Thursday, June 6, 2013

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: Broadway Finds Its Groove!

It's that time of year again!  We are approaching the weekend at the beginning of the summer where the Broadway community gets together to celebrate the year in Theatre.  The Tony Awards!!!  And this year seemed to be the year that Broadway finally molded itself into the groove that has been set by the recent downturns in the economy.  You see, in recent years, Broadway producers have been hedging their bets and streamlining the kind of material that makes its way to the Great White Way.  They've been limiting their funds to shows that can generate an immediate revenue (i.e. Celebrity-led Plays, Movie-based Musicals, "Known" composers and authors, etc.).  It has made it really hard for what many Broadway insiders call "the Next Generation" of creatives to make a name for themselves in the Theatre (meaning if you're looking for the next Stephen Sondheim, you might not find them on Broadway!).  However, this year had a huge melting pot of all these elements that people have been lamenting and (in one way or another) they all seemed to be an example of Broadway getting "back on its feet," as it were.

One thing we have learned in the last few years and especially this year is that the Limited Run show is here to stay.  For years, the Roundabout Theatre Company, the Manhattan Theatre Club and the Lincoln Center Theatre have been masters as Broadway's repertory houses.  And all three of those companies had shows this year that both wowed the critics and excited audiences.  Roundabout produced revivals of Harvey (starring The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons) and Rupert Holmes' Tony-winning audience-solved Musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood (featuring Chita Rivera and Stephanie J. Block).  The latter, which closed after two extensions to its initial limited engagement, has now been nominated for 5 Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical.  Meanwhile, the Manhattan Theatre Club, which has recently become the pioneer of great plays both Off-Broadway, produced two well-received plays (The Other Place starring Tony nominee Laurie Metcalf and The Assembled Parties which is nominated for Best Play).  And Lincoln Center, which was enjoying the success of 2011's Best Play War Horse until its closing in January, has had other success with a much-hailed revival of Clifford Odets' Golden Boy which featured Monk's Tony Shalhoub, Chuck's Yvonne Strahoski and Broadway Musical star Danny Burstein (the limited run production which closed in early 2013 is nominated for 8 Tonys including Best Revival of a Play).  They also produced Two and a Half Men star Holland Taylor's tour-de-force one-woman show Ann, where she plays former Texas governor Ann Richards (for which she is nominated for Best Actress this Sunday!).  Limited runs have been the thing to beat this year when it comes to a hit Broadway show.

And it wasn't only these three companies getting into the Limited Run action.  Producers have always enjoyed investing in a production that has a big star over the marquee.  And what makes a big star sign on for such a challenge as 8 times a week?  The answer is a Limited Engagement!  This year we have seen big name stars like Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johannson, Alec Baldwin, Bette Midler, Alan Cumming, Cicely Tyson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Sigourney Weaver and Jane Lynch all take time out of their busy Movie-TV star schedules to take on a role in Play, Musical or even a Revival.  And each of the productions these stars are (or were) a part of has made some kind of impression either critically, financially or both.  But of course with all this sweet star-led revenue, there comes the bitter side of the double-edged sword that Celebrity can bring (cough cough Shia LeBouf cough cough).  And many a Broadway die-hard will still lament that the Great White Way has become a "summer camp" of sorts for Film stars who just want to "Hollywood-ize" their day-to-day stomping grounds.  Despite all that, it seems that Broadway really has tried to welcome the Celebrities who want to challenge themselves and try their hand at 8 performances a week (and whether they meet that challenge or not is a subject for another blog!).

But the biggest thing that Broadway seems to be accepting now (to a certain degree) is the mass amount of Musicals based on previously produced projects (basically, Movies!).  And nothing is a stronger testament to that than the four nominees for Best Musical: Kinky Boots, Matilda The Musical and the limited engagements of A Christmas Story: The Musical and Bring It On: The Musical (I guess it's safe to say that if it had the words "The Musical" after it, it probably was well-liked this year!).  All four of the nominees are based on Movies (granted Matilda is more based on the novel by Roald Dahl, but the 1996 film version starring Mara Wilson is quite popular with some audiences!).  This trend was actually started by the Walt Disney Company in the 1990s (with their hit staged versions of their films Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King!) and was perfected by the likes of Mel Brooks (The Producers), Marc Shaiman (Hairspray), Elton John (Billy Elliot) and even Monty Python (Spamalot) throughout the next decade.  It seems that now Broadway has finally figured out a way to accept this trend.  In addition, they've managed to encourage newer composers and authors to make their Broadway mark (or even debut!) with this trend.  Three of the Best Musical nominees (Kinky Boots, Matilda and A Christmas Story) are also nominated for the Best Score Tony Award and all three of those shows are by composers who are making their Broadway debut (Kinky Boots is by '80s icon Cyndi Lauper, Matilda is by Aussie rock musician Tim Minchin and A Christmas Story is by the brand new pair of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul).  So maybe someday we will find the next Rodgers and they are making the "long-awaited" Musical version of Argo!

No matter what, Broadway is always going to be an ever-changing animal that depends on audiences to be a success (either creatively or financially!), which is what live Theatre is all about.  And I will still be a fan of that animal (as always!) so I will be watching CBS at 8PM on Sunday night as the Broadway community gathers with host Neil Patrick Harris to celebrate the year in Theatre!  Happy Tony watching!

Monday, May 27, 2013

The 100 Greatest Broadway Songs - The Grand Finale!!!

"There's No Business Like Show Business"
from Annie Get Your Gun
Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin
sung by Annie Oakley, Frank Butler, Buffalo Bill Cody & Company
We top the entire 100 list with a song that is considered the ultimate Show Business anthem.  It is yet another signature song for the woman that is hailed by many has the "Grande Diva" of the Broadway stage: Ethel Merman.  When one looks at Irving Berlin's inviting lyrics, one realizes that it is truly a love letter to the industry for which Berlin loved writing songs.  Berlin's simple melody is also quite iconic and popular with many a star (from both stage and screen!).  What more can I say than "nowhere could you get that happy feeling when you are stealing an extra bow!"  The song really does speak for itself!

Well, that's it!  We are finally finished with this month-long endeavor.  With this #1 (and the links above!), you have my list for the 100 Greatest Broadway Songs of All-Time.

As it is Memorial Day and in honor of the man who wrote our #1 tune, I feel we could all share in his appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1968 below where he sang his phenomenal American ballad (that is oftentimes considered an "honorary" National Anthem!): "God Bless America."


Sunday, May 26, 2013

The 100 Greatest Broadway Songs - Part XVIII

"The Sound Of Music"
from The Sound Of Music
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
sung by Maria Rainer
When you think about all of the famous moments in Musical history (especially anything from or based on a Broadway Musical!), there is one image that I would argue is more iconic than any of them: Julie Andrews twirling on an Austrian mountaintop singing this beautiful Rodgers & Hammerstein tune.  People who have never even seen or even heard of The Sound of Music know this image.  Yes, it was originally introduced on Broadway by the fabulous Mary Martin and yes, many other actresses and singers (like Florence Henderson, Marie Osmond, Rebecca Luker and Laura Benanti) have sung this song on the stage.  But it is that opening sequence from Robert Wise's 1965 film version that skyrocketed this song into the stratosphere of Pop Culture icons.  Andrew Lloyd Webber knew this very well as he used that image in the opening sequence to his reality show-casting of his London revival of The Sound of Music entitled How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? (the eventual winner, Connie Fisher, was even directed to sort of imitate Andrews' performance and manner in the revival, above!).

"Everything's Coming Up Roses"
from Gypsy
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
sung by Mama Rose
This song was introduced on Broadway in the very same season as The Sound of Music and by the theatrical powerhouse that was Ethel Merman.  The song is one of the most musically thrilling songs of the Golden Era of Broadway.  The strains of Jule Styne's masterful chords (which uses everything from trumpets to strings to percussion!) mixed with the perfect colloquial created by Stephen Sondheim heightens the emotion and power of this song.  And boy is this character full of heightened emotion!  The character of Mama Rose (based on the real-life mother of famed stripper Gypsy Rose Lee) runs the gamut of all kinds of emotions (anger, frustration, guilt, passion, pain, euphoria, loneliness, etc.) within every song she sings in the show.  This first act finale is quite frankly the character's tour-de-force.  Like Phantom's "The Music Of the Night," this is a "seduction song;" however, Mama Rose is trying to lure her daughter Louise (who will later become Gypsy Rose Lee) into being the star of their new act.  Therefore, she is using tons of happy and child-like images (roses, daffodils, lollipops, sunshine, Santa Claus, etc.) to entice her "child" to join her in her world (no matter how crazy it is!).

Tomorrow, on Memorial Day, I shall reveal the #1 Greatest Broadway Song of All-Time!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The 100 Greatest Broadway Songs - Part XVII

"Luck Be a Lady"
from Guys and Dolls
Music & Lyrics by Frank Loesser
sung by Sky Masterson & Gamblers
This is probably Frank Loesser's most famous song (and that's pretty much thanks to Sinatra!).  With its fast and tremulous riffs and its snake-oil gambling imagery, the song taps into that seedy underbelly of Damon Runyon's world.  The song is sung by ultimate gambler Sky Masterson as he tries to convince a bunch of his fellow low-life gamblers to attend a prayer meeting at the Mission, where the woman he loves works.  The title has gone down into the canon of American colloquialisms as people say it on their way to either Nevada or Atlantic City.  The song is even an unofficial anthem that is used in Films and Television shows in which the characters travel to Vegas!

from Oklahoma!
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
sung by Curly McLane, Laurey Williams, Aunt Eller & Company
One of the most popular title songs in Broadway history (and yet it is NOT the highest ranking title number on this list!).  But like "Ol' Man River" before, this song is quite representative of the changes in the American Musical.  The overall metaphor of the show is that change is coming for everyone in the territory as it journeys towards statehood.  So when Curly and Laurey (the feuding lovers of the show) finally marry, it is a reminder to all the other characters of the new horizons on the brink with this "brand new state."  Mixed with Hammerstein's depiction of rural Oklahoma prairies is Richard Rodgers' use of choral singing in the background (something he worked on with his longtime orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett).  The choral singing leads right into that famous moment when the entire cast spells out (in iambic rhythm!) "O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A" with such a force.  It is no wonder the actual state of Oklahoma officially adopted the song as their state anthem 10 years after the show opened on Broadway (making it the only official state song from a Broadway Musical!).

from A Chorus Line
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
sung by The Company
Yet another song that has become an anthem for Broadway and its high-strutting numbers.  While that signature vamp is definitely a tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch and his composing genius, the success of this number can be directly attributed to director Michael Bennett's inventive original staging and choreography.  Every step in this number is what was considered typical "chorus-style" dancing (especially the Tiller kicks at the end!).  The song also served as the overall metaphor for a show about dancers who are part of a virtual assembly line and, in their audition for the "show-within-the-show," are for the first time recognized as individuals and very different people.  It's the kind of perfect elements that make a great long-running Broadway hit.

Tomorrow, we step into the Top 3 of the 100 Greatest Broadway Songs of All-Time!

Friday, May 24, 2013

The 100 Greatest Broadway Songs - Part XVI

SONG #10
from West Side Story
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
sung by Dream Soloist; in some productions, sung by Maria & Tony
This is one of my all-time favorite songs (and yes, it only got as high as #10 in the evaluation process)!  Not only do I love it because it is a beautifully poignant song with a powerful message (I mean when I was a naive kid, I truly believed a song like this could end all prejudice!), but I love it because it is musically a thrilling song.  Leonard Bernstein's music is so uplifting and almost operatic (it was originally sung by a woman cast as a Shark girl who later went on to fame at the Metropolitan Opera!).  And Stephen Sondheim's "purple prose" lyrics are romantic and almost "utopian."  It was originally the centerpiece of Jerome Robbins' massive ballet that occurs within the second act of the show, but has been used in many other capacities.  The song has been recorded by several pop artists including Aretha Franklin, Johnny Mathis, Cher, Celine Dion and, most notably, Barbra Streisand (as seen above!).

"The Music Of the Night"
from The Phantom Of the Opera
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Charles Hart & Richard Stilgoe
sung by The Phantom Of the Opera
I have talked about this song before and I do consider it Andrew Lloyd Webber's greatest song (from his greatest Musical!).  What is really fascinating about this song is not only how difficult a song it is (musically speaking) for the actor playing the leading role (no one can do it like Michael Crawford though!), but how it is considered (by many a Phantom "phan") one of the sexiest songs ever written for the stage.  In Harold Prince's gloriously staged original production, the song is sung by the Phantom once he has brought the ingenue Christine to his underground lair.  He has her alone, surrounded by candlelight, she is in a dressing gown and he is obsessively in love with her.  I think we all know what is on his tormented mind.  It really is the ultimate "seduction song."  I mean the song even climaxes (when he sings the phrase "the power of the music of the night")!

"I Could Have Danced All Night"
from My Fair Lady
Music by Frederick Loewe
Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
sung by Eliza Doolittle with Mrs. Pearce & the Maids
Most traditional Musicals have that moment in the show where the lead character (either the man or the woman!) realizes "I'm in love!"  And that moment more often than not is put into song.  And in My Fair Lady, a show that is highly considered one of the most romantic Musicals (without the lead characters ever sharing a kiss!), this is that moment.  Eliza Doolittle has been working with Professor Higgins day and night trying to learn to drop her heavy cockney accent.  It has been long and arduous for everyone in the household.  But in one evening, she begins to retain everything she has been taught and Higgins his excited (the thrilling "The Rain In Spain" number!).  Now Eliza has a new euphoric feeling that she has never felt before.  It is a mix of the accomplishment and (quite possibly) an adoration of her tutor.  So she sings about how that feeling could quite literally carry her away "all night," all while the housekeeper and maids try to get her to get some sleep.  It is an exciting and glorious song that is always sung beautifully (whether by original Broadway star Julie Andrews or film dubber Marni Nixon or Downton Abbey's Amy Nuttall in a UK touring production, above!).

"Ol' Man River"
from Show Boat
Music by Jerome Kern
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
sung by Joe & Chorus
It has been said before, but it needs to be said again: Show Boat changed everything.  And this song is the complete representation of that fact.  The song is sung by the supporting character of "Stevedore" Joe, who works on Captain Andy's Show Boat.  Yet the song serves as the overall metaphor of the show.  Oscar Hammerstein II wrote it to serve as that metaphor of being the one constant in these people's oftentimes chaotic lives: The Mississippi River.  Musicals were not written like this before.  Composers and librettists didn't come up with metaphors and character studies that would serve the plot.  They just wrote simple stories in which the songs could exist.  Jerome Kern's overwhelming and lustrous score mixed with Hammerstein's need to introduce character, metaphor and sprawling plots made for a landmark in American Musical Theatre.  I mean, the history of American Musical Theatre can be separated into two categories: before Show Boat and after Show Boat.  And since then, Broadway has "just kept rollin' along."

Tomorrow, I will slide right into the Top 5 of the 100 Greatest Broadway Songs.  We're inching our way to #1!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The 100 Greatest Broadway Songs - Part XV

SONG #15
"Hello, Dolly!"
from Hello, Dolly!
Music & Lyrics by Jerry Herman
sung by Dolly Gallagher Levi & Company
By the mid-1960s, the Rock 'n Roll Era had become so culturally significant that it had shoved Broadway music off the pop charts (Before the mid-1950s, Broadway music is usually what made up most of the hit singles!).  But in 1964, there was one last bastion of hope for Broadway with this song when Louis Armstrong recorded this song (in order to promote the show!) and became a #1 hit in month's following the Musical's opening.  This high-strutting title number skyrocketed songwriter Jerry Herman into Broadway stardom and became the anthem as a "parade" of divas took over for original star Carol Channing (including Martha Raye, Ginger Rogers, Pearl Bailey and Ethel Merman).  It even was beloved by the troops in Vietnam when Mary Martin starred in a special USO production.  It was a perfect example of Broadway's Americana.

SONG #14
"My Funny Valentine"
from Babes In Arms
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Lorenz Hart
sung by Billie Smith
This is the second of two Rodgers and Hart songs to appear on this list and it is considered their most popular, having been recorded over 1300 times by 600 different artists.  It is from one of their shows that is not well-known, yet the show contains some of their most famous songs (in addition to this one, the show also includes "Johnny One Note," "Where Or When" and "The Lady Is a Tramp").  This sweet romantic jazz standard is also noted for its slightly witty Lorenz Hart lyrics that have now gone down into the compendium of American colloquialisms ("unphotographable," "figure less than Greek," etc.).

SONG #13
"I Dreamed a Dream"
from Les Misérables
Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg
Lyrics by Alain Boublil & Herbert Kretzmer
sung by Fantine
Contrary to popular belief, this song was not written for Susan Boyle to wow Simon Cowell and his fellow judges panel on Britain's Got Talent.  It was first written back in 1980 for the Les Misérables French concept album by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil (titled "J'Avais rêvé d'une autre vie" and sung by French pop singer Rose Laurens).  The single became a hit in France and (being one of the first songs on  the concept album) is pointed as the song that sold Cameron Mackintosh on adapting the show into English for the West End.  When it was performed in the London production (by the fabulous Patti LuPone!), it became an instant hit and became an anthem for the "dreams" within the show.  It's no wonder that the 2012 film version only used the song (sung to Oscar-winning perfection by Anne Hathaway!) in the trailers.

SONG #12
from Funny Girl
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Bob Merrill
sung by Fanny Brice
As soon as Jule Styne began writing songs to fit Barbra Streisand's voice, he immediately wrote this soaring ballad with Bob Merrill that soon became Streisand's signature number...but it was almost cut from the show.  Original director Jerome Robbins, even though he liked the song and the way Streisand sang it, felt that it slowed down the action of the play and wanted it taken out.  Styne refused, and soon Robbins left (over other disagreements with the creative team) to be replaced by Bob Fosse, who also felt that "People" should be cut.  Not wanting to go round for round with Jule Styne, Fosse left about a week after taking the job.  Then came Actors' Studio director Garson Kanin.  He too felt that the song dragged down the play and wanted it cut.  He kept it out-of-town, but promised it would be gone by the New York opening.  Soon, Robbins was brought back to make some final changes and be the overall "production supervisor."  To combat both Kanin and Robbins, Styne got creative.  He pulled Barbra Streisand into a recording studio and recorded it as a single then released the single.  The single became a Top 10 hit immediately.  Kanin and Robbins were painted into a corner and...the rest is history!

SONG #11
"My Favorite Things"
from The Sound of Music
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
sung by Maria Rainer & The Mother Abbess
This song became an instant classic in the original 1959 Broadway production of The Sound of Music.  In the show, it was originally sung by Mary Martin (as Maria) when she was leaving the Abbey to go to the Von Trapps (she sang it with Patricia Neway's Mother Abbess).  A year after the show opened, jazz saxophonist John Coltrane covered the song (in an almost fourteen-minute long version!) and became a huge jazz favorite.  Soon, it also became a favorite of pop and lounge acts for their respective Christmas albums (mainly because the song lists a lot of nice things).  When screenwriter Ernest Lehman was adapting the show for the 1965 film version, he decided to re-position the song for Maria (played by Julie Andrews) to sing to the children during the thunderstorm.  The scene (which was the first scene filmed for the movie!) became a personal favorite of Andrews and the children (who reprise the song later in the film, above).

In the next post, we will jump right into the Top 10 of the 100 Greatest Broadway Songs!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The 100 Greatest Broadway Songs - Part XIV

SONG #21
"You're the Top"
from Anything Goes
Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter
sung by Reno Sweeney & Billy Lawlor
Now we have the highest ranking Cole Porter number.  This splendid and catchy duet between the leading characters of his show Anything Goes has become one of his most famous.  Porter had a great sense of wit and an adroit knowledge of what was considered "high class" (I mean, he was educated at Yale!).  In this song (the ultimate "list song"), the character of Reno Sweeney (originally played by Ethel Merman) is again trying to cheer up her friend Billy Lawlor by telling him how great he is (as she did in "I Get a Kick Out of You"); but Billy decides to tell Reno how wonderful she is and turns this song into a marvelously witty duet.

SONG #20
"Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'"
from Oklahoma!
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
sung by Curly McLane
When Oscar Hammerstein II was trying to get the Theatre Guild to help him produce a Musical version of Lynn Riggs' play Green Grow the Lilacs, they wanted him to reunite with his Show Boat composer Jerome Kern who was not interested at all.  It just so happened that Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hart fame) was looking for a new writing partner (Lorenz Hart was suffering medical problems from acute alcoholism).  Once Hammerstein interested Rodgers, the Theatre Guild became very intrigued by the new partnership.  And the first song they wrote was this glorious opening number for this groundbreaking Musical.  Rodgers reached a new plateau in is composition and Hammerstein (with his quaint lyrics and character-driven librettos) was mainly responsible for this.  With this song, it was like the dawn of a new era: for Hammerstein, for Rodgers and for the American Musical Theatre.

  • The above song is dedicated to the victims of the horrendous Tornadoes and storms that ripped through the state of Oklahoma and some of the Midwest.  Click here to find information on donating to relief efforts.

SONG #19
"If I Were a Rich Man"
from Fiddler On the Roof
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
sung by Tevye
Sholem Alecheim's Tevye is "just a poor milkman."  But what makes Tevye so easy to relate to for an audience is that he, like all of us, has dreams and ambitions for his family.  This song in the Musical version of Aleichem's Tevye stories, lays out exactly what he wants out of life.  He wants to be rich (who doesn't?!?!?!).  The song became the signature centerpiece of the show, primarily because it was a "tour-de-force" for the actor playing Tevye (like original Broadway star Zero Mostel, above).  It even was covered (sort of) by Gwen Stefani when she adapted the song for use in her hit single "Rich Girl."

SONG #18
from Porgy and Bess
Music by George Gershwin
Lyrics by DuBose Heyward & Ira Gershwin
sung by Clara (later sung by Bess)
Of course the highest ranking Gershwin song would come from the masterpiece that is Porgy and Bess.  And this is probably the show's most recorded number of all-time.  It certainly became a favorite of jazz, opera, gospel, blues and country artists (Ella Fitzgerald, Renee Fleming, Kirk Franklin, Janis Joplin and Willie Nelson have all had successful recordings of this song!).  I think what makes this song so beautiful is because it is a mix of all those genres, which speaks to the genius of George Gershwin.  It's sung by a beautiful soprano (like Audra McDonald, above!) in a lullaby (almost gospel-like) style with that slight hint of a jazzy-bluesy wail (that famous blue note!) and quaint country-style lyrics (Heyward's southern style shining through!).  Every time I hear it (any version!), I discover new intricacies in Gershwin's brilliant musical signature.

SONG #17
from Cats
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Trevor Nunn (based on poems by T.S. Eliot)
sung by Grizabella the Glamour Cat (with others)
When Andrew Lloyd Webber was working on his Musical adaptation of T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, everybody thought that he (along with director Trevor Nunn, choreographer Gillian Lynne and producer Cameron Mackintosh) was insane.  But the key to the show, according to the entire creative team, was the song that was to be the "11 o'clock number" and sung by the Glamour Cat, Grizabella.  Originally, Trevor Nunn had cast Dame Judi Dench in the role (believing her extremely strong acting ability would give the show enough credibility in the West End) until she tore her Achilles tendon during rehearsal.  So Lloyd Webber called upon his Evita star Elaine Paige to step in and a new melody was written to suit her fantastic voice.  One problem: there were no lyrics.  Previous Lloyd Webber lyricists (like Tim Rice, Don Black and Richard Stilgoe) had all tried to write an accompanying lyric, but none worked.  Then, T.S. Eliot's widow brought Lloyd Webber and Nunn a notebook filled with some of Eliot's poems and unfinished notes. Trevor Nunn took the notebook home and re-worked what he found into the beautiful lyrics to what became the signature number from one of the longest-running Musicals in Theatre history (Just listen to the glorious Betty Buckley above!).

SONG #16
"Some Enchanted Evening"
from South Pacific
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
sung by Emille de Becque
When I was a kid, I played the Owl (?) in a school production of Snow White and my solo number was "Some Enchanted Forest" ( just read that correctly!).  But to the surprise of none of my friends and family, I became obsessed with this song (and it probably fueled the obsession I already had for anything Rodgers and Hammerstein!).  Every time I hear this song, I am reminded at how romantic a Broadway Musical can be.  Phantom of the Opera director Harold Prince has pointed to this show as being one of the last great "unabashedly romantic" Musicals of the Golden Era.  And this song is the epitome of that unabashed romanticism.  Hammerstein's sentimental and poignant lyrics mixed with Rodgers' gloriously beautiful music make this song so powerful and moving that you just want it to carry you away (but not to an "Enchanted Forest!").

Tomorrow, a few more of the Great Broadway songs and as we head towards the Top 10: NO MORE HINTS!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The 100 Greatest Broadway Songs - Part XIII


SONG #28
from West Side Story
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
sung by Maria & Tony (duet version); Maria, Tony, Anita, Bernardo, Riff & Gangs (quintet version)
When writing their modern update of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, the creative team was having trouble with the all-important "Balcony Scene."  Originally, they had placed the sweet marriage-themed tune "One Hand, One Heart" at that point in the play.  But both librettist Arthur Laurents and director Jerome Robbins felt that it came across as too pristine and hymn-like.  Laurents felt that two young teenagers who have just fallen in love "at first sight" would not be pristine, but full of raging hormones.  So Bernstein and Sondheim rewrote the two lovers' theme that appeared in the "Tonight" quintet (all the major characters singing right before the rumble).  Therefore it became another one of those "motif" numbers that is used as both the sexually charged duet and the tense-filled pre-rumble quintet.

SONG #27
"Wouldn't It Be Loverly"
from My Fair Lady
Music by Frederick Loewe
Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
sung by Eliza Doolittle & Company
Almost every "traditional-styled" Musical has what is known as an "I Want" song (A song when the leading character reveals their innermost dreams and desires).  This could be considered one of the most famous "I Want" songs.  It even has the words "All I Want..." in it!  The poor flower girl Eliza Doolittle sings this number after being publicly chastised by Professor Henry Higgins for her harsh cockney accent.  He even drives it into her head that the way she speaks is the reason she is at the station she is in life (which is the crux of George Bernard Shaw's plot!).  After this chiding, Eliza states (in front of her cockney friends) what she wants most out of life with this beautiful number to which everyone in the audience can relate.

SONG #26
from Cabaret
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
sung by The Master of Ceremonies & Company
Like "Tradition" and "Comedy Tonight" before it, Cabaret's producer-director Harold Prince (who ironically had also produced Fiddler and Forum) wanted to open the show with a number that told the audience what the show was about.  Kander and Ebb wrote this fantastic show-stopping opener that had the devilish Master of Ceremonies (originally played by Joel Grey and portrayed in the revival above by Alan Cumming) showing us the glitzy and seedy world he inhabits.  He literally "welcomes" us all to the "cabaret."  It is a true metaphor for the entire show as the "glamour" of the Kit Kat Club is covering its sleazy and debauched manner.  Which then becomes Prince's symbol of what prejudice and Nazism really is.

SONG #25
from Annie
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Martin Charnin
sung by Little Orphan Annie
This became a relentless audition song for many a little girl who watched as girls like Andrea McArdle (above), Sarah Jessica Parker and Aileen Quinn became stars singing this song.  Mixed with Charles Strouse's simple and uplifting melody (something he was very good at with shows like Bye Bye Birdie!), Martin Charnin's lyrics really captured the essence of the Little Orphan Annie comic strip.  Let's face it, everyone wanted a life like Orphan Annie's.  To seemingly come from nothing only to be adopted by the country's wealthiest man, that is the ultimate "rags-to-riches" story.  And through it all, Annie always kept an optimistic charm saying that "Tomorrow will be better."  Which is exactly what this song states.

SONG #24
"Getting To Know You"
from The King and I
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
sung by Anna Leonowens & Children
Most of the creative people on Broadway have said and believed that "Teaching is the true noble profession."  Once again, Oscar Hammerstein II showed his opinions in his lyrics and summed up what teaching is all about: "Getting To Know [the Students]."  According to Hammerstein (speaking through the character of Anna Leonowens), the more you get to know your student, the better chance you have of teaching them (and they retain and understand what they learn!).  And with this fun song (with Richard Rodgers' simple and beautiful melody), Hammerstein showed his great respect for teachers (and their noble profession!).

SONG #23
"The Impossible Dream (The Quest)"
from Man of La Mancha
Music by Mitch Leigh
Lyrics by Joe Darion
sung by Don Quixote de La Mancha
Like "Tomorrow" earlier, this song also had repeated usage over the years (particularly by lounge singers like Wayne Newton!).  But you can't blame them when the music is so uplifting and thrilling...and the message is so poignant.  One of the questions constantly asked of Don Quixote throughout Cervantes' classic novel is "Why?"  And his answer (or rather Cervantes' answer!) is a poetic speech about following his quest.  Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion turned this speech into a powerful ballad (with Leigh's Bolero-styled tempo) about how the quest, no matter how "impossible," is the most important thing in life.  It is considered one of the most significant solo-male numbers in Broadway history and has become an anthem for following one's dreams.

SONG #22
"Send In the Clowns"
from A Little Night Music
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
sung by Desiree Armfeldt
As promised, I give you the highest-ranking song with both music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (two more songs with just lyrics by Sondheim will appear later in the list!).  And this song is considered (even jokingly by Sondheim himself!) his biggest hit.  This "11 o'clock number" comes towards the end of Sondheim's Musical adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night.  The lead character of Desiree Armfeldt (who, up to that point in the show, had not sung a solo number!) realizes all but too late what (and who!) she wants.  She then sings about the irony of her sad situation.  The song became the celebrated hit of the 1973 show especially when Frank Sinatra covered it in one of his concerts that year.  Two years later, folk singer Judy Collins covered the song on her album...and it went on to win Stephen Sondheim the Grammy Award for Best Song of Year!  No wonder it's his biggest hit!

Tomorrow, we jump into the Top 20 of this list with a few more Great Broadway songs including two more from Rodgers and Hammerstein (they're everywhere!); as well as the highest-ranking songs from The Gershwins and Cole Porter!