When Is a Broadway Love Song… Not A Love Song?
Today I thought it would be interesting to explore a certain type of Broadway love song. There are many Broadway showtunes that are declarations of love, an all-out celebration of (usually) boy-meets-girl or vice-versa and they fall instantly in love. But not every love song from musicals is an overt declaration of amour. Some of these ditties are more subtle in their approach, or ironically deny the possibility of love altogether. Here is a list of examples of some of these love songs that seem to contradict the romances that evolve from them.
“People Will Say We’re In Love” from Oklahoma!
Oscar Hammerstein, II’s lyrics for the song “People Will Say We’re in Love” make a great argument against love, but in their protestations, the characters of Laurey and Curly show us that they have certainly become smitten. Marry the lyrics to Richard Rodgers’ lovely melody that sounds like a love song, and we know in that contrast that the couple are simply fighting their natural urges.
“Old Devil Moon” from Finian’s Rainbow
t has been written about E.Y. Harburg that his lyrics seldom declare true love, but instead blame outside influences such as illusion and magic for its occurrence. Think of his lyrics for “It’s Only a Paper Moon” and you’ll see what I mean:
“It's a Barnum & Bailey world
Just as phony as it can be
But it wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me”
These themes carry throughout his work, particularly obvious in “Old Devil Moon” from the musical Finian’s Rainbow. In this case, the two eventual lovers Sharon and Woody blame their attraction on the moon and a suggested witchcraft that will become a more serious plot point later in the show. Burton Lane’s music seems to underscore that hocus pocus. Devil-inspired or not, it doesn’t stop the duo from getting married.
“Almost Like Being in Love” from Brigadoon
When Tommy Albright realizes that he is falling for the bonnie lass Fiona MacLaren in the musical Brigadoon, he doesn’t outright announce it. Instead, he reflects on the feeling as “almost like being in love.” The Alan J. Lerner lyrics suggest that maybe the sun gave him the power or the air gave him the drive. External forces must be at play. After all, Tommy did stumble on a magical town that appears once every hundred years.
“I’m Not At All In Love” from The Pajama Game
When pajama factory worker Babe Williams meets the new superintendent Sid Sorokin, the two are at odds on a labor dispute that is leading to a union strike. As much as Babe dislikes his stance, she finds Sid charming, something she is loathed to admit. When her co-workers rib her about the obvious, she denies their assumptions in the song “I’m Not At All In Love.” The Adler and Ross song works wonderfully within the show, step-by-step revealing that Babe is, in fact, head-over-heels for Sid.
“Here’s To Your Illusions” from Flahooley
Here we are again, at the mercy of E.Y. Harburg’s assertion that true love cannot exist and that some outside force is required for couples to come together. “Here’s To You Illusions” from the short-lived musical Flahooleyare arguably some of his finest lyrics. In this case, it is the idea of love and not love itself that is the suggested catalyst of romance. The lyrics “Here’s to all your dreams, here’s to your illusions, may they always lead you into my arms” speak of trickery and misguided intentions. Of course, the Sammy Fain music helps to hypnotize, spinning a melody that most certainly suggests romance, even as Harburg’s lyrics state otherwise.
“Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” from Pal Joey
Can a rich, married woman fall in love with her kept boy? By all accounts in the Rodgers and Hart musical Pal Joey, it is quite possible. Even though Vera Simpson knows that her long term prospects are limited where Joey Evans is concerned, she sings of the carnal pleasures she enjoys with him in “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” But as the song progresses, we learn that it is not merely a physical attraction, it is an obsession. Vera is in love with the lothario.
“Lost my heart but what of it?
My mistake, I agree
He's a laugh, but I love it
Because the laugh's on me”
“If I Loved You” from Carousel
One of the most complex sequences in musical theatre is the famous bench scene from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. The stubborn factory worker Julie Jordan and the cocky carousel barker Billy Bigelow have just met under difficult circumstances. Both of them are awkward in their ability to share their feelings, choosing to share what would happen “If” they were in love with each other. The situation suggests love at first site, with both willing to sacrifice their employment and subject themselves to criticism for their attraction. It isn’t until much later in the show, when their marriage has devolved and Billy dies that they can admit their love.