100 Favorite Showtunes: Part III
100 Favorite Showtunes: Part III
For my last two entries I have featured the first fifty of my favorite showtunes celebrating my 100th blog entry which is just around the corner. Here is the continuation of that piece, featuring my NEXT 25 entries.
51. “Before the Parade Passes By” from Hello, Dolly!
Hmmm….Another Jerry Herman song in my Top 100. I think that I often forget how much I love his music and lyrics, or perhaps I just take their poetry and ease for granted, at least until I sit down and start listing which showtunes really move me. When Dolly Gallagher Levi decides to give up her self-imposed exile (brought about by the death of her beloved husband) and she rejoins to human race with her legendary zest and abandon, she sings this stirring character number. How many of us have felt that something inside of us is lying dormant, just waiting to be awakened? The lyric “I’ve got a goal again. I’ve got a drive again. I want to feel my heart coming alive again” speaks to each and every one of us who has ever felt out of the game of life, but who is ready for the signal to jump back in again.
52. “The Gentleman is a Dope” from Allegro
Anyone who says that Rodgers and Hammerstein are ONLY capable of optimistic ditties and hopeful anthems has never really taken the time to step outside of generalizations and examine the duo’s work more closely. Of all of their songs, the sardonic “The Gentleman is a Dope” from Allegro demonstrates Rodgers and Hammerstein at their edgiest, featuring a young nurse taking a very bitter point of view of unrequited love. Usually, R&H would opt for the listing all of the fellow’s virtues, but this song is a list of his endearing, if frustrating, flaws: a compilation of the attributes that will keep him from becoming "hers." A perfect combination of humor and pathos. Also, the perfect audition song for an alto with a liver complaint.
53. “Brotherhood of Man” from How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying
This song is kind of corny; I am willing to admit that. That being said, Frank Loesser saturates the song with the sticky-sweet optimism that propels J. Pierrepont Finch from window washer to Chairman of the Board at the World Wide Wicket Company, so it seems appropriate that this brand of corn is what he uses to keep himself from getting fired. “Brotherhood of Man” is smoke and mirrors nonsense, an attempt by Finch to fool his colleagues and, in the end, come out smelling like roses. What I love about it is that it really uses an infectious, repetitive melody to get everyone on board with Finch and soon, everyone is singing and dancing to his way of thinking.
54. “Reviewing the Situation” from Oliver!
Oliver! Is a musical I have had a love-hate relationship with over the years, having been called in to a direct a high school production of the show with a group that had no interest in attending any rehearsals. That could turn you sour on any musical. I did, however, grow to respect the clever intricacies and the evocative melodies of Lionel Bart’s score, especially the sophisticated wordplay and character development explored in Fagin’s eleven o’clock number “Reviewing the Situation.” When his whole plan for a pocket-picking subsidized retirement falls through, he weighs all of his possible options, exploring thoughts of becoming a changed man, but resigning himself to the fate of one who has always been a lawbreaker. What makes it such an important song is that it literally shows him from several points of view, even painting a conscience buried in his weary personage. He goes from being an all-purpose comic villain to a fully realized human being within the confines of this song.
55. “To Each His Dulcinea” from Man of La Mancha
This song could also be titled “The Ode to the Practical Dreamer” as this Man of La Mancha ditty warns against wishing for things that are impossible. In fact, it reminds us that most of the things that we think we want are merely illusion and artifice. Aren’t we all just a little too attracted to the ideal, the perfect, and the magical? “If you build your life on dreams it’s prudent to recall: A man with moonlight in his hands has nothing there at all.” I love that there is this cautionary song to anchor the optimism of Don Quixote, sort of an antidote for extreme idealism. Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion wisely place this number right before the musical’s anthem “The Impossible Dream”, helping us to better understand Don Quixote’s noble pursuits in the face of negativity, prudence, and the harshness of reality.
56. “Easy to Be Hard” from Hair
The rock musical Hair has a lot of great music, a wide variety of musical styles, and lyrics that often overload the score with information that comes at the audience in a rapid-fire assault. For me, I like the quieter, gentler moments of Hair, especially the heartsick ballad “Easy to be Hard”, sung by the tribe member “Sheila” as she reveals her love for the high-spirited hippie “Berger”, who is less interested in her and more interested in his hippie causes. “Do you only care about the bleeding crowd? How about a needing friend?” is such a fitting lyric that sums up her feelings toward the much-adored (but often clueless) non-conformist. Galt MacDermot’s emotionally-charged music, married to James Rado and Gerome Ragni’s pointed lyrics, make this the finest song in a powerful score that evokes both the turbulence and the magic of the 1960s.
57. “Corner of the Sky” from Pippin
What young person (especially those sad gay boys in high school) hasn’t listened to this character song from Pippin and not immediately recognized themselves in the same predicament as the title character? This song, exploring the need to break away from the average, everyday world and to take to the sky where great things can happen, is the anthem of every misunderstood, bullied and lonely young person yearning to go somewhere where they will be appreciated. I sang this song at my high school graduation, and I know its words once spoke to me and I especially savored sharing its message with those who had marginalized me over the years. The Stephen Schwartz song sounds like such a beautiful embrace of possibility, but its lyrics are secretly a “kiss my ass” to those who stand in people’s way of happiness.
58. “Knowing When to Leave” from Promises, Promises
There is an energy that runs through this Burt Bacharach/Hal David score that penetrates the listener and brings them on an amazing ride. It starts with Promises, Promises’ dynamic overture which is, in my opinion, one of the best to ever be arranged for the musical theatre. The melody of “Knowing When to Leave” is especially present here with its rhythmic insistence and soaring melody. When the character of Fran Kubelik sings it later in the show, the number is an explosion of pain, a life overflowing with heartache and loss. Anyone who has been hurt as many times as Fran has, knows when it is time to steel themselves against rejection by keeping their “eyes on the door, never let it get out of sight…” This is a great character number augmented by a relentless fortitude captured in the music.
59. “Holiday Inn” from Seesaw
It’s a little bit saucy, a little bit dirty, and a whole lot of funny, which makes “Holiday Inn” from the not-so-successful and even-less-revived musical Seesaw such a delight. When the NYC dancer Gittel gets Nebraska lawyer Jerry Ryan back to her apartment for the night, she equates the amenities (filled with innuendo) with those found at the international hotel chain Holiday Inn. Brassy and bold (where composer Cy Coleman is at his best), it’s the Dorothy Fields lyrics that particularly sparkle with imagination and double entendre.
60. “I’m the Greatest Star” from Funny Girl
Though I find Funny Girl an uneven musical on all accounts, I am fond of about half of its score. Jule Styne and Bob Merrill concocted some great showtunes here, none of which are more perfectly suited to the title character than “I’m the Greatest Star.” A young Fanny Brice, in a less-than-subtle attempt to secure herself a job as a dancer in the chorus, details with ballsy wonderment the attributes that make her stand out above all of the rest. Many of her claims are manufactured, but the punctuated rhythm of the song and confidence of the lyrics make you believe every word that comes out of her mouth. Never has so much information and character development been handled so expressly and with such verve in a song.
61. “Step to the Rear” from How Now, Dow Jones?
I don’t think anyone is planning a revival of How Now, Dow Jones? anytime in the near future, and it is probably not too great a loss. I find most of the Elmer Bernstein/Carolyn Leigh score to be forgettable, save one catchy number called “Step to the Rear” that gets your toes a tapping and your spirits bouncing. I guarantee you that, once you get this melody in your ears, you won’t be able to stop its confidently joyous march. At one point, the ditty breaks into two groups singing in counterpoint, elevating the fun factor to an even higher level. With the next presidential election around the corner, maybe one of the candidates should snatch up this earworm as their campaign jingle.
62. “Someone Wonderful I Missed” from I Love My Wife
A mostly-forgotten musical with a delightful little score is the 1977 Cy Coleman/Michael Stewart comedy I Love My Wife. It’s plot about mate-swapping is firmly planted in the 1970s, and there is not much of its story that is either relevant or nostalgic for today’s audiences. Don’t count on a revival anytime soon. The score, however, has some good stuff, and the country-flavored “Someone Wonderful I Missed” has always stood out for me as one of the strongest. Two women, both quite in love with their husbands, muse over the possibility of how their lives would be different if they had chosen different partners. One lyric “The choice I made I wouldn’t trade for all the Sonys in Japan” is definitely cheesy, but I think, for me, that is part of its appeal.
63. “Out There” from Barnum
A score that does not get enough appreciation is the one that Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart constructed for the show business biography Barnum. P.T. Barnum was a larger-than-life fellow who made all kinds of wonderful, colorful things happen including an amazing museum and a state-of-the-art circus. “Out There” is a soaring testament to his drive and ambition as he pioneers in the world of mass entertainment, insisting that his wildest dreams will become a reality. This song’s greatest appeal is in its optimism and conviction. Also, truly, has Cy Coleman ever written a bad melody?
64. “Lullaby of Broadway” from 42nd Street
There should be no surprise that this song is on my list. The original Broadway production of 42nd Street was my first Broadway musical. Sitting from the back of the second balcony at the St. James Theatre, I sat, holding my breath, as my love for musical theatre was truly ignited. The second-act showstopper “Lullaby of Broadway” was an old song that had been around for decades, but that Harry Warren/Al Dubin number and the way it was staged by Gower Champion, left me speechless. I was in love with Broadway, and my affection for that song will always be strong because of that one, perfect memory in theatre where I only saw what was possible (before the director and the critic was born).
65. “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George
If you watch the DVD of the original Broadway cast production of Sunday in the Park with George and you get to the end of the first act without a single tear in your eye, you are inhuman. Even if everything that comes before the song “Sunday” is not your cup of tea, the pageantry, emotion, even the blissful control of the singers is exquisite. Watching artist George Seurat’s famous painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte assemble before your eyes courtesy of James Lapine’s perfectly subtle staging, and unfolding to the sweeping, emotional thrust of Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics, is a life-changing musical theatre moment. This is why we love theatre and how we understand that collaboration makes it beautiful.
66. “Muddy Water” from Big River
Another score that doesn’t quite get as much love as it deserves is Roger Miller’s country-flavor infused Big River. For me, I can feel the palpable excitement Huck and Jim are experiencing as they prepare to take off on a raft down the Mississippi river to the strains of “Muddy Water.” Hope, trepidation, adventure, and faith are all here, summing up the jaunt while simultaneously personifying the river itself. What attracts me about the song is its energy. It so aptly captures the moment in the show. My heart begins to beat with the song.
67. “What You Don’t Know About Women” from City of Angels
Cy Coleman’s music wisely takes a backseat to David Zippel’s glorious fusillade of condemnations against the male of the species in “What You Don’t Know About Women” from City of Angels. Two women, both scorned by the men in their life, unload their despair and frustration through barbs aimed straight at the balls of the men in each of their lives. Why do I appreciate this song so much? I think it comes in the rapid fire delivery of Zippel’s lyrics and how each bomb they drop, lands with humor and poignancy.
68. “Elliott Garfield Grant” from The Goodbye Girl
Marvin Hamlisch’s and David Zippel’s score for the flop musical The Goodbye Girl is far more enjoyable than many critics found it to be. In fact, I find certain songs from the show to be downright witty and tuneful. My favorite is “Elliot Garfield Grant”, an arrogant, egotistical song sung by a character we will grow to love, as he lays down the law to the two ladies (a mother and her daughter) that he must begrudgingly accept as apartment mates. To be fair, the mother Paula, just tried to lay down a list of rules for him which then launches him into this fiery song that sets up the tug-of-war that will be their relationship. I especially admire Zippel’s clever rhymes which may, arguably, draw too much attention to themselves, but are always spot on.
69. “The Wizard and I” from Wicked
Hate me, but I think there are a lot of problems with the musical Wicked, probably a subject for some future blog that will result in my public execution. That being said, a few of the songs in the show do land and are terrific at establishing character. “The Wizard and I”, sung by Elphaba as her “I am” song early in the first act, caters to a new world where belting is the only option in what used to be a musical theatre of a more nuanced sound. Composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz doesn’t let the lyrics suffer by dialing it up to power ballad, but instead provides a carefully constructed profile of the idealistic woman who will someday be known as the “Wicked Witch of the West.” My hopes were raised to higher-than-high heights by this song, only to spend the rest of the musical hoping for something to match it. The song was so perfectly placed and emotionally effective that it sucked me right into the world of Wicked, where I admit I stayed, entertained, despite its many flaws. I admire a song that has that kind of power.
70. “The Revolutionary Costume for Today” from Grey Gardens
Every bit of neurosis, craziness, and mental instability found in the documentary Grey Gardens was given its due in the Michael Korie/Scott Frankel score when they adapted the piece for the musical stage. There are reflective moments “Another Winter in a Summer Town”, lively ones “The Five-Fifteen”, even corny ones “Jerry Likes My Corn”, but none of the songs sum up the lunacy quite as perfectly as “The Revolutionary Costume for Today”. The song features the eccentric Little Edie Beale, the reclusive daughter in a mother-daughter, shut-in nightmare, as she explains how she dresses in weird outfits made of bedclothes and wall hangings as a way of waging a revolution against her conservative neighbors. Wacky, fun, and off-the-beam, the things I appreciate in a person and a revolutionary.
71. “Here I Am” from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
The zaniness of “Here I Am” is what I think makes it one of the best songs in David Yazbek’s score for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The breezy melody and the almost “ad lib” nature of the way the character seems to be making up the quirky lyrics, really helps to establish the character of Christine Colgate (who is simultaneously duping the audience into believing she is clueless and innocent). I really admire how this song effectively convinces us that this woman is someone else entirely, setting up the possibility to shock the audience down the road.
72. “The Bitch of Living” from Spring Awakening
I did not love Spring Awakening, though I did love portions of Spring Awakening. Sections of the show are whiney, insipid, and frankly, don’t coherently convey much of anything other than generic imagery designed to evoke emotion. That being said, “The Bitch of Living” is perfection. Composer Duncan Shiek and lyricist Steven Sater managed to indisputably capture with words and with rhythm, the sexual frustrations of being a teenage boy. Allusions to masturbation are painted with magic and poetry, even as the music recognizes the futility and desperation behind the act. Confusion, lack-of-confidence, and hormonal rollercoasters are all summed up in this number.
73. “There’s a Fine, Fine, Line” from Avenue Q
When I went into Avenue Q, I expected to spend my time at the theatre laughing, which I mostly did. I was, however, startled to find one song in the Jeff Marx/Robert Lopez score that nearly broke my heart as I instantly connected to its words. ”There a Fine, Fine, Line “, sung by a puppet who is weighing her options on love and trying to determine if it’s worth the pain, reduced me to tears as I recognized myself in that situation, time and again. Lover or friend? Reality or pretend? Love/Waste of time? These are questions that we have all asked ourselves. Watching this puppet pour out her soul and so easily connect to mine just gripped me like few showtunes in recent years have.
74. “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray
This song made me want to jump out of my seat and begin to dance. Not many showtunes invigorate me to that level of exercise (or any level of exercise), but “You Can’t Stop the Beat” is so full of love, diversity, energy, positivity, and rhythm that it is truly hard to sit still when you hear it. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman envisioned a song that would sum up all of the open-minded, progressive elements of the musical Hairspray, culminating the show with an anthem of self-acceptance. This song did it perfectly and became the song of empowerment that everyone in Broadway circles was singing in an act of togetherness.
75. “Mama Will Provide” from Once on this Island
Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s first time at bat on the Broadway stage was with the musical Once on this Island. Flaherty’s score was full of Caribbean flavor and Ahrens found whimsical charm aplenty to infuse her lyrical storytelling with the magical and mystical. Of all of the songs in a score I admire, “Mama Will Provide” is the one that sticks with me. I remember the performance of it on the 1991 Tony Awards, with Lillias White belting out the song with gusto and I remember realizing that musicals didn’t necessarily need to be big in order to be significant. This is the song that introduced me to Ahrens and Flaherty and I have been an avid fan ever since.
Don't forget to check back next week for my 100th blog and the final 25 songs in my Top 100. Thanks fro reading.