Leitmotif / Theatre

This is where musical theatre SHINES, by the way. If you had a dollar for every leitmotif in MT, you'd be diabolically rich. If you took a shot for every leitmotif, you would be dead within 3 minutes.

  • The Phantom of the Opera: In addition to the Phantom's distinctive chromatic chords, the phrases "He's there, the Phantom of the Opera" and "I am your Angel of Music" (which refer to opposing aspects of his personality) share the same melody.
  • Almost every song in Evita is a leitmotif of the singer:
    • For Eva herself, her songs are almost all based on the tune of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina", "I'd be surprisingly good for you", or "A New Argentina".
    • For Peron, it's most often "Dice are rolling"
    • The aristocracy and the army both have their own themes, first heard in "Peron's latest Flame", which are later repeated whenever they speak.
    • But the most chilling example is her dressers/cosmeticians. They first sing their theme in "Rainbow High", and then repeat it in "Lament"- only the latter scenario has them repeating the tune (and most of the lyrics), but said while preparing and preserving her corpse.
  • Older Than Radio: Richard Wagner's operas, particularly Ring of the Nibelung, are packed full of leitmotifs which represent each character or plot element. In fact, Wagner is regarded by many as the original creator of the Leitmotiv technique in composition, and though this is not absolutely accurate, he was certainly its popularizer and its most devoted and thorough practitioner.
  • Jekyll, in Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll & Hyde musical, has a dark piano and violin theme that plays when he sings in group songs, from the dramatic Board of Governers to the light-hearted Engagement Party.
  • Rapunzel shares a Leitmotif with the magic beans in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. The witch took Rapunzel as payment for the magic beans, so her story is tied to them in that way.
  • Sondheim employs leitmotif in most of his major scores, but the technique is most evident in its truest sense in his Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; melodies, accompaniment figures, rhythmic patterns and chords are introduced, fragmented, developed, reprised and interwoven throughout the entire score, each of them representing a different character, mood or aspect of the story. Perhaps the most awesome example is also the most spoiler-y: The Beggar Woman's Jig motif ("How'd you like to fish me squiff, dear?") is actually the minuet waltz heard at the Judge's ball in the song "Poor Thing" when the Judge prepares to rape Lucy, Sweeney's wife, which clues us in to the fact that the Beggar Woman is actually Lucy. Likewise, the Beggar Woman's "Alms, Alms" motif - based upon a falling second - is derived directly from the "Eleison" motif used to represent Sweeney's keening for his lost wife ("And my Lucy lies in ashes"). The two motifs pointedly merge together in the underscore at the very end of the play, when Sweeney finally makes the connection too late.
  • In Show Boat, non-singers Captain Andy and Parthy have characteristic themes, though Andy's is sung by the chorus a couple of times. Though Magnolia is a singing character, she also has an instrumental motif first heard when she plays it awkwardly on a piano.
  • You might not expect to find Wagnerian Leitmotifs in a fairy-tale opera for children. But Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel has quite a few.
  • Arthur Sullivan has the 'Tower theme' in The Yeomen of the Guard and the Lord Chancellor's distinctive entrance music in Iolanthe.
  • Les Misérables has a ton of them. The Thenardiers' songs are almost entirely repeats of the melodies of "The Waltz of Treachery" and "Master of the House", and then "One Day More" is Valjean's main theme ("Who Am I?") combined with transposed versions of "I Dreamed a Dream", "Master of the House", and Javert's little leitmotif that's featured in "Fantine's Arrest" and "The Robbery" put into a major key. Oh, and not to mention "Look Down" is repeated 3 times in the show, and the song "Turning" is "Lovely Ladies" at a slower tempo.
    • The tritones used when someone is in trouble, like in "Lovely Ladies", "Rue Plumet" and "Castle on a Cloud"
    • For that matter, "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" - Marius's song of mourning for his lost comrades - is the same piece of music that the Bishop of Digne sings in Act 1 when showing generosity to Valjean. Since true leitmotifs are meant to be associated with a specific character, mood or idea, it's uncertain to what extent the repetition of music in Les Misérables is actually leitmotif in action or just practical frugality on the part of the composer.
    • Not to mention "What Have I Done" and "Javert's Suicide" have the exact same tune too (except that a few lines in the latter are an octave lower), even some of the lines are the same or similar. Just, you know, the outcome is different.
    • "Who Am I?", Fantine's part of "Fantine's Arrest", "Come to Me (Fantine's Death)", and "The Finale" all have certain parts of "On My Own". Fantine also has a leitmotif in the latter three.
    • The Original French Album has a reprise of "Red and Black", but slower.
    • The Most Triumphant Example is probably what might be called the main theme of the musical. The theme is used over and over again, in "The Convicts," "The Runaway Cart," "The Confrontation," "The Beggars," and many others. It is overwhelmingly the theme of strife - the song plays over any scene of struggle or suffering - and as such, could be considered to define the musical.
    • Don't forget "Do You Hear The People Sing?" It first plays when the students decide they're going to fight back. It returns at the end for a Triumphant Reprise.
  • In Bernstein's Candide, Cunegonde's theme first appears as the melody of "Candide's Lament" (originally a Cut Song but included in most later productions). The theme is subsequently transformed into the "Paris Waltz," an instrumental valse brilliante which is echoed at the climax of "You Were Dead, You Know." The first act finale has the theme sung in counterpoint with the melody of "My Love," and the theme plays a decisive role in the finale ultimo, "Make My Garden Grow."
  • In the musical RENT, there's a little musical theme that is played every time Collins come onstage, and it's a good part of the melody/background music in his song "Santa Fe." Also repeated when singing about the dead Angel later.
    • The most obvious example for RENT is arguably Roger's version of "Musetta's Waltz", which is composed for Mimi and played when she is thought to be dead.
    • Also the melody from "I Should Tell You", that shows up numerous times before and after the song itself, related to secrets and (mostly) Roger's uncertanity.
  • Composer Michael John LaChiusa makes frequent use of motifs, especially in Hello Again (with characters echoing sentiments expressed by others), and in Marie Christine (in which an eerie tritone set to the word "beautiful" and "arrogance" is frequently repeated.)
  • Wagner's use of Leitmotif was likely suggested by the practice of Carl Maria von Weber, whose Der Freischütz Wagner adored. The figure featuring a diminished seventh and ominous timpani thuds that introduces the devil Samiel in that work is one of the most famous uses of Leitmotif in Early Romantic music.
  • Stravinsky's music for the ballet The Firebird is heavily leitmotif-laden. There are identifiable themes for the Firebird, the villain, the hero, the princess, and the villain's monster guardians.
  • Wicked has two major recurring motifs, the Overture (aka Elphaba's theme), and "Unlimited". The former is based on an earlier composition by Schwartz from The Survival of St. Joan. A lesser motif, also heard during the overture, is associated with the flying monkeys.
  • Superstar in Jesus Christ Superstar.
  • The Russians in Chess (excluding Anatoly) have one. It's first heard as the creeping oboe from the beginning of "U.S. Versus U.S.S.R.", and it returns with a vengeance for "Soviet Machine".
  • The opera Boris Godunov has a noble-sounding motif for Dimitri, the slain Tsarevich, which is appropriated by his impostor, the Pretender. Another motif represents Boris's guilty conscience, though it only appeared once as the opera was originally composed.
  • The Unsinkable Molly Brown has "Molly's Spinach Music," which consists of the theme of "I Ain't Down Yet" played on a muted trumpet "symbolic of rolling up her sleeves and reaching for the spinach can" (as the script puts it).
  • Albert Herring has a few of these:
    • The First of May motif, first heard as part of Lady Billows's opening address, then as a horn call at the start of the second act and played on bells for Albert's coronation.
    • Albert's Overprotective Mother has a nervous staccato 6/8 theme.
    • Sid's whistling at Nancy is a motif played on the violin more times than actually whistled by Sid.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has some fun with this: "A Little Me" is the final big production number in Act Two, but a chiming arrangement of its melody is used as an instrumental leitmotif in the Act One scenes at the junkyard.
  • In Pokémon Live!, MechaMew2 gets a short techno theme whenever it appears.
  • In Matilda, "Naughty" is this for the title character. The Story Within a Story has leitmotifs for the Escapologist and Acrobat, and later, their daughter. The last of these is reprised With Lyrics in "My House", where we find out that the daughter was actually Miss Honey.
  • Hamilton has a huge number of small leitmotifs, to the extent that practically every song either reprises or is reprised by some other song in at least a line or two. Most of the major ones are:
    • The opening sequence "How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman..." is reprised in A Winter's Ball, Guns and Ships, What'd I Miss, The Adams Administration and then darkly in Your Obedient Servant, always serving as Burr narrating about either Hamilton himself or something or someone associated with him.
    • The line "Alexander Hamilton" is repeated with the same riff in Alexander Hamilton, Satisfied, and What'd I Miss, each time ignoring the preceding melody, to demonstrate Hamilton's self-confidence and individuality (notably, while the line is spoken in Aaron Burr, Sir it does not use the same riff, because Hamilton is still a bit too young and uncertain of himself here). He's also associated with the line "Why do you write like you're running out of time?" - Non-Stop includes it and many variations and Best of Wives, Best of Women repeats it; while Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story doesn't include the full line, is does have a repeated refrain of simply the word "Time" which is clearly meant to link back to the previous lines as one of Hamilton's major themes.
    • Eliza is associated with a number of recurring melodies: she starts off with "Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now!" from The Schuyler Sisters which is reprised in Take a Break, with different words in Schuyler Defeated ("Further down, further down..." - the song is also a general reprise of The Schuyler Sisters), by Hamilton towards her in both Non-Stop and It's Quiet Uptown, and most notably in That Would Be Enough, where that titular line becomes another associated riff which is also repeated in Non-Stop, It's Quiet Uptown, and Best of Wives, Best of Women. She also gets "Helpless" to represent her feelings for Hamilton, which comes from Helpless and is repeated by her in Non-Stop, and then is also repeated by Maria when Hamilton has his affair in Say No To This. Finally, in That Would Be Enough she states the line "Let me be a part of the narrative," which becomes "I'm erasing myself from the narrative" in Burn, and then "I put myself back in the narrative" in Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?
    • Angelica has "I/he/you will never be satisfied" from Satisfied, reprised in Non-Stop, and then darkly in The Reynolds Pamphlet.
    • Burr is associated with the line "Talk less, smile more" from Aaron Burr, Sir reprised by Alexander in The Room Where It Happened ("I guess I'll finally have to listen to you...") and then by himself again in The Election of 1800. He's also associated with the line Wait for it, always sung by back-up singers, which begins in "Wait For It" and is reprised in Non-Stop and The Room Where It Happened. Interestingly, the line is also repeated in Hurricane, but seemingly only to contrast Burr's approach to Hamilton's, as this is very much Hamilton's song.
    • Washington is associated with the riff "History has its eyes on you", beginning in the song of the same name, and then reprised in Non-Stop and One Last Time. However, as the line was originally spoken to Hamilton, the line is also associated with him even when Washington isn't around, most notably in Hurricane.
    • Jefferson is associated mainly with riffs from Washington on Your Side, one of the latest songs to have reprises - the opening section is reprised by himself again in The Election of 1800, and the final coda of the song is reprised by Hamilton when he endorses Jefferson later in the same song. There's also a short riff from the song in What'd I Miss?, though it's not obvious unless you're listening closely.
    • Phillip is associated with the line "Blow us all away" from Dear Theodosia, reprised in - of course! - Blow Us All Away. He also reprises Hamilton's "I Am Great!" segment from My Shot to demonstrate his similarity to him - and, perhaps, that he was equally doomed to die in a duel, as My Shot also contains the verse associated with Hamilton's death - "I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory..." which is repeated more triumphantly in The Battle of Yorktown and then darkly in The World Was Wide Enough.
    • King George III gets You'll Be Back, which is reprised in shorter form but otherwise pretty much identically in melody by What Comes Next? and I Know Him, each of which also all begin with the line "They say..." and include the line "Oceans rise, empires fall..."
    • There's also the duel theme - The Ten Duel Commandments is reprised in its entirety, with only mostly different lyrics, in the first part of The World Was Wide Enough; also, the last part involving the chorus counting to nine (to verbalise the 'take ten paces then fire' rule) also appears in Blow Us All Away. However, that last one is kind of special, because Phillip is also associated with counting to nine in another way - Take a Break has him playing piano and practicing French counting with his mother. In Blow Us All Away, however, the counting doesn't quite reach nine - and neither does Phillip when he and Eliza tearfully reprise their counting practice in Stay Alive (Reprise) as he dies.
    • The Story of Tonight also stands for both death and the relationship between the revolutionary crew, particularly Laurens and Hamilton - it's reprised cheerily in The Story of Tonight (Reprise), demonstrating their friendship, but when much more sadly in Tomorrow There'll Be More of Us (a musical-only song cut from the soundtrack showing Hamilton finding out about Laurens' death), and then the single line "Raise a glass to freedom...", Laurens' first line from The Story of Tonight, is Hamilton's final line in the entire show in The World Was Wide Enough.
  • Fun Home's musical adaption has a very subtle leitmotif for the 3 versions of it's main character Allison. At the beginning of every scene or song that has or involves Allison begins with a certain melody played on either a piano, violin or clarinet.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Leitmotif/Theatre