Friday, March 31, 2017

Broadway Music for Kids

OK, I've covered pop music for kids and classical music for kids, so no-one who knows me should be surprised in the least that I'm following it up with the best Broadway music for kids. There are some marvelous shows out there that are specifically geared for younger audiences (Honk!; A Year with Frog and Toad; You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown; Matilda) come to mind. But even aside from those shows, there are some terrific songs from non-kid shows that can serve as wonderful introductions to the huge genre that is show tunes.

I'll start my list with some classics that you, the parent, may already know - you'll see plenty of Rodgers and Hammerstein on this list, as well as Lerner and Lowe and Kander and Ebb, and some names you may not recognize unless you're a theatre buff. (Please note that I have avoided Disney shows, mainly because your kids probably already know 90% of the music from their shows.) But I'll follow it up with some more contemporary composers, plus some terrific songs from shows that were...well, not so terrific.

Classics from the Golden Age of Theatre

"The Stepsisters' Lament" from Cinderella (Rodgers and Hammerstein)
Any number from this show is a particularly good introduction to theatre for a number of reasons: 1) the original 1957 television production is commercially available; 2) kids are already familiar with the story; 3) there is plenty of broad comedy that even the youngest kids will enjoy; and 4) the colorful, fantastical sets and costumes are a treat for the eyes. "The Stepsisters' Lament", in which Cinderella's stepsisters pout that the prince is paying attention to another girl instead of them, wondering "Why would a fella want a girl like her, a girl who's merely lovely? Why can't a fella ever once prefer a girl who's merely me?", is a particularly good choice because it's funny, singable, and short. Other good kids' songs from this show include "In My Own Little Corner", "Impossible", "Ten Minutes Ago," and "The Prince is Giving a Ball".

"The Brotherhood of Man" from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Frank Loesser)
The story of a young man trying to quickly climb the business ladder in the early 1950s, the show itself is somewhat dated ("Cinderella, Darling", a song in which the secretaries discuss the importance of marrying the boss, was cut from the 1995 revival), many numbers from the score have held up well, and this jazzy, upbeat number is great fun to sing along to. Other songs from the score that kids might enjoy include "Coffee Break," "Been a Long Day," Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm," and "I Believe in You".

"I Cain't Say No" from Oklahoma (Rodgers and Hammerstein)
Classic Rodgers and Hammerstein, half the fun of this particular number is the delightful accent ("s'posin' that he says that yer sweeter'n cream an' he's gotta have cream er die"), and the other half of the fun is the delightful melody. The show itself has some dark and mature themes (shotgun weddings, stalking, murder), but it balances them with many fun and upbeat numbers, including "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top," "Kansas City", "Many a New Day," and "All Er Nuthin'".

"Shy" from Once Upon a Mattress (Mary Rodgers)
This whimsical retelling of the story of the princess and the pea was penned by Mary Rodgers, daughter of Richard Rodgers and an accomplished composer and children's author in her own right. The hilarity of this number is that Princess Winnifred (aka "Fred"), who has just swum the moat to meet the prince because she was too impatient to wait for the drawbridge, is anything but "shy". Carol Burnett originated the role on Broadway, and there have been multiple revivals and television versions starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Tracey Ullman, and others as Winnifred. Other delightful numbers in the show include "Sensitivity," "The Swamps of Home," and "Happily Ever After."

"Do-Re-Mi" from The Sound of Music (Rodgers and Hammerstein)
This one is so obvious that I almost didn't include it in the list. The Sound of Music is practically a primer in musical theatre. It's a great introduction because the movie version is so well done, and it's a staple in community theatre so you can easily find an affordable live production nearby just about any time. It also has an interesting historical setting, so can serve as a kickoff for a discussion of what it must have been like living under the fear of Nazi invasion. The entire score is wonderful numbers, but particular standouts for kids include "My Favorite Things," "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," "The Lonely Goatherd," and "So Long, Farewell."

"Tevye's Dream" from Fiddler on the Roof (Bock and Harnick)
Another musical with a great historical context, Fiddler on the Roof is the story of a devout Jewish milkman living in a small Russian village in 1905. Tevye, his wife, and his five daughters struggle with balancing their religious and cultural traditions with the "new world" that keeps encroaching on them. Tevye arranges a marriage for his eldest daughter, but she talks him into breaking the agreement so that she can marry for love. Tevye, fearing his wife's wrath, pretends to have a dream in which he receives a sign that the arranged marriage will be a terrible disaster, and that the love match will be blessed. The score is a marvelous blend of sweet and poignant songs ("Sabbath Prayer," "Far from the Home I Love," "Chaveleh," "Anatevka"), and funny and upbeat ones ("Miracle of Miracles," "If I Were a Rich Man," "Now I Have Everything," "Do You Love Me?").

"Fugue for Tinhorns" from Guys and Dolls (Frank Loesser)
Better known by most people as "I Got the Horse Right Here" or "that horse racing song", "Fugue for Tinhorns" introduces us to the world of Guys and Dolls with three gamblers proclaiming the relative merits of the horses they are betting on. With funny lyrics ("For Paul Revere I'll bite, I hear his foot's all right - of course, it all depends if it rained last night" and "I go for Valentine, 'cause on the morning line, the guy has got him figured at five to nine"), cleverly intertwined vocal lines, and colorful accents, it's no wonder that this number is usually performed with little to no choreography - it doesn't need it! The score is full of catchy tunes, and kids will especially enjoy "A Bushel and a Peck," "Adelaide's Lament," "Take Back Your Mink," "Marry the Man Today," and of course, "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat".

Other great numbers to check out:
"Anything You Can Do" from Annie Get Your Gun (Irving Berlin) - also "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly," "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun," "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Who Do You Love, I Hope", and "I Got the Sun in the Mornin'".
"I Won't Grow Up" from Peter Pan (Charlap, Styne, Leigh, Comden and Green) - also "I Gotta Crow," "I'm Flying," and "Hook's Tango".
"I Don't Need Anything But You" from Annie (Strouse and Charnin) - also "It's the Hard Knock Life," "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here," "Easy Street," "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile," and "NYC".
"Getting to Know You" from The King and I (Rodgers and Hammerstein) - also "I Whistle a Happy Tune," "March of the Royal Siamese Children," "A Puzzlement," "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?", and "The Small House of Uncle Thomas".
"There Once Was a Man" from The Pajama Game (Adler and Ross) - also "Racing with the Clock," "Once a Year Day," "Steam Heat," "Think of the Time I Save," and "7-1/2 Cents".
"I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" from The Pirates of Penzance (Gilbert and Sullivan) - also "Climbing Over Rocky Mountain," "When the Foeman Bares His Steel," and "With Catlike Tread".

Contemporary/Lesser Known Songs

"What a Remarkable Age" from Titanic (Maury Yeston)
Yet another interesting historical setting, in this number the upper-class passengers acknowledge how privileged they are to live in an age of technological advancements, not only the ship they are sailing on, but things like cellophane and the parachute - and alternating with them are the ship's servers, acknowledging who privileged they are to be serving their wealthy "clientele" so worthily and so well. Many people think of this as a "dark" musical, but I find it a fascinating study of the various classes, as well as how people react to their imminent deaths (many with surprising nobility and self-sacrifice). Other notable songs include "In Every Age," "Dressed in Your Pyjamas in the Grand Salon," "Lady's Maid," and "Doing the Latest Rag."

"Twenty Million People" from My Favorite Year (Ahrens and Flaherty) -
Based on the 1982 film of the same name, which starred Peter O'Toole as drunken, Erroll Flynn-esque superstar Allan Swann (played by Tim Curry in the musical) and Mark Linn-Baker as Benjy Stone, a young writer assigned to keep Swann sober and out of trouble until his appearance on "The King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade" (similar to Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows"), this musical offers the audience a glimpse of the backstage chaos that goes into creating a variety show. "Twenty Million People" pretty much sums up the whole plot, with the star throwing a tantrum (caution: he does repeatedly exclaim, "This is crap!" during this song), the writers frantically rewriting material and making sure the actors all have the current script, costumers and makeup artists making last-second touch-ups, actors having stage fright, and the audience sitting down by their television sets, completely unaware of the insanity that is happening. The show involves a great deal of physical and visual comedy which doesn't always translate into recordings, but other fun songs from the show include "Funny/The Duck Joke," and "Professional Showbizness Comedy".

"On the Steps of the Palace" from Into the Woods (Stephen Sondheim) - Prologue
Another fairytale adaptation, this time a darker look at multiple tales, including Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel, Sondheim's score is complicated but clever, and although extremely difficult to sing in many cases, it's fascinating to listen to. In this particular song, Cinderella explains her dilemma of whether or not to allow herself to be caught by the prince, in the end admitting, "I know what my decision is, which is not to decide. I'll just leave him a clue - for example, a shoe - and then see what he'll do..." The first act of the show is lighter in tone than the second, and can stand on its own - in fact, the "Junior" version of the show is merely the first act, with some simplified music - but the second act introduces some complications, finally ending with all the characters having gotten their wishes (for good or for ill), and yet ending exactly where we began, with Cinderella murmuring once again, "I wish..." Other songs which are interesting to listen to (some may be less interesting or possibly inappropriate for younger children) include "Prologue," "I Know Things Now," "He's a Very Nice Prince," "It Takes Two," "Agony," "No One is Alone," and "Witch's Rap."

"Here I Am" from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (David Yazbek)
Based on the hilarious 1988 film starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin as a pair of con men attempting to fleece wealthy women (and - SPOILER! - getting fleeced themselves by one of their marks, played by Glenne Headley), the 2004 musical starred John Lithgow, Norbert Leo Butz, and Sherie Renee Scott. In this charming number, the "American soap queen" arrives at a tropical destination, bubbling with exuberance at the adventures before her. The plot involves seduction, double-crosses, and a good amount of sexual innuendo, so is not especially appropriate for young children, but there are still a few songs that are fun even out of context, including: "Chimp in a Suit" (in which a character emphasizes that clothes don't make the man) and "Like Zis/Like Zat".

"The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes" from Once On This Island (Ahrens and Flaherty)
A musical which deserves to be much more well-known than it is, "OOTI" (as theatre folk often refer to it) tells the tale of the conflict between the poor natives and the wealthy mixed-race "Beauxhommes" on an island in the French Antilles, and how they are brought together by the love of a native girl for an injured Beauxhomme, all supervised by the gods of love, water, the earth, and death. The delightful score by the composers of Ragtime. Seussical, A Man of No Importance, Lucky Stiff, and Rocky (and who also composed and performed a lot of songs for Schoolhouse Rock) includes many pretty and catchy tunes, including "We Dance," "One Small Girl," "Wating for Life," "Mama Will Provide," "Some Say," and "Why We Tell the Story."

"A Trip to the Library" from She Loves Me (Bock and Harnick)
Based on the same Hungarian play that inspired the Jimmy Stewart film "The Shop Around the Corner", Judy Garland's musical film "In the Good Old Summertime", and the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan film "You've Got Mail", She Loves Me is the story of two store employees that can't stand each other but strike up a friendship via correspondence (not knowing each other's real identity), and eventually fall in love. This funny and charming number is sung by one of the other store employees, who has just been dumped by her womanizing boyfriend (yet another employee), and discovers that she's been chasing after the wrong kind of man all along. Other terrific songs from this score include "Vanilla Ice Cream," "Dear Friend," and "Twelve Days to Christmas".

"When I Get My Name in Lights" from The Boy from Oz (Peter Allen)
The life story of Australian singer/songwriter Peter Allen, this musical was put together using strictly Allen's existing body of work. Characters include the legendary Judy Garland and her daughter Liza Minelli, to whom Allen was married for some time, despite his homosexuality. Although the show itself is not particularly child-friendly, the pop score includes many familiar and fun tunes, such as "Best That You Can Do," "I Honestly Love You," and "Everything Old is New Again."

"Little People" from Les Miserables (Schoenberg and Boublil)
Children will love this song of "child empowerment", sung by the young character Gavroche, as he exposes the villain Javert, summed up in the lyrics, "And little people know when little people fight, we may look easy pickings but we've got some bite." Although many of the songs in the score are somewhat heavy or emotionally overwrought, kids will enjoy "Castle on a Cloud," "Masters of the House," and "Do You Hear the People Sing?".

"Seize the Day" from Newsies (Menken and Feldman)
Technically, Newsies is a Disney musical, but it's not really in the same category as shows like The Lion King, Aladdin, Little Mermaid, etc., so I'm going to include it. I did struggle with choosing just a single song from this youthful and energetic show, but this particular number is one of my favorites. Other great songs include "King of New York," "The World Will Know," "Carrying the Banner," and "Something to Believe In."

"Neat to Be a Newsboy" from Working (multiple)
This unusual plotless musical, based on Studs Terkel's book of the same name, is a study of people from all walks of life and how they feel about what they do for a living. Characters include a waitress, a teacher, a housewife, a businessman, a hooker, a CEO, some truckers, masons and a construction worker, a cashier, a retiree, and more. Kids will particularly enjoy the story of this young entrepreneurial newsboy, but also "Lovin' Al," about a valet driver; "Millwork" and "Brother Trucker" (both written by James Taylor); "It's an Art," about being a waitress; "Cleanin' Women," about laborers working towards a better life for their children; and "Something to Point to," which talks about our human need for tangible accomplishments.

Other contemporary songs to check out:
"What It Means to be a Friend" from 13: The Musical (Jason Robert Brown)
"Trash" from A...My Name is Alice (multiple composers) - also "Welcome to Kindergarten, Mrs. Johnson," "Bluer Than You," and "All Girl Band"
"We Want to Take the Ladies Out" from Just So (Drewe and Stiles) - also "There's No Harm in Asking," "The Parsee Cake Walk," and "Please Don't Touch My Stove".
"The Rum Tum Tugger" from Cats (Andrew Lloyd Weber) - also "Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer," "Growltiger's Last Stand," "Macavity: The Mystery Cat," "Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat," and "Mister Mistoffelees".
"Oh My God, You Guys" from Legally Blonde (O'Keefe and Benjamin) - also "So Much Better," "Whipped Into Shape," and "Bend and Snap".
"My Strongest Suit" from Aida (John and Rice) - also "Fortune Favors the Brave," "The Gods Love Nubia," and "Every Story is a Love Story".