As any musical theatre freak will tell you, the most important number ever in a show is the first act closer. It’s the plot’s climax in song. It’s what establishes the buzz that permeates the air during those 15 minutes until the second act. From my experience, it’s the one moment of the show most audience members take away with them. Quite simply: the act one closer can make or break a show.
May I present my top ten favorite first act closing numbers.
10) Defying Gravity; Wicked
Yes, Wicked. While the show has it’s issues (though I’ve warmed up to it over the years), you cannot deny that the first act ends with a powerful number that, if performed effectively (aka light on the riffing), drives excitement and interest for the second act. This number basically makes the show for me, and therefore, it’s a highly successful first act closer.
(I really don’t need to embed a clip, do I? Just do a youtube search, and you’ll get every performance by every actress from every possible angle — ever.)
9) So Much Better; Legally Blonde
What am I – a 13 year old girl? Perhaps. Yes, I know I’ll get flack for this one, but it’s a prime example of a number perfectly capturing a climactic, plot-changing moment through song. (It also makes for a fantastic addition to your jogging playlist.) And below is my new favorite performance of this number by a young actress named Haven Burton, who was an understudy Elle on Broadway. She’s got attitude!
8.) Till We Reach That Day; Ragtime
Probably one of the most emotional first act closing numbers I know of. And William David Brohn’s stunning arrangements create a wall of sound that just takes your breath away.
7) A Little Priest; Sweeney Todd
Sondheim and George Furth could have easily ended this dark, macabre show’s first act with “Epiphany,” a powerhouse number on its own. However, these two geniusheads smartly decided to conclude with a music-hall style comedy routine between Lovett and Sweeney that forges their relationship and sets the wheels spinning for act two. Chilling, witty and inspired — it’s Sondheim at his very best. George Hearn and Angela Lansbury sell it:
6) Who Could Ask For Anything More?; Crazy for You
Representing the very best of the tap-dancing musical comedies, Crazy For You‘s first act closing number, as staged by Susan Stroman, features props, acrobatics, and on the final note, a sight gag that promises more zany mayhem for act two. Check out this video of Jodi Benson (voice of Ariel in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid) and the rest of the (mostly) original Broadway cast performing at the Kennedy Center:
5) A Weekend in the Country; A Little Night Music
All the pawns come into play for Desiree in this first act closer. A rousing number with a tune that will get stuck in your head for days.
4) A New Argentina; Evita
Andrew Lloyd Webber writes a lot of drivel, but he scored big with this act one closer, featuring Evita manipulating Juan Peron, a choiriot (my new word) of Peron supporters (with torches!) and, ultimately, Evita belting her face off.
3) I Am What I Am; La Cage aux Folles
No one writes them like Jerry Herman, and no one sings them like George Hearn. Together, it’s a match made in musical theatre heaven. However, without Hearn, this number is still a powerhouse, as Albin/Zaza triumphantly declares to Georges that (s)he is what (s)he is, take it or leave it! And…curtain!
While I couldn’t find a performance of Hearn singing it in Zaza drag, here he is in a tux. Oh well…
2) And I’m Telling You (I’m not Going); Dreamgirls
This is the number that shot Jennifer Holiday (and Jennifer Hudson) to stardom. In addition, it’s probably one of the best Tony performances…ever? Just look at all the desperation, sweating and grand emoting! How can you not be moved?
1) Everything’s Coming Up Roses; Gypsy
Mama Rose (I don’t care if Mama Rose isn’t actually her name, it’s what we ALL call her, Laurents) sets things spinning with this rousing declaration of greed, desperation and belting (wait…I’m sensing a theme here…). And, as played by Patti LuPone, the curtain comes down in a thunder of sound and fury, while Herbie and Louise tremble in the background.