Top Five – Act I Finales

Note: Top Five, a wholly original idea entirely un-lifted from any Nick Hornby novels slash John Cusack films, is a feature we’re hoping to run fairly regularly on the blog, wherein one of us lists our Top Five favorite something or others, (often related to musical theater, sometimes, perhaps, not) and then you tell us how wrong we are.

With the Twitter-izing of the American attention span, and the consequent trend of 90-minute, intermissionless musicals, it seems that the climactic Act I Finale is becoming an increasingly rare event.

This is a shame, because the curtain number of a show is often one of the highlights, a moment of extreme dramatic tension where the authors say, “Hey, we know you’re going to spend the next fifteen minutes peeing slash paying too much for Sour Patch Kids slash checking your cell phone to see if that cute girl has texted you back, which she hasn’t, because let’s face it, you’re not as charming via text as you think you are, BUT at the end of those fifteen minutes, you’re going to want to be right back here in your seat, because in Act II, shit is going to go down.”

So, without further ado (side note: Michael hates the phrase “without further ado”, so I try to use it at every available opportunity), here are my Top Five Act I Finales.

  1. “One Day More”Les Miserables (Schonberg & Boublil). Yeah, I know, it’s become cliché. But, you know what? It’s become cliché for a reason. It’s really effing good. All of the major plotlines come crashing together, and the stakes are epic. Try to leave during intermission. Just try.
  2. “A Little Priest”Sweeney Todd (Sondheim & Wheeler). Perhaps my favorite musical theater song of all time. Brilliant. Sick, twisted, and absolutely hilarious. That Sondheim guy sorta knows what he’s doing. And the decision to end the first act with a comedy song about eating people couldn’t have been more appropriate. “I’ll come again when you have judge on the menu.” Awesome. And I’ll be back to see it.
  3. “Defying Gravity”Wicked (Schwartz & Holzman). I know, I know. Wicked is extraordinarily popular (Ha! Hilarious, Chris. Shut up, sarcastic voice in my head.) amongst adolescent girls, therefore there must be something tremendously wrong with it and no person old enough to remember the original TGIF line-up should admit to enjoying it. Eat it. The song soars (Ha! Bite me, loser.), and if you don’t find the moment when Elphaba flies to be exhilarating theatrical magic, you are dead inside. Spoiler alert: Elphaba flies.
  4. “There’s a Fine, Fine Line”Avenue Q (Lopez, Marx, & Whitty). What? In a show whose first act features hilarious songs about porn and racism, the finale is… what? A tender ballad? And it resonates? Emotionally? These guys have balls.
  5. “Blackout”In the Heights (Miranda & Hudes). People are singing in Spanish. I don’t know what they’re saying, but it sounds intense. Chaos. Looting. Fireworks. A New York City blackout has all the stakes of Armageddon. Plus, I don’t know why, but I have never been able to get the line “I’ve got a baseball bat on a rack in the back” out of my head.

Honorable Mention: “Comfort and Joy”Bat Boy (O’Keefe, Farley, & Flemming). I’ve never actually seen this show, so I couldn’t, in good conscious, include it on my list, but damn! Shit is definitely, as the kids say, going down.

Alright, so my list is rather predictable and doesn’t include anything from a show that premiered before I was born. Feel free to tell me where else I went wrong.


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4 Responses to Top Five – Act I Finales

  1. Tal says:

    All are very good act-breaks, defying gravity does make you shiver!

    If I can suggest my own list:
    1) Sunday – Sunday in the park with George
    2)I am what I am – La cage aux folles
    3)Everything coming up roses – Gypsy
    4)Along came bialy – The producers
    5) A weekend in the country – A little night music

    worst act break will probably be Oliver!, weirdest ending of an act Iv’e ever seen…

  2. koomandimond says:

    I have to agree with “A weekend in the country”. Not only does it draw together all of the stories of the first act and create dramatic suspense, but it’s catchy as hell.


    p.s. Chris if you say “without further ado” ever again in the blog, I’m going to edit it out.

  3. Anton Spivack says:

    Not to mention “Soliloquy” from Carousel. How could you forget that?

  4. Tom says:

    I agree with all of these. I would add “This Time Next Year” from Sunset Boulevard and “Till We Reach That Day” from Ragtime.

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