Ghosts, witches, serial killers, man-eating plants, and plenty of other haunting characters have appeared in Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals over the years. These creepy types keep our hearts beating faster and our nerves on edge, and we love them for it. Throughout musical-theater history, there have also been plenty of show tunes that reflect the macabre, the spooky, the twisted, and the deranged. With Halloween creeping up on us, here are 13 show tunes that embrace the darker side. Be sure to listen with the lights on!
“The Phantom of the Opera”
From The Phantom of the Opera
The longest-running Broadway musical, The Phantom of the Opera is about a ghost obsessed with a young ingenue, kidnapping her and taking her to his underground lair where compulsory voice lessons are de rigueur. For their voyage into the Paris sewers, beyond a mammoth subterranean lake, the spooky “The Phantom of the Opera” by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart, and Richard Stilgoe makes for haunting travel music.
“And Eve Was Weak”
The original Broadway production of Carrie gained great notoriety for being a calamitous flop, but over the last three decades, it has also earned a cult following for its score and for the horrific nature of its story. Has there ever been a Broadway musical quite so bloody and full of terror? In the show, Carrie White is entering womanhood, and instead of having a loving parent to guide her through these changes, she instead has Margaret, a religious zealot. “And Eve Was Weak” finds Mrs. White shaming her daughter for entering puberty, punishing her by locking her in a dark cellar, and praying for God to save her. The Dean Pitchford and Michael Gore number remains one of the most chilling numbers in this adaptation of the Stephen King novel.
“Kiss of the Spider Woman”
From Kiss of the Spider Woman
The Angel of Death personified, the Spider Woman looms inside the Argentine prison of the Kander and Ebb musical Kiss of the Spider Woman. Beckoning to the gay convict Molina to step into her embrace where she will plant her fatal kiss, she is both majestic and terrifying. In the musical’s title song, she stands in her web and sings this hypnotically sinister number and reminds us all that we can run, hide, and scream, but ultimately none of us can escape her kiss.
“The Whole ‘Being Dead’ Thing”
One of the best parts about Beetlejuice coming to Broadway is being able to celebrate the macabre year-round. However, this musical about death, the afterlife, ghosts, demons, a haunted house, and a litany of creepy creatures is especially perfect for the Halloween season. Composer-lyricist Eddie Perfect delivered on the deliciously dark and maudlinly comedic when he wrote the score. The musical’s opening number, “This Whole ‘Being Dead’ Thing,” tells us firmly to expect the unexpected and encourages us to embrace the gory.
From Jekyll & Hyde
A man singing a duet with himself is already a haunting premise, but it is all the more chilling when one man has split into two personalities, one of them being a monster who has found a lust for blood. In the musical Jekyll & Hyde, the altruistic Dr. Jekyll finds himself a victim of his own scientific experiment that transforms him into the violent madman Mr. Hyde. The musical adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde captures the horrific moment when a man turns on his own alter ego in the Frank Wildhorn–Leslie Bricusse song “Confrontation.”
From Little Shop of Horrors
Horror doesn’t always have to be a monster lurking around the corner or a killer wielding a bloody knife. Sometimes the commonplace and everyday can be just as frightening — like accidentally visiting a sadistic dentist who revels at drilling too far and too deep. Little Shop of Horrors is the musical and Orin Scrivello is the doctor who will be seeing to your … toothache. “Dentist,” by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, will provide you with all you need to know of this doctor’s services.
One of the few musicals to actually address Halloween directly is the 1970 hit Applause, with a score by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse. The character of Eve Harrington, a delusional con woman who will stop at nothing to become the greatest star, recalls a certain Halloween when her father’s rejection of her costume (and, ultimately, of Eve herself) unleashed ferocity, drive, and obsessive behaviors in her that lead to an obsession with being loved. As an adult, Eve begins stalking Broadway star Margo Channing, studying her every move, in an effort to emulate her and become her ideal, and she looks back on her own father’s scorn with bitterness in “One Hallowe’en.”
From American Psycho
It’s not much of a stretch to find the horror in a musical about a serial killer who goes on a spree. American Psycho, with a score by Duncan Sheik, nails that horror. Following the story of Patrick Bateman, an investment banker with a taste for status, style, and blood, Psycho invited the audience to witness this man devolve into a monster. The song “Killing Spree” when Bateman is on a roll, enjoying murder after murder.
“Science Fiction/Double Feature”
From The Rocky Horror Show
Though the film adaptation became a cult hit, the original 1975 stage version of The Rocky Horror Show had a very short run on Broadway. That didn’t stop us all from getting on board for a trip to the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a mad scientist with a penchant for the kinkier things in life. The musical’s opening number, “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” is a tribute to the great sci-fi and horror films of yesteryear. Richard O’Brien crafted the clever invite into the world of the strange and extraordinary.
From Fiddler on the Roof
A gaggle of ghosts visit the milkman Tevye during a made-up dream in the hilariously horrific “Tevye’s Dream” by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, nestled in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. Unable to give bad news to his wife, Golde, about their daughter Tzeitel’s broken engagement to the butcher Lazar Wolf, Tevye lies that he had a dream in which their dead ancestors appear to him, condemning the arranged marriage. He sets up the whole story in a graveyard where these specters promise nothing but horrible things for the family if the girl is not allowed to marry the man she really loves. An especially creepy section of the song has the butcher’s dead wife, Fruma-Sarah, screeching her way across the stage with contempt.
“Just Around the Corner”
From The Addams Family
“They’re creepy and they’re kooky …” The musical based on the popular Charles Addams cartoon The Addams Family is overflowing with spooky characters fixated on death and reveling in torture. The whole show celebrates this, but the song “Just Around the Corner,” sung by matriarch Morticia, is at its most tongue-in-cheek fun. It is a warm reminder that death will eventually come and happiness is truly “just around the corner” — though corner is pronounced “coroner.” Composer-lyricist Andrew Lippa sure had fun writing this one.
“Ghosties and Ghoulies and Things That Go Bump in the Night”
From Meet Me in St. Louis
When the classic 1944 MGM movie musical Meet Me in St. Louis was adapted for the Broadway stage in 1989, additional songs were written by the composing team of Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane (who had provided the songs for the film). One of the new numbers they crafted was for an extended Halloween sequence. “Ghosties and Ghoulies and Things That Go Bump in the Night” found the two youngest members of the Smith family preparing for trick-or-treating, only to have a bit of fear put in them by the maid Katie, who prays for their safety against the monsters wandering the streets.
“The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”
From Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
No list of show tunes designed to celebrate Halloween would be complete without at least one number from the Stephen Sondheim masterpiece Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The chilling opening, “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” speaks of a murderous barber who slits the throats of his customers, taking his rage out on a society and corrupt justice system that did him dirty. His victims eventually end up baked inside meat pies that are sold to the public, making Sweeney Todd easily the most grisly and horrific of all the musicals that have ever graced the Broadway stage.
Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals, The Disney Song Encyclopedia, and The Encyclopedia of Television Theme Songs. His forthcoming book, Sitcommentary: The Television Comedies That Changed America, will hit shelves this month. He maintains a theater and entertainment blog atmarkrobinsonwrites.com.
Last updated and effective as of January 14, 2019
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