A Crotchety Person’s Broadway Valentine’s Day Playlist: 14 Broadway Songs to Celebrate a Shot from Cupid’s Arrow
If you are like me, a bitter, sarcastic Muppet-like creature, Valentine’s Day isn’t exactly your cup of tea. We of this ilk condemn the holiday as a commercially created reason to spend money on cards, flowers, sweets, and for the most entrenched of us, jewelry. We bemoan the coming of old February 14 and pray to God that Cupid’s arrow misfires and lands squarely between his own cherubic eyes.
There are, however, hopeless romantics out there who embrace Valentine’s Day as a reason to pour out their love (or at least exercise their stalker-like tendencies). They are the secret admirers who send anonymous love notes, the tentative teenagers who blush at holding hands, or the passionate lovers who cannot get enough of some “slap and tickle”. It is for these folks that Valentine’s Day exists.
For the Broadway fan celebrating Valentine’s Day, there are hundreds of terrific songs of romance that set the mood for amour. Even I can shed my crusty-crotchetiness with a dose of musical theatre-style love. Here are fourteen (one or each day of February leading up to Valentine’s Day) that never fail to bring out the romantic in this non-believer.
“She Loves Me” from She Loves Me
Romantic exuberance has never been caught in a Broadway musical quite the way that the title song from She Loves Me (music by Jerry Bock/lyrics by Sheldon Harnick) evokes it. Spitting, and sputtering, the character of Georg, having realized his secret pen pal is in love with him, frolics and cavorts on the streets of Budapest. His focus is all over the place as he lists the symptoms of his strange behavior. The scattered way in which he celebrates his newly-recognized love is refreshingly true to how our minds operate on a dose of Love Potion #9.
“Till There Was You” from The Music Man
An uptight librarian and a con-artist traveling salesman become unlikely lovers when his scams serve to bring a small town together in music. Her loneliness falls away when she finally makes a connection with the huckster, and he finds himself so taken by her that he is unable to run away from the lies he has told. “Till There Was You”, by composer/lyricist Meredith Willson, is her emotional outpouring after being bottled up, a soaring melody overflowing with heart.
“It Only Takes a Moment” from Hello, Dolly!
Composer/lyricist Jerry Herman isn’t only capable of big, brassy showtunes. Sometimes, he paints in subtler, more nuanced hues. The song “It Only Takes a Moment” from Hello, Dolly! is a touching example of how newfound love can take a quieter, gentler musical turn. When shop boy Cornelius Hackl confesses his love for hat shop owner Irene Molloy in front of a courtroom full of people, he does it in this sweetly, understated song.
“I’ll Cover You” from Rent
The drag queen drummer Angel and the brilliant bohemian Tom Collins may have been an unlikely couple, but they fall in love just the same in Jonathan Larson’s Rent. When Rent first opened on Broadway in 1996, we hadn’t seen too many love songs between men. “I’ll Cover You” is special (in-its-own-right) for being so audacious, but what is even better is that it is heartfelt and pure in its intentions.
“Tonight” from West Side Story
Since it is inspired by Romeo and Juliet, it is no surprise that West Side Story’s equivalent to famous “Balcony Scene” is just as romantic. Set on the fire escapes of the Upper West Side, the song “Tonight” (music by Leonard Bernstein/lyrics by Stephen Sondheim), features the star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria as they have a secret meeting and profess their love for each other. They wish the night to go on forever, knowing that being associated with opposing gangs will mean they can never be together permanently.
“How Could I Ever Know?” from The Secret Garden
The story of The Secret Garden is one of the most romantic of all musicals. Uncle Archibald Craven has been grieving the death of his pregnant wife Lily who died after the tree she was sitting in broke and brought on early childbirth. Haunted by her ghost and his undying love for her, he finally resolves that he must move past his grief and live life again, but not before he sings one last duet with her. Lucy Simon (music) and Marsha Norman (lyrics) wrote the soaring “How Could I Ever Know?”, that one last “I love you” before moving on. It’s a heartbreaking but beautiful moment.
“I Got Love” from Purlie
The female equivalent of the title song from She Loves Me, “I Got Love” from Purlie is just as full of the same emotional buoyancy and unbridled excitement in its declaration of love. In this case, Luttiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins, the sidekick of the “newfangled preacher man” Puriie Victorious, is so taken with her scheming lover that she cannot help but sing his praises at the top of her lungs. Gary Geld wrote the jubilant melody and Peter Udell the joyous lyrics.
“Happiness” from Passion
The opening number of Stephen Sondheim’s Passion was a surprise to audiences, when the curtain went up of the soldier Giorgio and his ladylove Clara, stark naked, rolling around in bed and having sex. The lyrics, however, reveal that this is more than a mere tryst, but rather a special kind of romance, one that brings on “so much happiness, endless happiness”. There is vacillation between reticence and bursting joy that this song perfectly encapsulates.
“A Quiet Thing” from Flora, The Red Menace
Sure, Kander and Ebb are known for their razzle dazzle showtunes, but they were just as capable of creating intimate, understated songs that didn’t require sequins and feathers to sell them. One such song is “A Quiet Thing” from Flora, the Red Menace, sung by the title character who declares that love can sometimes be something small and wonderful, not all bells and whistles.
“Love Changes Everything” from Aspects of Love
In Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Aspects of Love, the theme of romance permeates the piece throughout. “Love Changes Everything”, sung by the young protagonist Alex, is a summation of what love does to us and all the different things that love can be (the good and the bad). The majesty of Webber’s melody and the poetic lyrics of Don Black and Charles Hart make this song the anthem of all things amour.
“My Heart is So Full of You” from The Most Happy Fella
When it comes to sheer effectiveness in regards to character-driven musical writing, Frank Loesser may be the best composer-lyricist to ever work in the biz. Loesser had a way of capturing emotional moments perfectly and with great honesty. His most heartfelt show is The Most Happy Fella and “My Heart if So Full of You” may well be his crowning achievement in songs, having created a melody and lyric that simply tugs at your heart and gives you that big aching feeling at your very center.
“Love Sneaks In” from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
“Romance” may be the last thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the hijinks and humor associated with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but composer David Yazbek managed to sneak in a gentle torch song with “Love Sneaks In”. High-end gigolo and con-artist Lawrence Jameson, infamous for scamming rich women out of their fortunes, finds himself falling in love with one of his targets. The haunting number is all about the finding yourself in love when it creeps up on you and surprises you.
“Unexpected Song” from Song & Dance
I don’t think that any other Andrew Lloyd Webber song radiates as much joy as “Unexpected Song” from the musical Song & Dance. Composing a vibrant melody, an outpouring of untethered excitement is captured in his music. Don Black’s lyrics only add to the elation as an English woman transplanted to America sings of the love she finds herself in and in the most unexpected of ways.
“If I Loved You” from Carousel
No list of Broadway love songs is complete without “If I Loved You” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. It’s always ranked amongst my favorites because it is not an outright expression or admission of love, but rather a musing of what love could be like, if both parties were onboard for the experience. Of course, carousel barker Billy Bigelow and millworker Julie Jordan have just met, and yet they seem to have a fascination with each other that might lead to love. Considering their dysfunctional relationship that eventually evolves, it is understandable that their first duet shows off their stubbornness and their inability to express their exact feelings. Isn’t this how we all are where love is concerned, or is this just the curmudgeonly amongst us (like me)?