Ten Broadway Songs to Celebrate Autumn
With Autumn officially underway, I thought it would be fun to celebrate some of the Broadway songs that celebrate and evoke themes of harvest, the fall, and generally that contemplative, reflective period that comes when summer ends and Christmas is just a few months away. Here are some songs that will help you get into a mood for back to school, bonfires, changing leaves, and the fall holidays.
“I Wish I Could Go Back to College”
From Avenue Q (2003)
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez
This little ditty from Avenue Q always makes me nostalgic for my days spent in college, particularly in the fall when you return, see old friends, fire up your meal plan, and hang out in the quad. “I Wish I Could Go Back to College” is a lovely flashback to a time, that for money, is full of great memories and a simplicity that we can never relive.
From Knickerbocker Holiday (1938)
Music by Kurt Weill, Lyrics by Maxwell Anderson
Perhaps one of the finest melodies Kurt Weill ever composed, and certainly a haunting one at that, “September Song” is the story of an older man making the case for a much younger woman to love him. It’s not exactly a May/December romance, but lyricist Maxwell Anderson places the timing closer to September and creates some glorious metaphors comparing love with the autumn. Knickerbocker Holiday may rarely be performed these days, but this song will remain an evergreen, always.
“Try to Remember”
From The Fantasticks (1960)
Music by Harvey Schmidt, Lyrics by Tom Jones
Perhaps a bit of an obvious choice for this list, but nonetheless an important one, “Try to Remember” from The Fantasticks opens with “Try to remember the kind of September” automatically putting us into a place where we are nostalgic for a warmer, more reflective time in our life. Taking us back to our innocence, before we are jaded by the world, this pensive number reminds us that “without the hurt the heart is hollow”. It is only though being hurt by the world that our memories grow warmer and fonder.
“Plenty of Pennsylvania”
From Plain and Fancy (1955)
Music by Albert Hague, Lyrics by Arnold Horwitt
If you’ve never listened to the score of Plain and Fancy, you should really rectify that situation because it is lovely. A musical set in Pennsylvania Dutch Country among the Amish, one of the standout songs is “Plenty of Pennsylvania”, a tribute to the the fall in quiet, farming countryside.
“Wake Me Up When September Ends”
From American Idiot (2010)
Music by Green Day, Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong
Every September 30th, a bevy of “clever” people on Facebook will remind us to give Billie Joe Armstrong a phone call and wake him up. Regardless of whether or not he meant this literally (I’m sure he changed his number) the song has become synonymous with the fall and the end of the crazy days of summer. The American Idiot ballad invites us to move forward in life where we accept a certain maturity and responsibility.
From Applause (1970)
Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Lee Adams
The musical Applause is the stage adaptation of the short story The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr (which was also turned into the classic film All About Eve) about an aging stage star who us being stalked and studied by an ambitious up-and-comer named Eve. In an effort to humanize the vicious and deceptive ingénue, we are given a bit of her backstory with “One Halloween” where she puts together a costume of her own design, only to be ridiculed by her father and told she looks like a whore. It’s the one real Halloween Broadway showtune that packs an emotional wallop. Did I mention Halloween is in the fall?
“The Colors of My Life”
From Barnum (1980)
Music by Cy Coleman, Lyrics by Michael Stewart
For some reason, I have always equated this “colorful” Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart song from Barnum, with Thanksgiving and finding reasons to celebrate what we have. The song is sung by showman PT Barnum, exclaiming his love for the all the bright and vibrant colors of the world, matching them with the things he loves in his life. His wife Charity sings her own verse, a much more conservative list of hues, solemnly revered in her style.
“All Good Gifts”
From Godspell (1971)
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
No harvest time could be properly celebrated without “All Good Gifts” from the musical Godspell. Mostly a list song of the many things to be thankful for including the land, the seed, the food, and the divine intervention of God. It’s a lovely, soaring song that puts us all in the mood to be thankful for our hard work and the harvests that we reap from our investment.
“Days of Plenty”
Little Women (2005)
Music by Jason Howland, Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein
Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is a story about family and a tribute to its grounding and loving effects. The musical version of Little Women gets at the heart of that musically (again putting me in the mind for Thanksgiving holidays) with the song “Days of Plenty”. Mourning her beloved daughter who has passed, a mother chooses to remember the her warmly, while never forgetting the girl she lost. The fall always puts me in the mind of remembering loved-ones who have died, perhaps it comes from the falling leaves and watching nature wind-down for Winter.
“Autumn in New York”
From Thumbs Up! (1934)
Music and Lyrics by Vernon Duke
Of course “Autumn in New York” had to be on this list. This Vernon Duke number has become an oft-recorded classic. Few people know that this number comes from a 1934 musical called Thumbs Up!, a show that is never performed these days. There is a special electricity in the Big Apple in the fall, a crispness in the air and an invigorating coolness that make it a glorious place to be. No song has ever quite captured the magic of autumn quite like this one.