Monday, April 3, 2017

You Don't Really Hate Broadway Music, You Just Think You Do

The other day I put together a list of great Broadway songs that kids will enjoy, but as I was putting it together, I had to eliminate a lot of great songs from the list because their subject matter was just a little too mature or complicated for young kids, or because they were too "ballad-y" or slow. But there are some terrific songs out there that adults who *think* they don't like Broadway music will be surprised to find that they enjoy. Most of these are from more contemporary musicals, but there are some from the earlier "golden era" of American musicals.

"Anthem" from Chess (Andersson and Ulvaeus)
A musical about chess, written by the guys from ABBA, seriously? Yes, seriously. In fact, if you lived through the 80s and listened to the radio ever, you already know a song from this show: "One Night in Bangkok." Not an especially typical song from the show, but certainly indicative of its varied, more-pop-than-legit-Broadway style. And yet, the score includes some gorgeous, more traditional ballads, including "Anthem," a moving and patriotic "love song" to Mother Russia. Other notable songs from the show include "Someone Else's Story," "A Model of Decorum and Tranquility" (a fascinatingly intricate quartet), "Nobody's Side," "Heaven Help My Heart," and "I Know Him So Well."

"The Story Goes On" from Baby (Maltby and Shire)

The musical "Baby" is the story of three couples who find themselves unexpectedly expecting: a young, unmarried pair of college students; a couple who has struggled with infertility; and an older pair of empty-nesters with completely different feelings about the possibility of having another child. This particular number is sung by the youngest mother-to-be as she thinks about how having a child connects her to her own mother and grandmother, and all the mothers before her. If this song doesn't bring a tear to your eye, you have a hard, hard heart. Other great songs from this show: "I Want It All," "What Could Be Better," "I Chose Right," and "Two People in Love."

"I Feel So Much Spring" from A New Brain (William Finn)
Yet another unexpected theme for a musical: a near-death experience from a blood vessel problem in the composer's brain. But as he comes to grip with his fear of dying, he learns to look at his life in a new way and discovers a new appreciation for those he loves. Songs range from funny to poignant, and include "I'd Rather be Sailing," "Time and Music," and "They're Off."

"I Can Do Better Than That" from The Last Five Years (Jason Robert Brown)
The most interesting conceit of this musical is that the two main characters follow opposite timelines, with Cathy reliving the relationship beginning with its breakup and going backwards until their meeting, and Jamie starting when the meet and ending at the end of the relationship. The show itself is not to everyone's taste, and is probably not the best introduction to musical theatre for a non-fan, but the songs stand alone as stories beautifully, and JRB's melodies and arrangements are catchy and memorable. Other great songs from this score include "Still Hurting," "Climbing Uphill" (especially hilarious to anyone who's ever auditioned for a show, but still pretty funny if you haven't), "Shiksa Goddess," and "The Next Ten Minutes."

"The Streets of Dublin" from A Man of No Importance (Ahrens and Flaherty)
I dare you to not sing along with this charming love song to a city (you'll do the accent, too - you know you will). It'll make you want to book the next plane to Ireland. I particularly enjoy the orchestration, with guitar, tin whistle, and fiddle giving it a true Irish pub feel. Other wonderful - albeit quite different - songs from this show include "Love Who You Love," "Going Up," and "Books."

"Don't Marry Me" from Flower Drum Song (Rodgers and Hammerstein)
R&H's 1958 musical didn't do badly on Broadway, but its Asian stereotypes have not aged well, and a 2002 Broadway revival with a completely rewritten book (but mostly unchanged score) lasted only six months. There are a number of fun songs from the show, however, including "I Enjoy Being a Girl," "A Hundred Million Miracles," and "Love, Look Away."

"Expressing Yourself" from Billy Elliot (Lee Hall and Elton John)
Continuing the theme of "unexpected plots," this musical about a young boy from a mining town in Northern England who wants to be a ballet dancer contains very non-traditional musical styles, although this particular piece has a very vaudeville feel. Other great songs include "Electricity," "Once We Were Kings," and "Deep Into the Ground."

"This is the Moment" from Jekyll and Hyde (Wildhorn, Bricusse, and Cuden)
Not surprisingly, this score includes a number of powerful emotional songs for the title character - well, characters, actually. The big eleven o'clock number is sung by the lead actor as he transforms back and forth between his two personas (David Hasselhoff, of all people, does a rather impressive performance of this number), but I find this earlier song from Dr. Jekyll as he triumphantly prepares to take his formula for the first time to be as impressive a number. Other numbers worth listening to from this show include "Facade," "Someone Like You," "No One Knows Who I Am," and "In His Eyes."

"Lonesome Polecat" from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Mercer, Kasha, Hirschhorn, and de Paul)
A funny song to listen to, this number is even better when the marvelous prop choreography is included, as six of the seven brothers mourn their singleness while cutting logs, incorporating axes, saws, and stumps into the slow and graceful dance. But my favorite part is the hilarious contrast of the soft, almost lullaby-like melody and balletic dance with lyrics like "can't make no vows to a herd of cows" and "a man can't sleep when he sleeps with sheep." Other delightful numbers from this show (most of which are even better when watching the choreography) include "Bless Your Beautiful Hide," "Goin' Courtin'," "Sobbin' Women," and "Wonderful Day."

"Take Me or Leave Me" from Rent (Jonathan Larson)

Disclaimer: I don't like this show. (Sorry. Please don't hurt me.) But boy are there some terrific songs in this score, and this is one of several that I can't help singing along with. Other singable songs include "Seasons of Love," "One Song Glory," "Light My Candle," "What You Own," and "I'll Cover You."

"Two Nobodies in New York" from [title of show] (Jeff Bowen)
A musical about writing a musical is an interesting concept even for non-musical fans, and this show pokes fun at itself in a way that's just as entertaining for non-theatre buffs as it is for musical fans. With only four characters, the songs are simple, with no huge production numbers, but rely on clever lyrics and rhymes and realistic storytelling. Other fun songs include "What Kind of Girl Is She?," "Nine People's Favorite Thing," and "Filling Out the Form."

"You Can't Stop the Beat" from Hairspray (Shaiman and Wittman)

This peppy, upbeat 60s-inspired score is full of fabulous songs - you'll feel like you know every number, even if you've never heard them before. Other great songs you'll find yourself singing along to include "Good Morning, Baltimore," "Welcome to the 60s," "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now," "I Can Hear the Bells," "Big, Blonde, and Beautiful," and "Without Love."

"Let It Go" from The Full Monty (David Yazbek)
A bunch of unemployed steelworkers decide to take up stripping to help meet their bills. At times funny and at times poignant and despairing, this musical is surprisingly deep for its surface plot. Other great songs from the score include "Man," "Big Black Man," and the sweetly haunting "You Walk with Me."

"Big Bright Beautiful World" from Shrek, the Musical (Tesori and Lindsay-Abair)
Capturing the same irreverent humor as the animated film on which it was based, this song sums up the whole style of the musical as young Shrek's parents unceremoniously toss him out of the house and into the "big, bright beautiful world." Other great songs include "I Know It's Today," "Travel Song," "I Think I Got You Beat," and "The Ballad of Farquaad."

Other great songs and shows to check out:
"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from Spamalot (Eric Idle) - also "I am Not Dead Yet," "The Song That Goes Like This," ""Find Your Grail," and "You Won't Succeed on Broadway."
"We Can Do It" from The Producers (Mel Brooks) - also "I Wanna Be a Producer," "If You've Got It, Flaunt It," "Keep It Gay," and "Springtime for Hitler."
"Not for the Life of Me" from Thoroughly Modern Millie (Tesori and Scanlan) - also "The Speed Test," "They Don't Know," "Forget About the Boy," and "Gimme Gimme."
"What is This Feeling" from Wicked (Stephen Schwartz) - also "The Wizard and I," "Dancing Through Life," "Popular," "One Short Day," "For Good," and of course, "Defying Gravity."
"Mine" from On The Twentieth Century (Comden and Green) - also "Never," "Repent," "I've Got It All, " "Veronique," and "Five Zeros."
"Make Them Hear You" from Ragtime (Ahrens and Flaherty) - also "Prologue," "The Crime of the Century," "New Music," "What a Game," "Till We Reach That Day," "Your Daddy's Son," and "On the Wheels of a Dream."
"You're Nothing Without Me" from City of Angels (Coleman and Zippel) - also "The Tennis Song," "What You Don't Know About Women," "Everybody's Gotta Be Somewhere," "Ya Gotta Look Out for Yourself," and "Funny."

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