The audience comes in with their minds a blank slate, ready for anything. The first few minutes of the show tell them what to expect, both in terms of content and in terms of style. For better or for worse, many audience members will take the way the beginning of the show makes them feel and hold onto that. There are certainly great musicals I could never get into because I couldn't get over how unaffecting I found the first song. And the opposite is true too; I have thoroughly enjoyed some pieces I otherwise found mediocre just by riding the high of their fabulous openings.
10. "The Heat Is on in Saigon" from Miss Saigon
Miss Saigon, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil's follow-up to their mega-hit Les Misérables, explodes onto the stage with a rocking, rollicking circus of sights and sounds to conjure Vietnam War-era Saigon and introduce the main characters.
9. "It's Your Wedding Day" from The Wedding Singer
People who watched the cast of The Wedding Singer performing "It's Your Wedding Day" on the 2006 Tony Awards must have scratched their heads at why this show didn't enjoy a longer run. This infectious tune is capable of getting even the crankiest theatregoers out of their seats and dancing into the aisles.
8. "Magic To Do" from Pippin
Stephen Schwartz's instant classic "Magic To Do" is not only one of the composer-lyricist's most memorable songs; it's also a prime example of the work of Bob Fosse. The synergy of these titans is so intense in this number that it changed the way Broadway musicals used television advertising thanks to the scintillating Pippin commercial.
7. "Willkommen" from Cabaret
Another song that, like "Magic To Do," acknowledges the audience in the theatre, welcoming them to the show, quite literally, is "Willkommen" from Cabaret. Especially when performed by Tony winner Alan Cumming, this seductive song is hard to resist, despite the undercurrent of danger it suggests — or maybe because of it.
6. "I, Don Quixote" from Man of La Mancha
Of the handful of standards to come out of the long-running Man of La Mancha, the show opens with its most powerful punch in "I, Don Quixote." This battle cry grips the audience with its passion and enthralls them in the story to come.
5. "Good Morning, Baltimore" from Hairspray
From the beginning retro pop "Oh, oh, oh," leading into the 1960s style "wall of sound," including rich strings and abundant backing vocals "Good Morning, Baltimore" introduces us and endears us to Tracy Turnblad.
4. "Company" from Company
No song fully captures the sound and feeling of its time period as thoroughly as the opening title tune to Stephen Sondheim's 1970 watershed Company. The first notes the audience hears out of the orchestra, a droning busy signal, give way to an excitingly insistent jump into crazy, cosmopolitan city life.
3. "The Best of All Possible Worlds" from Candide
Oftentimes in productions of Candide today, different songs are performed first, and "The Best of All Possible Worlds" appears later in the show. There may be valid dramaturgical reasons for doing this, but for money, the only song that can hold an audience's attention, following Leonard Bernstein's thrilling Candide overture, is the show's original opening number, "The Best of All Possible Worlds."
2. "Another Opening, Another Show" from Kiss Me, Kate
If the measure is pure goosebumps alone, probably no song can compete with Kiss Me, Kate's famous first tune, "Another Opening Another Show." Besides the visceral thrill and the lyrics that set up the story, this standard is also a stand-alone anthem for theatre people everywhere.
1. "Tradition" from Fiddler On The Roof
If Fiddler on the Roof represents the apex of the Golden Age of Broadway Musicals, the epitome of the integrated storytelling book, music, lyrics, staging, choreography and design the genre came to be known for, then "Tradition" is its finest hour — or finest five or six minutes anyway. We meet the cast, we understand their world, we learn what they are all about, what the show will be about and, on top of that, we are entertainingly made to fall in love with what's to come.