overcrowded Broadway season of musicals, in which many shows were left out any significant Tony Award spotlight. However, two years prior to its Broadway flop, Rocky was a huge success in Germany and contains some really beautiful songs by Ahrens and Flaherty. The atmospheric Raining is sung near the beginning of the show by Adrian, and its purpose is two-part; it gives us an insight into her backstory (something the movie lacks), as well as showing her inability to escape her drowning mind and forge her own destiny, with her concluding she’d rather let destiny itself guide her to Rocky. The music perfectly captures the pitter-patter of the rain, before flooding out in the chorus. It’s so emotive, you really feel like she’s underwater.


April Fooled Me, by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields

The tune of what would become the song April Fooled Me was originally just an instrumental, written by Kern, discarded and left unpublished. It was only after his death that his widow, Eva, sent the melody to his longstanding collaborator, Dorothy Fields. Upon receipt, she said that she ‘simply had to write a lyric to it’. The lyric is terribly melancholic with echoes of her grief for Kern’s passing, despite being written nearly a decade after his death.  It was first recorded along with two other ‘new’ Kern songs that Dorothy penned after his death, as part of a compilation entitled Premiere Performance!


I’m A Stranger Here Myself from A Touch of Venus, by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash

A Touch of Venus is a farce and a brilliant one at that. A very expensive and long-lost statue of Venus, the goddess of love, is awakened by Rodney, our leading man, by him placing the engagement ring he plans to give to his fiancé onto the statue’s finger. Upon awakening, she instantly falls in love with Rodney, and sings this jazzy torch song as she tries to get up to speed with the present day’s idea of love.


The Wanting Of You from Alphabet City Cycle, by Georgia Stitt and Marcy Heisler

Alphabet City Cycle is a curious little work. It’s a song cycle with no over-arching plot. It’s only five songs, sung by five different citizens of the titular City (though intended as a one-woman performance). In this opening song, we find the Student on Avenue B, lamenting a lover. The song is distinctively dark and angular, with all the mysterious jazzy feels you could ask for, matching the equally misty imagery of the lyric: about the impossibility of forgetting something you’re desperately trying to forget.

Go With The Flow from Finding Nemo – The Musical, by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

Finding Nemo – The Musical is currently playing at the Theater In The Wild at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom and opened back in 2006. It only has a runtime of 40 minutes, but has big Broadway production values, fish puppets galore and a score written by the geniuses behind the songs of Frozen. This song is the classic Disney Act One uplifting ensemble number (think Be Our Guest), and is a pastiche of the Beach Boys. It takes place in the East Australian Current, where Marlin and Dory meet the sea turtle, Crush, and his son, Squirt, as well as other friends turtles riding the current.



Something Good from The Sound Of Music, by Richard Rodgers

Eagle-eyed readers will notice the omission of Oscar Hammerstein II above. This is correct; Hammerstein had died five years prior to the film version of The Sound of Music and this is one of the few times that Rodgers wrote his own lyrics. It’s a tender and sweet moment, where Maria and the Captain finally confess their love for each other. I personally love the fact that this scene takes place in the same gazebo as the song Sixteen Going On Seventeen, gently reminding us that love transcends age. The music, as you’d expect from Rodgers, is drop-dead gorgeous, with each chord stretching every heartstring that he can.



Lot’s Wife from Caroline, Or Change, by Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner

Caroline, Or Change is a marvel – although it is billed as a musical, it really runs more like a pop-opera. You are not watching a show with big sweeping moments and massive plot points, but rather the writers have chosen a few days in the life of these characters to simply show the way they interact and behave. All the big sweeping moments stem from the characters, rather than any massive changes of circumstances. Caroline has a fight with the boy in the house where she’s a maid, and they trade racial and antisemitic curses. Caroline instantly regrets it, and sings Lot’s Wife, in which she prays to God for forgiveness for her hate. I know the show is a bit like marmite, but anyone who saw Sharon D. Clarke play Caroline in the West End will never, ever forget her performance of this song.



Cheering For Me Now (Hamildrop) by Lin Manuel Miranda and John Kander

I know it’s not technically from a musical, but this song is far too interesting to not talk about. Released as one of the monthly Hamildrops, this song is based on a cut moment of Hamilton, in which the protagonist was to be an onlooker of a parade in New York, celebrating the state’s adoption of the constitution (now replaced by Non-Stop at the end of Act One). Brilliantly though, Miranda decides to revisit this abandoned moment, but with the expert assistance of John Kander. It’s like listening to Hamilton in an alternative universe, I can’t help but think what the rest of the show might have sounded like with Kander’s music. What I also love is Miranda’s clear demonstration of lyrical skill here. Unlike the fast, hip-hop rhymes of Hamilton, this is a much more traditional number, with very neatly packed lyrics, under Kander’s showstopper score.



A longer version of this article can be found here. 

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