I used to live for making lists but I feel like the task of making a list of pretty much any topic can be quite daunting. A couple of months ago, I did a list of my top 25 Favorite Musicals and looking back at the list now, I am already thinking “Oh no! I forgot that one!” or “Actually, maybe I shouldn’t have put that one in”.
I think an even more daunting task than that list would be separating the topic down even further: WHAT ARE MY FAVORITE SHOWTUNES OF ALL TIME?
I certainly have my favorite composers/scores/musicals themselves but then you have those random songs you may love that pop up in a show you only marginally like in full or maybe even hate….and then you have the issue of overcrowding the list with multiple songs from the show or by the same composer…and also, is this list more based on what you think is BEST or is it more about personal favorites?
My lists for musicals and plays were definitely more geared toward FAVORITE rather than BEST…although some would undoubtedly have overlapped between such lists.
I think I will stick to that criteria for this list as well…and also, just to try to keep the variety up, I will try to refrain from doing multiple songs from one particular show unless I feel like I truly can’t make a choice between them…like a very old show queen-tinged Sophie’s Choice, if you will.
So, let’s see where this is going to take us:
#25–(I’D RATHER BE) SAILING from A New Brain (William Finn)
–William Finn’s musical counterpart Gordon Schwinn is in a coma due to an Arteriovenous malformation and he will require surgery. Most of the show takes place in his comatose state where he longs not to die because he feels he has more to give to the world in terms of his music…which is something that happened to Finn himself. In his dreamy state, Gordon imagines his boyfriend coming to the hospital after a day of sailing…and he sings of the fact that he would rather be sailing and then come home to Gordon. Lyrically, it is simple and feels very real and honest but what makes song is its peaceful blissful melody that truly captures the mood of breezily sitting on a boat feeling the wind and feeling the sun on your neck. It is a song that maybe didn’t even necessarily have to be included in the show, but instead, it stood out in a way the others didn’t (not to say the rest of the score is weak, because the show is fantastic).
#24-THE SPARK OF CREATION from Children of Eden (Stephen Schwartz)
–My personal history with CHILDREN OF EDEN has been very mixed. There was a time where I said I flat out hated the show but now I will just say…it’s complicated. I do acknowledge that a lot of the music is some of Stephen Schwartz’ best work but there is also a lot of filler and a flimsy book that only makes the show feel more bumbling and bloated when it is all put together. However, the good songs are all truly MORE than good and I particularly single out this one which is sung by Eve, straight from the famous Garden. A lot of the drive of this song, as does a lot of the score, has a similar feel to that of Schwartz’ most recent success: WICKED, another show that is highly problematic but when it peaks, it is quite high…but when it gets bad, it gets baa—aaa—aaa—dd….you had to see it…haha. Anyways, The Spark of Creation is a great mid-tempo song that gets to show great belting range for its singer not to mention the energy of it is quite infectious.
#23-TIME HEALS EVERYTHING from Mack & Mabel (Jerry Herman)
–After finding great success with HELLO DOLLY and MAME and sort of hitting a slight slump with DEAR WORLD, Jerry Herman’s world plummeted further when his next musical MACK & MABEL bombed quite significantly. Herman has always maintained that this was his greatest work and in many ways, I actually do agree with him (although some of the songs seem too similar in content while the song “When Mabel Comes into the Room” is a cheap knockoff of both the title songs of his biggest hits). Mabel was originally played by Bernadette Peters which, not surprisingly, made everything a thousand times more brilliant since the woman is a goddess. While her costar, Robert Preston, got to sing more songs in comparison, Peters’ Mabel gets to sing three big numbers (plus a small reprise of one of Preston’s songs): Look What Happened to Mabel (in which she gets to be peppy and joyful); Wherever He Ain’t (in which she is rueful and bitter); and lastly, Time Heals Everything (heartbreak over a failed relationship in which she isn’t sure she will ever recover). The song is not very long and the sentiment of it seems rather straightforward….but sometimes that is all it takes, and when you have a performer like Bernadette Peters leading the way who basically can cry for you in a second, watch out.
#22-THE STORY GOES ON from Baby (Shire/Maltby Jr.)
–Amidst the rivalry of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES and SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE and the star-power mixed affair that was THE RINK, there was BABY…a charming little musical about three different couples at different stages of their lives learning that they are expecting. In many ways, this musical ended up being rediscovered in recent years due to this particular song becoming popular with young girls at auditions…and at the time, it was first performed by one of the loveliest ladies to ever grace the stage in a musical, the sweet Liz Callaway. The Story Goes On is the Act One closer and the basic premise of it is that young Lizzie feels her baby kick for the first time…and that is when she truly realizes that she is creating a life on a chain “that has no ending” and she is finally experiencing something that even her “mother’s mother felt and hers before”. The song also represents how a musical can end with just one person singing certain stage and it can be just as compelling if not more so than several people dancing up a storm for no apparent reason.
#21-MOMMA, LOOK SHARP from 1776 (Sherman Edwards)
–1776 is a musical that seems to divide people that either really love it or find it to be an utter bore. The truth is I am probably more prone to say I love it more than dislike it…but that is only when the show is done well and has a great cast/director leading the way. 1776 is also highly unique in that it is a lot more sparse song wise when compared to other musicals, and in fact, there is a famous portion where the musical goes without a song for nearly an entire half hour. Most of the songs are of a peppy, patriotic variety but things change when the Congress floor clears for a recess and we are left with the custodian and the courier whom we’ve been seeing delivering telegrams from Gen. Washington for the first portion of the show. In order to truly engross us in the true horrors of war that we haven’t really truly gotten a hold of so far, he sings of a soldier lying in a field dying while he can see his own mother looking for him. The somber chilling tone is very unsettling and considering this song was first heard at the height of the Vietnam War, I can only imagine how many related to the anguish.
#20-I HAD A DREAM ABOUT YOU from December Songs (Maury Yeston)
–There are musicals and then there are song cycles, which don’t really have a script but rather an ongoing theme. Things like STARTING HERE, STARTING NOW or SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD or CLOSER THAN EVER for example…but in contention for my favorite song cycle would have to be Maury Yeston’s DECEMEBER SONGS, which may very well be my favorite thing he has ever written. I first heard Andrea Marcovicci sing this song on a PBS concert in the late 90s and remember really loving it and instantly wanted to find other versions of the song to discover (which was not as easy in the pre I-Tunes era of the late 90s/early 2000s. I think the definitive version of this song has to be Laura Osnes’ take which is absolutely beautiful and one of the most lovely covers of a song I’ve ever heard. Certain songs just strike a chord within you and make you feel a little bit of everything…this was one of those songs. Seek it out along with the rest of DECEMBER SONGS (or the PS Classics produced Laura Osnes album IF I TELL YOU: The Songs of Maury Yeston which includes all of DECEMBER SONGS in addition to some of Yeston’s other lovely work like New Words from IN THE BEGINNING or a medley of I Want to Go To Hollywood/Shimmy Like They Do in Paree from GRAND HOTEL/DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY respectfully).
#19-YOUR DADDY’S SON from Ragtime (Ahrens/Flaherty)
–RAGTIME is a musical that I love which is no surprise to anyone who knows me…and I debated a lot as to which song I wanted to single out from the show. I ended up choosing Your Daddy’s Son primarily because once it hits you in Act One, you aren’t prepared for the intensity. By this point in the show, we only know the character of Sarah as a young uneducated African-American girl who was spared going to prison when the wealthy white “Mother” character takes her in despite the fact she tried to bury her infant son alive in her garden. She doesn’t speak a word and is barely seen prior to this (aside from the snippets in the Prologue), so once this song comes along, you finally get a sense that this woman felt truly tortured and scared and alone at the thought of raising her son alone and the fact that he resembles his wayward father (whom will soon be coming back into their lives with the intent of staying for good). A lot of my love for this song stems from the original Sarah’s performance: Audra McDonald in what was her 3rd of 6 Tony Award winning performances. Sitting at center stage holding her infant son who managed to survive, she belts out this song with such emotional intensity that when I first saw her do it at such a young age, it almost terrified me.
#18-CHANGING MY MAJOR from Fun Home (Tesori/Kron)
-I have to take a moment to bash the former theatre “critic” of the New York Post named Elisabeth Vincentelli. When FUN HOME was first produced, she said on the now defunct PBS program Theatre Talk that she was not drawn to FUN HOME and found the musical to have a “beige score”. On one hand, I get what she means, but on all of the other hands, the woman is a nitwit. She meant that score fell under the whole “it isn’t catchy or hummable” mumbo jumbo that people used to bitch about when talking about Sondheim. FUN HOME isn’t a show I go to for a catchy score, but rather a score that makes me feel so many emotions and I get swept up into the story. So many selections like DAYS & DAYS or RING OF KEYS and MAPS and EDGES OF THE WORLD and TELEPHONE WIRE are unbelievably wonderful in their own ways and, for me, the song that stood out and spoke the most to me was Changing My Major. The musical is based on Allison Bechdel’s brilliant graphic novel of the same name that tells the story of her childhood in which she realized she herself was gay and also the realization that her unstable father was a closeted homosexual in an unhappy marriage with her mother. The adult Allison tells the story like a memory play with Small Allison representing the childhood (of course) and Medium Allison representing the college years where she truly accepts the fact she is a lesbian. When Allison meets Joan in the hallway outside of a Gay Alliance meeting, she senses she feels something for her and it eventually leads to her sharing a night of passion in her dorm room…and the results the following morning are that Allison has completely succumbed to the idea of living this life. When I saw this show on Broadway in 2015, right after it won the Tony Award, this particular song made me tear up with joy because I related to Allison in this moment in the same way that I felt when I first spent the night with a guy after denying who I was for my entire youth. The song is sweet and funny and relatable and a true gem.
#17-IF HE WALKED INTO MY LIFE from Mame (Jerry Herman)
–There is no denying something like Rose’s Turn from GYPSY as being the mother-load of ultimate 11 O’clock numbers…but I have always had a certain fondness for the number that Jerry Herman gave Angela Lansbury in MAME. As is pretty well known, MAME is about a wacky care-free lady who takes in her dead brother’s orphaned son Patrick and despite his expressed wishes to not lavish him in her lifestyle, she puts him into it full force…but by the end of the show, when Patrick is slipping away and may be marrying into a stuffy society family, Mame questions how she raised her young nephew and thus wonders what would happen if she had another chance to raise this young “boy with the bugle”. Outside of Lansbury, I also quite loved the cover done by the delicious Edyie Gorme, for which she won a Grammy.
#16–JUST ONE STEP from Songs for a New World (Jason Robert Brown)
-As someone who is a character actor and tends to enjoy a lot of the songs that don’t get as much notice as some of the “hits” of various productions, it was no surprise that I was drawn to the songs sung by Woman #2 in JRB’s SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD when compared to those that were sung by Man or Woman #1. The Women #2 track, originally performed by the amazing Jessica Molaskey, is both fun and dramatic and she gets to run the gamut. While she makes you gasp in awe with The Flagmaker or Stars and the Moon, she will make you laugh as a scorned wife standing on a ledge threatening to jump in Just One Step, a very jazzy and peppy mental breakdown song of a different variety. A lot of people remember the song as the “Murray” song as the character bemoans “Murray! I am out here Murray!” Lastly, I think the song represents the best example of the type of song that makes me wish I could be a woman for an evening to portray this role…or maybe just participate in a Broadway Backwards event.
#15-A LITTLE PRIEST from Sweeney Todd (Stephen Sondheim)
–These two people are suggesting that they murder anyone and everyone just to both service Sweeney Todd’s revenge streak and to also give Mrs. Lovett an endless supply of meat for her precious pies…and you’d think it was the most delightful song by just hearing the melody by itself. This sweetly sinister song is an Act One closer that truly sets us up for the game changer that is Act Two…and we get a lot of clever and fun wordplay based on how various kinds of people would taste based on their particular career field…for example, the titular priest (“Then again they don’t commit sins of the flesh, so it’s pretty fresh”) or the humorous General (“With or without his privates”). It must also be said that a lot of these contributions could also be a contribution of book writer Hugh Wheeler…and the whole scene itself is a masterwork.
#14-THE MEEK SHALL INHERIT from Little Shop of Horrors (Menken/Ashman)
–Seymour is quite the epic role as he gets to sing on so many great songs like Grow for Me and Suddenly Seymour while the show has such delicious efforts like Dentist and Somewhere That’s Green, but for me, the emotional peak has to be The Meek Shall Inherit. By this point, Seymour allowed Audrey’s abusive dentist boyfriend to die so he could feed him to the plant, Audrey II; he led his adopted father Mr. Mushnik to his death when he discovered Seymour’s crimes; and now he is living with that guilt amongst the fame and fortune and, now, various offers to star on a gardening TV series and getting featured in prime magazine cover stories. After a slew of agents and the street urchin Greek chorus comment on it all, Seymour steps up and has a moment to himself where he acknowledges this has gone too far…but then assumes (even though he should know better) that Audrey won’t love him anymore if he didn’t have the success thanks to the Audrey II…and he signs the paperwork to continue the journey, which will soon end in tragedy. I have always considered LITTLE SHOP to be a perfect musical and one that its success is quite remarkable. Considering its source material, you have to be amazed that Menken/Ashman mined as much gold out of this one as they did.
#13-I’M BREAKING DOWN from In Trousers/Falsettos (William Finn)
-THE MARVIN TRILOGY means a lot to me and I adore it very much. So many of the songs deserved mentioned for various reasons…and it is a show (especially the FALSETTOLAND portion) that can make me cry multiple times…although before THAT happens, I usually end up crying with laughter….hahahaha!!! Clichéd phrase, party of one, your table is ready!!!!….anyways, FALSETTOS almost feels like the 1980s version of MODERN FAMILY in some ways. A man, named Marvin, comes out of the closest and leaves his wife Trina and young son Jason, for a younger man named Whizzer. To add to the mix, Marvin’s psychiatrist Mendel also ends up treating young Jason and falls in love with Marvin’s ex-wife Trina….and then there are the lesbian neighbors from next door thrown in for good measure! Trina is obviously drained over the idea of her husband being gay and developing feelings for his and her son’s shrink, so while preparing dinner one night, she lets us in on her mental state: I’M BREAKING DOWN! Never has someone’s breakdown been so deliciously told in the way that William Finn drafted this comedic epic. Also, you haven’t lived until you have watched Stephanie J. Block belt out the ending with bananas in her mouth.
#12-BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, & BEWILDERED from Pal Joey (Rodgers & Hart)
–I do have to admit that I don’t have as much knowledge or history with PAL JOEY in the same manner that I do with pretty much every other musical on this list, aside from a few songs (the famous Zip for example). However, there is one song from this show that I have always found to be the quintessential jazzy female ballad…and that is this one sung by the character of Vera Simpson in the musical but it has since been covered by so many singers both male and female. It works well enough as a song about the quarrels and trials of love that you don’t really need to be that involved with the plot of the show (as is often the case with the songs from that era of musicals).
#11-TILL THERE WAS YOU from The Music Man (Meredith Wilson)
–Everyone has their guilty pleasures…and for me, I think my ultimate guilty pleasure has to be THE MUSIC MAN. It has a very creative opening number with Rock Island (“You can talk, you can bicker, you can talk, you can bicker, you can talk talktalk talk, bicker bicker bicker…”) and a lot of great character songs that set up the quirky residents of River City, Iowa. However, even at a time where I didn’t fully appreciate the musical, I always loved Till There Was You. The relationship between Harold Hill and Marian the Librarian is certainly one of the that love/hate & misunderstood variety…and you certainly know that Harold is a rather shady character to say the least, but you completely buy their relationship and you love that the stuffy Marian finally feels alive and that Harold is willing to change his life for this small-town librarian who dabbles in piano lessons on the side. The song’s beauty was so strong that even Paul McCartney found great appeal in it (originally from the Sophie Tucker cover) and The Beatles performed it on The Ed Sullivan Show and it was interpreted as the song that could reel in the parents of the world who were probably recovering from their ears bleeding to the response to them singing I Want to Hold Your Hand.
#10-WILL HE LIKE ME? from She Loves Me (Bock/Harnick)
–There are certain musicals that I just love so many songs from them that I could make a case for having several of them on this list…but I decided to go with a choice that even surprised ME a little in regards to She Loves Me. This score is a true confectionary gem and I could’ve made a case for the title song, Vanilla Ice Cream, Tonight at Eight, Dear Friend, and A Trip to the Library…but I ended up choosing Will He Like Me primarily because it is a beautiful song in that it speaks so truthfully to the feeling of how we all feel when we are planning on meeting someone new in a romantic sense. For all we know, we could be meeting the person we end up spending years or the rest of our lives with…or it could end up being a disaster or a one-sided love affair. While most of the show is played for quirky humor, this is one of the moments where the true heart and soul peer through and you realize how much you care about the journey of both Amalia and Georg. I have alway
#9-LOSING MY MIND from Follies (Stephen Sondheim)
-When it comes to the canon of Sondehim, I actually don’t put Follies high up on the list as a whole. There are select songs that I do really love, but I’ve never actually been fond of the whole show like in the way I feel for his other efforts like SWEENEY TODD, COMPANY, ASSASSINS, SUNDAY, or MERRILY…but the to-the-point emotional pain and longing that Sally sings about in Losing My Mind has to be singled out…and it is definitely the more serious counterpart to William Finn’s I’m Breaking Down or JRB’s Just One Step. My personal favorite version of this song is probably that of the one sung by Barbara Cook during the 1985 concert version which, thanks to the transposition of the key, seems more potent. I also think the song’s sort of stifled structure which occasionally does become somewhat more flowing in the phrases, helps show Sally’s mental state in that she feels trapped and so unsure of everything she has ever wanted or felt. Sondheim has struck again…no surprise there!
#8-I GOT LOST IN HIS ARMS from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (Irving Berlin)
-Here’s my take on ANNIE GET YOUR GUN: it’s not a good show. It is offensively bad in terms of its treatment towards Native Americans (which the 1999 revival tried to fix, but that one just had its own problems arise in the process) and it just feels hopelessly hokey. Having said, the score to ANNIE GET YOUR GUN is probably the best example of a collection of songs that I really like that come from a very problematic show. I quite like or even LOVE quite a few of these classics, but the one I chose to single out is I Got Lost In His Arms, which isn’t often brought up in discussions regarding the musical (and frankly, I do quite love An Old Fashioned Wedding which was written originally for the 1966 revival and it remains one of my favorite duets). When drafting this list, I’ve realized a lot of my selections are actually quite simplistic at their core and not overly verbose or complex musically…which is sort of surprising considering my frequent praise of someone like Stephen Sondheim. I have always tipped my hat to many of the great composers of the 30s & 40s because they did create such classic songs with such wonderful and memorable melodies…and the almost lullaby nature of this particular song is quite beautiful to say the least…and you see the warmth in the brash Annie Oakley truly coming out.
#7-THE I LOVE YOU SONG from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (William Finn)
-I have talked about the story of when I first saw SPELLING BEE. It had just opened and I knew next to nothing about the show other than the fact that the score was by the man who gave us FALSETTOS and A NEW BRAIN and that it was directed by the great James Lapine. The result was an evening that I really needed at that troubled time: I laughed my head off and fell in love with this quirky and oddball bunch…but I remembered thinking “This show doesn’t have a William Finn ballad a la The Games I Play or the previously mentioned I’d Rather Be Sailing”…and then Lisa Howard began singing “We…always knew you were a winner” and my jaw dropped…THIS was the ballad I wanted and it stood out immensely in a show that had been basically a laugh fest for over the past hour. The emotional power of the song, based around a young girl longing for love from her estranged parents, is definitely heartbreaking but then you are also marveling at the magnificent harmonies that Lisa Howard, Celia Keenan-Bolger, and Derrick Baskin zig-zagged through with amazing ease. The night I saw it, which really felt so emotionally intense for some reason, caused the audience to leap to its feet as soon as the song ended…it is still one of the few times I saw a standing ovation given in the middle of a show…also, it was one of the only times I would’ve stood even if no one else around me chose to. It simply moved me that much.
#6-SUNDAY from Sunday in the Park with George (Stephen Sondheim)
-Other Act One closers are rousing brassy production numbers or some kind of massive epiphany or cliffhanger that leaves us wanting more. In the case of Sunday, it is somewhat brief but powerful moment where the artist in question finally finishes the hat, to put it in his terms. His grand painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, is complete and the people immortalized in his pointillist masterpiece sing of how they are pausing in this moment “forever…by the blue, purple, yellow, red water”…and speaking of the word “forever”, I found it incredibly emotional to know that Sondheim himself actually said he cried when he wrote the word on paper originally. To this day, when that ensemble sings “forever”, I get chills…but that is also the true power of art. It IS forever and that painting along with this musical, will always live on.Whenever I listen to this song, I just simply feel blessed that it even exists.
#5-LILY’S EYES from The Secret Garden (Simon/Norman)
–Two brothers singing about a little girl who has the eyes of a dead woman. Well okay…that’s a concept…but it somehow ends up working and marvelously so. Archibald was married to Lily; his brother Neville loved Lily but the love was unrequited….and now, the visiting orphaned Mary (the niece of these two men), happens to bear a striking similarity to the deceased Lily: her hazel eyes. The song basically repeats the idea of the resemblance while they both acknowledge the love and pain towards losing Lily. It sounds like a song that shouldn’t work, but thanks to the sweeping melody by composer Lucy Simon, it gives the men a chance to crescendo to an emotional belt by the end. The final result is actually my favorite duet in all of musical theatre.
#4-UNUSUAL WAY from Nine (Maury Yeston)
-Very few songs have sort of hit me in the stomach in terms of relatability than Unusual Way, which was Claudia’s proclamation to her lover Guido in Nine. I think it must be said that Nine works very well in its own right, even if it does pale greatly to its inspiration: Federico Fellini’s masterpiece 8 ½ . There are a few moments in the musical where the magic of the film was captured and I feel like this song was the pinnacle moment. Musically, the song sort of follows a somewhat repetitive melody but it is incredibly haunting and also, the lyrics feel emotional and passionate…after all, this is a woman who is in love with a man who has too much on his plate and is basically choosing to nix her while still having his wife Luisa and another mistress, the fiery Carla Albanese. Eventually, we do learn Claudia moves on by moving to Paris and starting a relationship with an older investment banker as she continues taking acting classes…it is her passion and her new lover Michel, doesn’t distract her. Honestly, Claudia gets short shrift compared to that of Luisa and Carla and, to an extent, Liliane…but the power behind her big Act Two opening number packs the biggest punch.
#3-IF I WERE A RICH MAN from Fiddler on the Roof (Bock/Harnick)
-The “I Want” song has become a staple of musicals when it comes to expressing the lead character or characters’ desires or needs early on in the show. FIDDLER already had given us what may be one of, if not the PERFECT opening number in Tradition, which set the tone and feel of the show and established its characters with a deft and entertaining touch. When it comes to If I Were a Rich Man, we get what is the best of the “I Want” song genre. As a kid, I just found it amusing because this guy was dancing around with his arms open wide while he jiggled and spoke gibberish…but a few years later when I revisited FIDDLER as a teenager, the song hit me as perfect. It goes without saying that song gives the actor playing Tevye a chance to be funny, but the song also has a sentimental sense about it without being mawkish. I think it helps that Tevye isn’t a man who hates his life, but hey, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have “a small fortune” as he puts it…I certainly wouldn’t mind a small fortune at this point.
#2-IF I LOVED YOU from Carousel (Rodgers & Hammerstein)
-I feel like when it comes to the history of musical theatre in terms of the “Book musical” concept, you can’t really against the importance of the Bench scene in CAROUSEL, where two practical strangers are soon transported into love/lust territory as the navigate the testy waters and discuss the hypothetical possibilities if they were to pursue a romantic relationship. CAROUSEL as a musical is definitely very problematic in today’s world (although I still much prefer to their prior work OKLAHOMA), but the score itself might very well be their masterpiece…or at least tied with SOUTH PACIFIC (which is their most entertaining/well-made show overall). Hammerstein, as a lyricist, had a tendency to be overly poetic which his protégé, Stephen Sondheim, often attributed to the fact that Hammerstein was schooled in the Operetta craze by Otto Harbach, who, despite his flowery and cheesy lyrics, was an important pioneer for believing musicals could be more than just frivolous song and dance routines. Hammerstein, at his best, was truly a sterling lyricist…but that was only when he wasn’t referencing birds doing such questioning acts as bursting in song or learning how to pray. This song represented how he could be at his poetic best when he was in his most simplistic state. Rodgers, with whom I’ve always had problems with based on the accounts of his demeanor and beliefs in his real life, was certainly a remarkable and surprisingly versatile composer in his prime. In many ways, it is hard to believe that the same man that wrote the music for CAROUSEL is the same man that gave us the bouncy tunes from such musicals as BABES IN ARMS or THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE. For a scene that is two people sitting on a bench confessing that they may be possibly falling in love practically in first sight, it ends up feeling incredibly monumental and majestic thanks to the combined efforts of the legendary R&H.
#1-MEADOWLARK from The Baker’s Wife (Stephen Schwartz)
-This is one of those selections that will be anti-climactic for those who know me well and may have seen my often repetitive posts on Facebook of my favorite rendition of this song: Liz Callaway at Carnegie Hall with a massive orchestra blasting it out with gusto. I do acknowledge that some of the lyrics aren’t completely masterful, but a lot of my love for this song is thanks to the sweeping melody that gives the actress a chance to really belt (or mix-belt if you are one of those ladies) up a storm…and even more surprisingly is the song comes from one of the most legendary flops in the history of musical theatre. THE BAKER’S WIFE closed out of town in 1976 (a great account of this would be Patti LuPone’s autobiography in which she says that the perfect punishment for Hitler would’ve been to join the company of a failing musical in trouble such as this one), but despite its massive problems, the score was not one of them. It is the perfect example of no matter how good the score may be, if the structure (among other things) isn’t good, then odds are you are going to fail…unless it is PIPPIN…which just happens to be yet another Schwartz score. As for Meadowlark, it is sung by Genevieve, which was first placed by Carole Demas who was then promptly fired and replaced with newbie Patti LuPone who proceeded to develop a Valium addiction during the lengthy and laborious out of town tryout. For those that don’t know, THE BAKER’S WIFE is about….the younger wife of an older baker who feels like she is stifled and takes an interest in a virile young man who just so happens to take an interest in her. Near the end of act one, Genevieve sings Meadowlark, which is used to set up her dilemma by comparing it to her favorite childhood story, about a Meadowlark who chose to remain loyal to her King instead of flying away with the Sun God. The heartbreak of this regret ends up killing the Meadowlark…and due to that, it drives Genevieve to leave her husband, Aimable and he is devastated once he discovers her departure the following morning. Eventually, she does return to him. The song also had a bit of a storied history during the troubled out-of-town tryout as composer Stephen Schwartz, who also served as a co-producer, felt his song was among his best work while the other producer, the infamous impresario David Merrick, despised the song with a passion. He was overheard saying in a Boston bar: “I’ll get that song out of the show if I have to poison the birdseed”. From there, Merrick actually stole the music charts from the orchestra pit, put them in his attaché case and returned to New York rendering the song cut from the show for that matinee. Once Schwartz discovered this, he reproduced new charts and the song was back in for the evening performance…and then it became a battle of wills: the song was in and out and in and out…and Schwartz even wrote a truncated version which loses a lot of its impact due to hasty lyric cuts that didn’t quite land. Even though the show closed out of town in Washington D.C. (after making the record of the least attended performance in Kennedy Center history), the score and, in particular, this song, have managed to have a long lasting life…and it didn’t hurt of course that LuPone would be able to trot it out at her famous Les Mouches cabaret act at the height of her EVITA fame. One last side note: the song WHERE IS THE WARMTH from the same show is also fantastic and shares the same musical motif for its ending.