THE 10 BEST BROADWAY "I WANT..." SONGS
Before I continue with the list, there is a bit of criteria that goes into choosing a good "I Want..." Song (and there are often exceptions to each rule):
1) The song usually has to appear in the musical within the first 30-40 minutes, which for those of you going by the CD or iTunes track listings means one of the first 3-5 songs. Musicals are usually 2-2 1/2 hours long (including an intermission), so to build a strong lead character, that song has to come early in the evening.
2) The song is most often sung by the lead (or one of the leads). Most musicals have the standard two-person lead, whether it be a male and a female (i.e. My Fair Lady, West Side Story) or two males (i.e. The Producers, La Cage Aux Folles) or two females (i.e. Wicked, Chicago). The "I Want..." Song must be sung by one of these people (if not both).
3) To be a really great "I Want..." Song, it must have a catchy hook in its melody that can often be repeated throughout the rest of the show. For example, "Part of Your World" in The Little Mermaid starts out when Ariel sings to her fish friend Flounder about how she longs to be human (then titled "Part of That World"). The song is later reprised when she meets the handsome Prince Eric and saves his life (making the song "Part of Your World"). A good "I Want..." Song would have an Act II reprise or the melody becomes part of a scene later in the show, becoming the musical's theme or motif.
Now, on with the show...I mean, list!
"Over the Rainbow," The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Music by Harold Arlen; Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
This song is probably the first song that comes to people's minds when reading the above criteria, and that is mainly because it is from a widely seen and beloved film. What can be better than the young Judy Garland, with her powerful and mature voice, singing this glorious song about dreaming of a place beyond the skies? The only reason it is not in the Top 10 is because it is not from a Broadway musical, it is from a film (though written by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, who were famed Broadway and Tin Pan Alley writers). Below, the very scene with the wide-eyed Judy Garland.
"I Dreamed a Dream," Les Misérables (1985)
Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg; Lyrics by Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer
Long before Susan Boyle wowed audiences with her rendition of the song on Britain's Got Talent, this tune came from the smash-hit musical on both sides of the Atlantic (and around the world for that matter). The song is sung by the supporting character (Yes, I said supporting!) of Fantine as she has just been fired from her factory job in 19th century France. It is one of the most poignant moments in the musical and (thanks to the likes of Susan Boyle) one of the most popular songs from the show. Below, Ruthie Henshall sings the part of Fantine in the 1995 10th Anniversary concert of the show.
"The Wizard and I," Wicked (2003)
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
This song is pretty much an equivalent to "Over the Rainbow," except it is sung by the character we know becomes The Wicked Witch of the West. The blockbuster musical, based on Gregory Maguire's 1995 fantasy novel about Oz from the perspective of green-skinned lady labeled "villain," has been the biggest hit on Broadway in the past decade. In this song, the young Elphaba (the witch's name) is told that her powers can bring her to the attention of The Wizard, who is like a god to the Ozians. Below, the original star Idina Menzel back when the show opened in 2003.
"Goodnight My Someone," The Music Man (1957)
Music and Lyrics by Meredith Wilson
Unlike some of the other songs on this list, this song is actually the sixth musical number in the classic show. But to be fair, the scene in which it appears is the third or fourth AND it is the second song the female lead sings (the first being a mini-duet/exchange with her mother). This song speaks to the heartbreak of the character of Marian Paroo, a woman who (presumably is in her 20's) and is (GASP!) unmarried in her small Iowa town. Below, Shirley Jones in the 1962 film version.
"I'm the Greatest Star," Funny Girl (1964)
Music by Jule Styne; Lyrics by Bob Merrill
When Barbra sang the immortal words "I'm the Greatest Star, I am by far...," audiences were so entranced by her that they believed she meant herself (and not Ziegfeld star Fanny Brice, whom she was playing in the hit musical). The song has become one of the many synonymous with Streisand's legendary career. And let's be clear, this was Babs towards the beginning of her fame, therefore the song might as well have premonition written all over it. Below, Babs in the 1968 film version.
"Corner of the Sky," Pippin (1972)
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
This one is a little bit lesser known than the others (and it is not the most famous song from this musical) but it features a lot of standard "I Want..." imagery in its lyrics and its music is so passionate and hopeful. Stephen Schwartz, right after he was a hit Off-Broadway with Godspell, teamed with the famed Bob Fosse for this award-winning hit in 1972 and this song featured a lot of the youthful exuberance and heart of Schwartz's early career (negative critics would call it naivete, but to each his own). Below, William Katt (of The Greatest American Hero fame) in an Australian production (alongside original star Ben Vereen and Broadway diva Chita Rivera) that was taped for TV.
"Maybe," Annie (1977)
Music by Charles Strouse; Lyrics by Martin Charnin
Probably the most sugary sweet Broadway musical hit and based on the landmark Harold Gould comic strip, Annie told the story of the little orphan girl whose positive attitude saw her (and the nation) through the tough times of the Great Depression. The show basically opens with this heartfelt plea from the titular orphan that her birth parents will someday find her. Though many of you may think of the iconic song "Tomorrow" that Annie sings 15 to 20 minutes later in the show, it is this song that truly fits the "I Want..." criteria. Below, Aileen Quinn in the 1982 film version.
"Some People," Gypsy (1959)
Music by Jule Styne; Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Gypsy is strongly considered to be one of the greatest musicals of all-time and it features the mother of all stage mothers as its lead character. First played on Broadway by the legendary Ethel Merman (for whom the show was written), Mama Rose lied, cheated, stole and physically forced her two daughters onto the stage (even the burlesque stage!). Not the most ideal musical character but yet the most enduring and one of the most iconic. In this song, she literally begs her father for help in getting her Baby June onto the stage (by giving her $88!). Since Merman, the role has been played by a catalogue of dynamic divas including Rosiland Russell, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Linda Lavin, Bette Midler, Betty Buckley, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone (just to name a few!). Below, Ms. Peters in a 1999 PBS concert (before she took on the role in a 2003 Broadway revival).
"I Hope I Get It," A Chorus Line (1975)
Music by Marvin Hamlisch; Lyrics by Edward Kleban
The only song on this list to be sung by a group of characters (considering that the landmark musical doesn't have a clear lead character), this dynamic opening number thrills audiences and brings them closer to the dancing ensemble who are dying to get that job and get in that show. Below, the entire original cast (including Donna McKechnie, Priscilla Lopez and Kelly "Emily Gilmore" Bishop) performs the full opening number at the 1976 Tony Awards.
"Something's Coming," West Side Story (1957)
Music by Leonard Bernstein; Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Just the title of the song (like some of the other titles), evoke the feelings that are conveyed in a standard "I Want..." Song. When director-choreographer Jerome Robbins needed a lyricist to accompany composer Leonard Bernstein's beautiful and complex score, they were brought to the attention of a young songwriter whose future was to be Broadway musical history. In "Something's Coming" (the first song Sondheim wrote lyrics to for the show), you can feel the beginning of a prolific and masterful career. Tony, the Romeo lead in the musical retelling of Shakespeare, wants to leave the life of the Jets gang behind and grow-up, yet he feels something important and life-changing is "just around the corner." The rest is musical legend. Below, Richard Beymer plays Tony in the brilliant 1961 film adaptation (though his singing is dubbed by vocalist Jimmy Bryant).
"Wouldn't It Be Loverly," My Fair Lady (1956)
Music by Frederick Loewe; Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
The ultimate "I Want..." Song just coincidentally happens to come from my all-time favorite musical. Whether it is sung by Julie Andrews (below on The Ed Sullivan Show) or by Marni Nixon (dubbing for Audrey Hepburn in the classic 1964 film version), the song's lyrics begin with the words "All I Want...!" Playwright George Bernard Shaw (writer of Pygmalion, on which My Fair Lady is based), may have been one of the wittiest and most intellectual playwrights in history, but he would not have had a problem with his leading lady Eliza Doolittle voicing her hopes and dreams in a beautiful and lilting way.
So there you have it: The 10 BEST BROADWAY "I WANT..." SONGS. Hopefully, this will inspire you to think of your favorite "I Want..." Song, be it from Broadway or Film or TV or what have you. Also, I hope I gave you enough information to spot an "I Want..." Song from a mile away the next time you go to see a Broadway show!