Showtune Shenanigans: The Showtunes I Jump Over
The other day, a friend and I were discussing those songs we always skip when listening to cast recordings. Not that the songs in question are necessarily unpleasant or ineffective, but, for one reason or another, they just don't appeal to the individual listener. We all must have a few songs that are not necessarily our cup of tea despite their popularity or inclusion in a beloved score. As my friend and I chatted, it became clear that we both felt passionately about certain songs to be jumped in favor of moving along to a different song.
For better or for worse, and risking the bilious protestations from of some, I decided to write this article about the songs I am most-likely to jump over while listening to beloved cast albums. Choosing ten random classic shows, I identify the song that is my least favorite and give my explanation as to why I feel that way. I look forward to the debate and perhaps the titles you add in the commentary.
My Fair Lady
"You Did It"
For the record: there is nothing wrong with this song. Its narrative structure, its dramatic builds, and its catchy refrain are perfect examples of musical theatre writing. That being said, I always jump over this Lerner and Loewe song, mostly because, once you have heard it, its novelty wears off. It's a song of exposition, catching us up on what happened at the ball (but the song's title gives away any suspense, telling us the outcome before it should). My Fair Lady is a classic and there is no denying that every song works for a reason. I’ve just grown tired of “You Did It” and cannot wait to get to the next track.
Guys and Dolls
"More I Cannot Wish You"
This is a lovely song when it is sung just about anywhere else but on the original cast album of Guys & Dolls. Frank Loesser never wrote a bad song, and this ditty of paternal kindliness is one of his most sentimental. As rendered by Pat Rooney, Sr., however, it is hard to listen to. Though it may not have been intended, I've always felt his interpretation came with a drunken Irish brogue, as if his character had just stumbled in from Glocca Morra with a large flagon of whiskey. It hurts my heart to skip it, but I almost always do when listening to that recording.
This may be the most controversial title on my list, but it doesn't change how much this song just irritates me. Maybe it's the fact that it is so effectively hypnotic (sort of its point) that it almost puts me to sleep? Maybe it's the fact that it feels like it goes on forever that it almost puts me to sleep? Either way, I find it to be a tedious song that loses my interest about a third of the way in. Crucify me if you must, but I've always felt this song stunts the momentum of South Pacific's plot.
"The Motherhood March"
This song, with music and lyrics by Bob Merrill, feels slightly out of place with the rest of the score predominantly written by Jerry Herman. The song has little to do with integrated plot and is sung by the title character and company as a device to distract and confuse the crotchety Horace Vandergelder. It is mostly patriotic gibberish sung in a most unflattering way by Carol Channing (as Dolly). Between its lack of deeper purpose and the painful strains of Channing squawking the word "march" over and over again, this song is easily jumped. For the record, it plays much better within the context of a production.
The Phantom of the Opera
"Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again"
Most of my readership knows that this musical is not particularly one of my favorites, but I will confess that parts of the score are among my guilty pleasures. One song, however, that you will never hear me choose is "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again". The sentiment is right and within the show it is an effective sequence, I just can't seem to get excited about listening to it. Melodic repetitiveness is a big part of my frustration, and I feel like the lyrics are the Hallmark card equivalent to generalized grief. Still, Andrew Lloyd Webber's melody does stick with you, enough so that I never have a hard time jumping over this melancholy ballad. I’ll let my memories be enough.
"All Good Gifts"
Stephen Schwartz's Godspell has been done in every barn, church basement and on every window ledge that can support a medium-sized cast and minimally-sized musical. The score is rich and evocative without being particularly overflowing with character development. The melodies are catchy and the lyrics are fun to sing. The only number that has ever left me cold is "All Good Gifts", a hymn-like song of praise that feels just a little too empty of sincere, character driven emotion. I used to believe that it was the performance by Lamar Alford on the original cast album that turned me off to the song, but subsequent recordings have left me feeling just as detached. I wish I could pinpoint the reasons for my apathy on this song and find a way to love it.
"One Song Glory"
The "one great song" that Roger is working on and hoping to complete before he dies doesn't ever prove to be anything special. What's worse, his first big "I Want" song "One Song Glory" is a whiny, angst-ridden, solemn affair that neither conveys any musical talent for the character (maybe that’s the point?), nor does it do anything to make me want to root for him. Since Roger seems to be the central character of the piece, I need something to make me get on board for his journey. Jonathan Larson’s “One Song Glory” is not that song for me.
West Side Story
"I Feel Pretty"
I know that it's a tension breaker in a show full of serious themes and tragedies galore, but "I Feel Pretty" sung by Maria, Anita and the other Shark girls is so ridiculously chirpy that I find it cloying. It is nowhere near being Leonard Bernstein's greatest tune, and even Stephen Sondheim himself has criticized his lyrics for not being cut from the same cloth as the character. Obviously, many people love the song, and it does serve its purpose within the show, but I prefer something a little less abrasive.
"All I Need Is the Girl"
I know it's a part of the buildup that leads to Dainty June packing up and leaving her obsessed stage mother, but when the chorus boy Tulsa sings this song to June's sister Louise to demonstrate a new act (and thus June’s escape plan) he has concocted, it is the one moment in Gypsy where I am not entirely rapt. I think this comes from the fact that we know so little about Tulsa; I have a hard time caring about his schemes or his dreams, socare even less about the act he’s put together. The song feels like a forced reason to dance (which on one level it is) but it is also a dull exercise in creating the impetus for plot development. The rest of Jule Styne's and Stephen Sondheim's score is so dynamic, it's easy to find fault in the one serviceable song in the score. Skip.
The biggest groaner on my list I saved for last. Wicked brims with electrically charged melodies and lyrics of motivating empowerment that any song that takes a subtle approach is bound to get lost in the grandeur. Then, give us a song like "Something Bad", sung by a half-human/half-goat, and you now have one of the hardest songs to sit through in musical theatre history. It's menacing but mediocre melody, and its banal lyrics married to the occasional goat bleats, just makes the whole thing very laughable. Press that fast-forward button and send me “Dancing through” to a better song.
So…these are my opinions on the topic of “hard to listen to” showtunes. Do you have any to add to the list that are hard for you to get through?