Broadway "Marches" in Like a Lion
With the month of March just around the corner, I thought it would be fun to discuss Broadway showtunes that follow a "march" rhythm. These are the songs that put a little pep into your step, getting you to lift those knees up high and to puff out your chest. Marches can be regal, and marches can be celebratory. They can be patriotic, perky, jaunty, and most of all, fun. Here are some of my favorite marches from Broadway musicals:
"March of the Siamese Children" - The King and I
Exotic and regal, Richard Rodgers composed this enchanting march in a style that evokes traditional Asian music without entirely embracing it. When schoolteacher Anna Leanowens arrives in Bangkok, the King of Siam parades his many wives and children before their new schoolteacher to the strains of "The March of the Siamese Children." Repetitive (and rather long) if merely played on one instrument, the piece features varied orchestrations, each repeat encapsulating a different tone for each child presented. It's amazing how the right instrumental combinations can take a simple, static song and stretch it into something so vibrantly evolving and blissfully alive.
"I Aint Down Yet" - The Unsinkable Molly Brown
The Unsinkable Molly Brown is one of those musicals that used to be performed quite a lot, but nowadays it seems to have faded into the background. A revival would change that as old Molly still has some life in her, especially in its buoyant melodies by Meredith Willson, The march "I Aint Down Yet" is a spunky "I am" song for the ballsy title character, who lays out all of her big plans of learning to read, write, and find herself a rich husband, taking on any obstacle life can throw her way.
"Stouthearted Men" - The New Moon
The old-fashioned operettas are almost forgotten today, but that is mostly due to their corny, dated plots. Their music, however, is often exquisite. The New Moon features one of the most sparkling scores of this genre, and "Stouthearted Men" is one of the most memorable marches ever written for the musical theatre. The rousing number is an inspiring "call to duty". featuring music by Sigmund Romberg and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, II, Frank Mandel, and Laurence Schwab.
"Before the Parade Passes By" - Hello, Dolly!
The most impactful song in Jerry Herman's score for Hello, Dolly! is easily the potent "Before the Parade Passes By". Matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi has been in mourning since her beloved husband Ephraim died, but she has decided to join the ranks of humanity again, singing this glorious march. "Before the Parade Passes By" is a testament to embracing life and making the most out sharing life with others. Soon, Dolly has joined a parade in the streets of NYC, and her rebirth is ushered in with baton twirlers and banner carriers.
"76 Trombones" - The Music Man
If you are going to write a musical about a boys marching band, odds are that you are going to need a song in march time to accompany the proceedings. Fortunately, Meredith Willson knows his parades and excels in composing marches. In The Music Man, traveling salesman Professor Harold Hill speaks to the citizens of River City at their Fourth of July celebration, convincing the crowd that their hamlet needs a boys' band. His charm and charisma soon incite the whole town into playing imaginary instruments and enthusiastically embracing his vision as they exit into the streets, forming their own pantomime parade and hypnotized by his flim-flam .
"Yellow Drum" - The Grass Harp
I am an enormous fan of the mostly forgotten musical The Grass Harp. Claibe Richardson and Kenward Elmslie created such a sprightly score, evoking pastoral images and heartfelt optimism. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the peppy "Yellow Drum". It is a liberating march performed by a series of misfits who decide to escape the harshness of the real world, and choose to live a charmed life in a tree house in the woods. Brimming with southern flavor and a touch of ghostly magic, the piece is just one of the delectable melodies in a score that runneth-over with one gorgeous song after another.
"Strike Up the Band" - Strike Up the Band
The plot of the musical Strike Up the Band, a political satire with little punch left in it nowadays, is totally negligible and not one of George S. Kaufman's best. The story followed an international cheese tycoon who, in order to maintain his hold on the cheese monopoly, incites a war between the United States and Switzerland. yes...that old story. The score, by the Brothers Gershwin (George and Ira), is just the opposite. In fact, much of the music is quite memorable. One of the liveliest and best-remembered tunes in the musical is the exuberant title song march, performed as the Act I finale.
"March of the Wooden Soldiers" - Babes in Toyland
Not a holiday goes by that you haven't heard this ditty as background music in a shopping mall, or while waiting to pee your pants on Santa's lap. Though identified almost exclusively with the holidays, "March of the Wooden Soldiers" by Victor Herbert is a lively instrumental from his operetta Babes In Toyland. Wooden soldiers in a toymaker's castle magically come to life to take on the dastardly, melodramatic villain Barnaby. The piece builds musically to an exciting climax as the soldiers strut their way to victory. You've probably heard it a million times and didn't even know that this perennial favorite came from an old Broadway musical.