Placement of "I Want" Songs

edited January 2015 in Theater
In a clip from the interview that Howard and Alan were featured in around the time LITTLE MERMAID was released, Howard mentioned that the "I want" number in a musical is sung quite early on in the show (sometimes the second song, sometimes the fourth, but usually around the third). Why is that? And, on a related note, why is it never the first? (The last question is, I admit, a rather trivial nitpick, but I thought I'd ask, anyway.)


  • Well, ideally the first number should set up the ground rules for the show-- tone, atmosphere, setting, musical style. It should set up what kind of evening the show will be. That's why character establishing songs shouldn't happen first, although, as in Sondheim's opening of COMPANY, we get a sense of the character of Bobby and his friends, in the opening number.

    (COMPANY, being an abstract or "concept" musical, is a bad example to use for linear musical theater storytelling, though, so forgive me. I don't think Howard had COMPANY on his mind making that statement-- MY FAIR LADY, definitely.)

    Not every song that establishes character needs to be an "I Want" song either. They just need to establish the character, because maybe the character doesn't exactly know what they want so early in the evening. Maybe they don't want anything. But ideally, such a song should happen within the first 45 minutes of the evening. (In a 2-act structure, at least.)
  • Come to think of it, COMPANY ends with an I want anthem - Being Alive.
  • Great point about Company, Sarah! That's probably my #2 favorite musical :D
  • Isn't that interesting? Great point, yes. Which goes to show that there are really no rules.
  • I think that I can name an exception to the rule of the "I want" song being the next-to-first song in a show: "Strangers Like Me", in Disney's TARZAN.
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