Musicals Thread (Opening Numbers)

Welcome! The purpose of this thread is to talk about all things related to the wonderful world of musical theatre. I post a thread with a topic/question for everyone to respond to, but you are always more than welcome to discuss other topics! This is also a great place to mention any new musicals you’ve discovered and/or general recommendations for other musical fans. Heard any good shows lately? Have any theatre news to share? Tell us about it!

This week we have another wonderful thread written by Lydia! As always, if anyone would like to write a special prompt or a feature of any kind for this thread, just let me know. 


First impressions can be crucial, in theatre as much as anywhere else. The first number of a musical sets the tone and lets us know what to expect for the next few hours – is this show silly? Somber? Does it use fancy rhyme schemes? Usually it will introduce the specific characters we’ll be following, the world they live in, the themes that will define their adventures, or all of the above. Ideally, it will invite and intrigue the first-time listener and fill longtime fans with anticipation for the journey ahead, even if they’ve taken it dozens of times before.

Barbara Isenberg’s book Tradition! (2014, St. Martin’s Griffin, pgs. 15-16) shares the origin of the iconic introductory number from Fiddler on the Roof. When brought on as the director, Jerome Robbins asked the writers over and over again what the show was about. A milkman with five daughters? No, no, what was it about? Finally, lyricist Sheldon Harnick summed it up: “It’s about tradition.” Robbins recognized changing tradition as the force driving and uniting the show and the necessity of establishing this idea of tradition early on before exploring how it evolves over the course of the story. Indeed, as the gregarious Tevye welcomes us to his village, he revels in the identity and community based in his traditions, and the musical motifs introduced will echo through his moments of celebration and grief alike.

What’s your favorite opening number?