Broadway to Inspire - Top Ten Broadway Songs that Teach Us to Embrace Life
Clearly Broadway musicals inspire me, and if you are generously reading my blog, I bet a show tune puts some pep in your step as well. I think back on the cast albums and individual songs that have held my hand as I went through some tough times in my life, including heartbreaks, my parents' divorce, and bouts of sadness. These songs seemed to absorb the overflowing emotions and synthesize them into something manageable. Then, there were the songs that got me past my rough patches. These were the tunes that inspired and motivated me. These songs of hope and motivation compose my top-ten list for this week:
The Top-Ten Broadway Songs that Teach Us to Embrace Life
"You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel
You can say what you like about Oscar Hammerstein and his Hallmark card-style lyrics, but if you look closely at "You'll Never Walk Alone," you will see that this is not just a "buck up, kiddo" knuckle to the chin. "You'll Never Walk Alone" is about finding strength in great adversity, the summoning of something deeper to carry you through for the long haul. Carousel is not an easy story, in fact, it is nuanced and complex in a way that Rodgers and Hammerstein only occasionally delved. Life is rough. Our dreams ARE "tossed and blown" and the ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel relies intrinsically upon our reserve of hope. "You'll Never Walk Alone" adroitly inspires persistence and fortitude like few other songs ever have.
"Lullaby of Broadway" from 42nd Street
I must admit that 42nd Street (in its original run) was my first Broadway musical. It had already tapped its way through two Broadway theatres before it settled at the St. James where I witnessed this extravaganza from the first row of the second balcony. I was transformed. I suddenly knew what my life-long love affair would be and with each song I grew more and more entranced. The musical's eleven o'clock number is "Lullaby of Broadway," a building and climactic orgasm of musical theatre verve that, to this day, still has me leaping out of my chair and dancing. The song started with one actress being persuaded by one actor to not give up her Broadway dreams, and one by one, the entire cast cascaded down an enormous staircase to help with the palpable peer pressure. The song mounted to this gigantic, kick line chorus number about embracing your dreams and allowing the "Lullaby of Broadway" guide you to it. It was the sheer ecstasy and pure audacity of the simple sentiment that hooked me and inspired me to have a career in the theatre.
"The Great Come-and-Get-It Day" from Finian's Rainbow
There is something about the southern revival-style music of Burton Lane and Baptist sermon-like lyrics of E.Y. Harburg that make "the Great Come-and-Get-it-Day" from Finian's Rainbow both motivational and inspirational, even though the god the people are praying to is the God of Credit. The song promises better things to come if recently acquired credit is put to good use - in this case, to propel their tobacco farming collective forward into profit. Never you mind the topic, the song inspires a joyful embracing of living life to its fullest and it is full of exclamations of everyday dreams that are on the threshold of coming true. Magical hope - Harburg's forte.
"Our Time" from Merrily We Roll Along
For all of the people out there who believe that Stephen Sondheim is all calculated, cerebral cynicism, you really need to revisit this gem from Merrily We Roll Along. Granted, it concludes a tale of bitter regret, lost friendship and heightened cynicism, but taken by itself, it is an anthem of hope, bright futures, possibility, and friendship in its purist form. It astounds me that this piece is not sung more at high school graduations instead of the endless droning of Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go that has become the cliché of commencement exercises. For my money, "Our Time" inspires me far more.
"One Foot, Other Foot" from Allegro
Rodgers and Hammerstein's problematic musical Allegro is, at times, very cynical, but it can also be idealistic and peppy as is evidenced in the jaunty number "One Foot, Other Foot." Sung by a Greek Chorus to ignite each of the young catalyst's life decisions, the song feels like a march of joy and encouragement. It's like the little angel on your shoulder suddenly morphed into an angels' choir and coaxes you into believing that everything is gonna be Jim Dandy. It has that down-home, "gee willikers" kind of homespun warmth that makes it feel so right and motivates through sentiment and nostalgia.
"Lot of Livin' to Do" from Bye, Bye, Birdie
Bye, Bye, Birdie is a pretty upbeat affair to begin with, but I have always been particularly partial to the chorus number "Lot of Livin' to Do." Sung by rock star Conrad Birdie and a hoard of clueless, hormonal teenagers, the number is celebration of what it means to be young. The song is energized by orchestrations that are equal parts Broadway razzmatazz and sublimely soaring earnestness. The Charles Strouse and Lee Adams song inspires us to make the most of life, if we just remember to do it. How many of us listen to this song and reflect fondly on what it was like to be young and carefree?
"Before the Parade Passes By" from Hello, Dolly!
It's no secret that I particularly love this song from Hello, Dolly! as I seem to mention it every chance that I get. I also see this song as a nice counterpart for "Lot of Livin' to Do." Just as the latter is a celebration of youth, the former is a tribute to making the most of things before you die. Dolly Levi wants to step back out into the world and live it up before it's too late. We all want that invitation to once again embrace life as we did in our youth. "Before the Parade Passes By" is there to remind us of that youthful hope and to propel us off our butts and do something new. Composer/Lyricist Jerry Herman keeps this at the front of everything he writes, but it is especially compelling within the context of the story.
"Corner of the Sky" from Pippin
Every teenager has felt like Pippin. In fact, when I was asked to sing at my high school graduation, it was "Corner of the Sky" I chose because it so reflected my need to soar away from my small town and experience the world. The song was in my heart when I moved to Nebraska to take a job for nine-years in a place I didn't know. It was with me when I explored Europe, moving cathedral by cathedral and museum by museum through history, in search of a glimmer of my purpose. The song still incites a tingle in my stomach, just like that feeling you have when the roller coaster is about to plummet off the first drop. It is always there to remind us to keep searching. Stephen Schwartz may not devise the most character-driven lyrics, but he sure knows how to capture characters who are in need of taking flight.
"It's Not Where You Start (It's Where You Finish) from See Saw
Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields supplied some zesty lyrics for the musical See Saw, but none of them are quite the enema of sunshine that "It's Not Where You Start (It's Where You Finish)" is. The premise alone, the practically flammable Tommy Tune dancing up and down a staircase on a stage filled with colorful balloons, is practically a page out of a pop-up self-help book. Such an infusion of joy into a show that isn't necessarily the happiest of tales. This song never fails to annoy me into joyous optimism.
"Out There" from Barnum
I really wish someone would revive Barnum. Maybe Diane Paulus can do it with a commedia del'arte setting (message me if you get the joke). Bad humor aside, the Cy Coleman/Mark Bramble score is so invigorating and full of pluck that it is bound to put a smile on your face. My particular favorite is "Out There" sung by the King of Humbug himself, P.T. Barnum. When a man with as big an imagination as Barnum tells you that you have to make the most of life, it is somewhat arresting when you realize just how much you have been missing. He, of all people, still has big aspirations. If you are having a bad day, or are feeling down in the dumps, or unfocused, just turn this ditty on and listen to Jim Dale croon you into motivation and purpose.
So those are the ten Broadway songs that are inspire me to embrace life, What are yours? I look forward to you calling me out on the egregiously overlooked titles I left off the list. I feel "Don't Rain on My Parade" will be the first one thrown out there, but that song belongs on an entirely different list for me.