Broadway Musical Musings: Serviceable vs. Spectacular – Musical Theatre Songs That Fail to Ignite
As I was riding the subway the other day, one of those special moments occurred where a street performer entered the car and gave a little show for a captive audience who were less-than-captivated. With a guitar, the lady started to sing “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie, and it suddenly dawned on me that there are just certain showtunes that I don’t ever need to hear again, especially while trapped on a delayed, uptown C Train. “Tomorrow” and its cloying optimism is one of them.
In all fairness, “Tomorrow” is actually a fine song that serves its show well. If it hadn’t been overplayed and over-sung with such chin-up gusto, I might still be able to enjoy the song. This got me thinking about songs within musicals that I have never warmed up to, usually because I felt the song was not on a par with the rest of the score from which the song comes. I call these numbers “serviceable” without being “spectacular”. Here are a handful of songs that meet that criteria:
“It Take Two” from Into the Woods
The song is cute and clever, a complex list song and musical tally sheet that is a witty play on numbers, but it never serves to offer any depth to the characters of The Baker and his Wife. This was the musical’s one chance to really let these two stop, breathe and show who they are. In all it’s cleverness, I never feel the song lands with any heart, something that is desperately needed for this couple to become more than mere cardboard cutouts
“For Good” from Wicked
I know I will take a lot of heat for this one, but “For Good” from Wicked feels very forced and contrived to me. Too much has gone down between Glinda and Elphaba by the time that this song happens for it have any believable sincerity. Friends have betrayed each other, one has stolen the other one’s man, the entire Kingdom of Oz is on a manhunt for one of the girls. This song is not a justified moment in the context of the musical. Sure, it’s a lovely thought that two friends can forgive each other after all they have been through, but it rings false here. It’s a failed attempt at closure between two characters who deserve a far more complex ending.
“If He Walked Into My Life” from Mame
There is so much to love about the musical Mame, but the song “If He Walked Into My Life” is the one exception for me. Having raised her nephew Patrick to be one of the most spoiled, insufferable brats that the world has ever known, Auntie Mame sings this number when she wonders at whether or not her mistakes could have been avoided. The song never packs the wallop that it should, often overwrought without the right sentiments to support such angst. I’ve always thought this was the one place where the musical would have been better served by a quieter, gentler moment of reflection, not a belted, bluesy torch song.
How about you? Do you have a song from a musical that just never lands for you?