Facing the music: Album covers from musical theatre

Explore some of the most iconic album artwork designed for musical theatre cast recordings – and listen to some top tracks along the way. From 'A Chorus Line' to 'The Rocky Horror Show', these objects illustrate how integral cover artwork is to the success of a musical production.

The 1950s to the early 1970s was the so-called 'Golden Age' of musical cast recordings. Bought by a public who would often never see the production live, these albums were as commercially successful as standalone jazz, rock and pop albums. Their cover artwork was dictated less by the musical's marketing identity, and could be as inventive as other musical genres. Leading graphic designers developed striking iconography aimed at musical fans and non-fans alike. In some cases, these cast recordings have outlived the original theatre production, to become cult successes in their own right.

These unique cast recordings tell a story of musical reinvention and design ingenuity. Each cover reflects not only the musical's themes, but the influences of the decade in which it was produced, from psychedelia in the late 1960s to the rise of typography in the '70s. Selected from the V&A's Bunnett-Muir Musical Theatre Archive, these examples incorporate Broadway, West End and other international cast recordings, including those which have inspired popular film adaptations. Today, cast recordings are mostly souvenirs for theatre-going audiences, but their artwork continues the legacy established in the 1950s of distilling a musical's essence, message and sound into a single, powerful image.

Find out more about musical theatre.

Header image:

Album cover artwork from Annie, designed by CMS Records Art Department (illustration by Harold Gray), 1977. Archive no. BMT/2/1/79. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London