The best musical theatre ballads to listen to

From up-tempo musicals to emotional jerkers, most West End musicals feature a ballad somewhere in its score. Here’s just some of the theatre ballads we’re playing on repeat.

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

Whether it’s an up-tempo show that’s bursting with energy or an emotional tearjerker, the majority of West End musicals feature a ballad somewhere in its score. Tugging at our heartstrings, belting out a showstopping musical theatre ballad can leave the audience in the palm of a performer’s hands. Want to be in the feels? A ballad will do the trick.

No matter how many times we press the repeat button, we can’t stop listening to our favourite ballads. Here’s just some of the tracks we’re playing as much as humanly possible.

“The Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom eventually convinces Christie to his underground lair in this haunting ballad, often lauded as one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best songs of all time. Ever since The Phantom of the Opera opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre, numerous actors have portrayed the musical beast including Michael Crawford, Colm Wilkinson and Ramin Karimloo. As you listen to this Phantom track, “open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind, in this darkness which you know you cannot fight. The darkness of the music of the night.”

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“Wait For It” from Hamilton

Hamilton is considered to be one of this century’s greatest musicals, with “Wait For It” being a stand-out track. Aaron Burr sings about the state of America in this rousing gospel ballad, bringing a quieter moment to Hamilton, as we understand a growing political rivalry. “Wait For It” is sung by Leslie Odom Jr. on the soundtrack, which won a Grammy Award for best musical theatre album.

“The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha

What do Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Cher and Alfie Boe have in common? They’ve all released a cover version of “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha. In the musical, it’s sung by Don Quixote as he follows his self-determined quest to become a Spanish knight. The song is performed four times during the show, as Don Quixote repeatedly faces the Spanish Inquisition.

“I’m Still Hurting” from The Last Five Years

The opening number from The Last Five Years really packs a punch. Cathy sings “I’m Still Hurting” as she comes to terms with her relationship to husband Jamie coming to an end. The musical only has two characters, Jamie and Cathy, with Cathy’s story told in reverse chronological order while Jamie’s is told in a conventional timeline. Only meeting once, the musical gets deep into the individuals and this song is a harrowing insight into their relationship breaking down.

“The I Love You Song” from 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Okay, so it’s a dramatised spelling bee filled with big words. But its musical heart is even bigger, as shown in “The I Love You Song”. Sung by Olive, she wishes her parents could devote more attention to her, imagining their presence at the competition. By the end of this ballad, the trio sing together in a powerful number about love, family and the future. Although this show has never been performed in the West End, it’s a must-listen to ballad that will stick with you for a long time.

“She Used To Be Mine” from Waitress

Sung by waitress and pie maker Jenna Hunterson, “She Used To Be Mine” is a heartfelt ballad where she wishes for new beginnings. Breaking down, Jenna pours out her emotion over her state, after losing control over her relationship, her pregnancy and her job. Eventually, Jenna manages to start afresh, later owning her own pie shop and changing the world, one bake at a time.

“Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors

This ballad between Seymour and Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors sees the pair confess their romantic feelings to each other. By the end, they’ve made a plan to live together and stay by each other’s sides — if only forming relationships was this easy in real life.

“I Am Changing” from Dreamgirls

Dreamgirls is laden with emotional ballads. “Listen” and “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” now popularised thanks to chart-topping success. But, we’ve gone for “I Am Changing”, sung by Effie White as she wants to leave her past again.

“One Song Glory” from Rent

An intimate yet powerful song, this boisterous song is performed by Roger as he strums on his guitar, trying to write a smash-hit to be remembered by. Set in New York City, the storyline of Rent is inspired by Puccini’s La Boheme, but is modernised to orient around the HIV/AIDS crisis during the 1980s, with the characters coming to terms with the medical epidemic.

“I Know Him So Well” from Chess

A passionate duet between Svetlana and Florence, the pair confess their feelings for Russian chess champion Anatoly in “I Know Him So Well”. It’s also been covered by Whitney Houston and Spice Girls Mel C and Emma Bunton.

“Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods

“Children Will Listen” is a beautiful Sondheim classic that wraps up interweaving multiple fairytale narratives. Bringing Cinderella, Jack, the Baker and Little Red Riding Hood, the witch advises them on what to do next, while making sure that they are sensible. As the song says, “Careful the things you say, children will listen…”

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