THE 100 GREATEST BROADWAY SONGS
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
sung by Sally Bowles
When John Kander and Fred Ebb were writing their Musical version of Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories, they were tailoring the role of Sally Bowles for the young Liza Minnelli (who had just won a Tony for their show Flora, The Red Menace). However, producer-director Harold Prince, who was a great fan of Liza's, felt that she was too young to play such an emotionally charged role (she was only 19 at the time they were developing the show!). Though she wasn't cast in the production, that didn't stop Kander and Ebb from writing the title number in a way that was very similar to Liza's (and her mother Judy Garland's!) style. So when Bob Fosse was casting the 1972 film version, Liza (who was now old enough!) was Kander and Ebb's first choice and this song became even more iconic thanks to her performance.
"I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair"
from South Pacific
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
sung by Ensign Nellie Forbush & Nurses
Nellie Forbush was one of Oscar Hammerstein II's favorite characters to write. For him, she was complex. Her simple naivete was balanced by her struggle to be a better person (despite any flaws). And they made her so talented (mostly to give original star Mary Martin boffo-socko Musical numbers!). Everything she said and sang (thanks to Hammerstein's knack for idioms) sounded like typical phrases that were said back in Nellie's Arkansas hometown. And some of those typical phrases have since become classic American colloquialisms, especially this song. Every girl has tried to "wash that man right outta her hair!"
"Try To Remember"
from The Fantasticks
Music by Harvey Schmidt
Lyrics by Tom Jones
sung by El Gallo & Company
These days, with the economy the way it is, shows are lucky if they make it beyond a year. The fact that The Phantom of the Opera celebrated it's 25th Anniversary on Broadway this year, is truly an anomaly. Shows just don't run that long. And Phantom doesn't even hold the New York record! That honor belongs to the intimate Off-Broadway hit The Fantasticks, which ran for over 40 years from 1960 to 2002 in the small Greenwich Village Sullivan Street Playhouse. This simple and sweet song, which opens the show, became an anthem for the Musical's longevity. Anytime one hears it, they "try to remember!"
"Ease On Down the Road"
from The Wiz
Music & Lyrics by Charlie Smalls
sung by Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion & Company
How do you re-imagine a famed book that was already adapted into a highly successful and quite popular 1939 film? How do you create a theme that runs through the show to get the audience's attention and their praise? Producer Ken Harper made it his mission in the early 1970s to produce a new adaptation of the L. Frank Baum classic The Wizard of Oz, this time with an all-black cast and a completely funky and soulful soundtrack. He asked R&B songwriter Charlie Smalls to provide most of the songs and the first song Smalls wrote was this instant classic. While Judy Garland and Ray Bolger had "We're Off to See the Wizard!," this version had its characters "Easin' on down the Road!"
"All That Jazz"
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
sung by Velma Kelly & Company
Here we have yet another Kander and Ebb classic. Chicago, which was a show conceived by the great Bob Fosse, was very much in the same vein as Cabaret was. It was filled with seedy and debauched characters surrounded by glitz, glamour and jazzy tunes. Fosse wanted the show to feel very much like a twisted vaudeville revue...a very twisted revue. When choreographing this smash opening number, he told star Chita Rivera (and her subsequent replacement Carolyn Kirsch) that he wanted the character of Velma to walk around the stage like she is walking through a field of erect phallic symbols (sorry to be a bit graphic!). That really does put a new spin on a number that is always a show-stopper in every production and even the movie!
"Let the Sunshine In"
Music by Galt McDermott
Lyrics by James Rado & Gerome Ragni
sung by Sheila, Dionne & Company
The main purpose of Hair was to showcase the "hippie" lifestyle. But with that lifestyle comes the poignant philosophy and peace-loving antics that the "hippies" wanted to share with everyone. This song, which ends the show, became a massive hit with its soulful repetition of the title phrase as the on-stage hippies step out into the audience and ask them to join their giant sing-in. It was even successfully covered by the pop group the 5th Dimension when they paired it with one of Hair's other great hits (which you may see later in this list!).
"I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face"
from My Fair Lady
Music by Frederick Loewe
Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
sung by Professor Henry Higgins
Henry Higgins has a lot of blustery solo numbers in Lerner and Loewe's masterpiece. But most of those numbers are sung at someone (usually his addled friend Colonel Pickering!). However, it is this final song that is Higgins' only soliloquy. Throughout the entire show, he bristles at the show of pure emotion and he huffs and puffs against the little things Eliza does to change his daily routine. But after she has left his house, it is only then that he has realized how much she has come to mean to him. For a character like him to admit that he has "grown accustomed to her face," that is one of the most romantic things ever said in a Musical.
from The Music Man
Music & Lyrics by Meredith Wilson
sung by Professor Harold Hill & Company
Just listening to the score of The Music Man and you feel transported to another time. Every song sound like the "popular" music of the early 20th Century. And of course, Meredith Wilson was heavily inspired by the classic band music that we all hear when the high school or college band performs at sporting events. It is this song that gets the audience to marching along with the dancers on the stage. When the song is reprised at the end of the show, the theatre is filled with a live marching band that the audience feels like there actually are "76 Trombones" blaring at them this catchy tune.
from A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To the Forum
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
sung by Pseudolus & Company
I already talked about this number almost a year ago when I did my 10 FAVORITES of the Greatest Broadway Opening Numbers and this song topped that list. But just to re-hash, when this show was out of town in Washington DC, it was not going well. Producer Harold Prince and director George Abbott brought in their friend Jerome Robbins to try to "fix" the show before it could open on Broadway. And his immediate note was to change the opening number. He told Stephen Sondheim to write a new song that basically told the audience what they were in for, and Sondheim was very concerned about writing a "funny" song. Robbins then reassured him and said: "Don't worry about the jokes! Just write the song, I'll take care of the jokes!" And the number became one of the most popular hits of the season. Sondheim himself said, based on what Robbins did with the number: "You could have read the phone book afterwards and the audiences still would have been rolling in the aisles!"
Tomorrow, I will reveal 10 more of the Greatest Broadway Songs and we will dive right into the top 50 of our list (including two songs from the same show!!!).