Thursday, May 9, 2013

The 100 Greatest Broadway Songs - Part VI

  • SONG #85

  • "Defying Gravity"
    from Wicked
    Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
    sung by Elphaba with Glinda & Company

    This is the most recent song to appear on this list (having debuted on Broadway in 2003!).  But in the short decade since Wicked's opening, this song has become one of the most (forgive me) popular songs on Broadway.  It is so popular that young girls go to their singing/voice teachers and demand to be taught how to have the vocal stamina to get through a song like this.  Schwartz himself has stated that it was one of the first songs he conceived when he originally wanted to adapt Gregory Maguire's novel into a Musical.  But he had no idea how to stage a magical moment like a green-skinned woman flying into the proscenium.  Thanks to the brilliant director Joe Mantello and his use of standard "stage magic," this first act finale still wows audiences night after night.

    SONG #84
    "What Kind of Fool Am I?"
    from Stop the World - I Want to Get Off!
    Music & Lyrics by Anthony Newley & Leslie Bricusse
    sung by Littlechap

    When producer David Merrick saw Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse's intimate British Musical Stop the World - I Want to Get Off! in its original London venue, he knew he wanted to bring the small show to Broadway because it was just different enough from the other Musicals of the time.  When the show opened in New York, with Newley leading the original London cast, it became a modest hit with its likable tunes and its innovative circus-like staging (by Newley himself).  And this song became an instant hit.  In fact, by the time Newley had come to New York to open the show (after recording the London production), both Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jr. had already recorded the song and it was well on its way to becoming a #1 hit.  Eight months after the Broadway opening, Newley and Bricusse won the Grammy Award for Best Song of the Year becoming the first song from a stage production to win that honor.  It has since been covered by several pop and cabaret artists including Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Lesley Gore, James Brown, Robert Goulet, Linda Eder, Clay Aiken and Kermit the Frog!

    SONG #83
    "If Ever I Would Leave You"
    from Camelot
    Music by Frederick Loewe
    Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
    sung by Sir Lancelot du Lac

    When you think of the most romantic stories in Western culture, the love triangle between King Arthur, Queen Guinivere and Sir Lancelot du Lac is certainly one of them.  After their triumph that was My Fair Lady, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe decided that a Musical version of this love story would be their next project.  Because of the romantic subject, the songs had to be among the most beautiful and lyrical songs ever written for the stage (according to Alan Jay Lerner!).  And this song is considered their most amazing achievement.  Introduced on Broadway by a young Robert Goulet (who gave a breakthrough performance as Sir Lancelot opposite Richard Burton and Julie Andrews!), the song is the most famous song from the show and has been covered by so many other artists (including Frank Sinatra and Placido Domingo!).

    SONG #82
    "Summer Nights"
    from Grease
    Music & Lyrics by Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey
    sung by Danny, Sandy & Company

    "Tell Me More! Tell Me More!" like how did this song become so loved?  Grease has always been a "love-hate" kind of show with me, but I dare not deny its popularity (lest several rabid fans break down my door to trample me!).  The movie version (with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John) certainly helped to make this Musical even more popular.  But it is this song that both annoys me and yet fascinates me as to the Musical "magic" that seems to be happening in this "High School Musical that came long before High School Musical!"

    SONG #81
    "The Phantom of the Opera"
    from The Phantom of the Opera
    Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
    Lyrics by Charles Hart & Richard Stilgoe
    sung by Christine Daaé & The Phantom of the Opera
    People complain that a lot of the British Musicals are more technical and set pieces than they are Musical, but most of them use simple stage tricks and "slight-of-hand" to give the impressions they give.  And this title number, is full of smoke and mirrors-type tricks.  It is all at the hands of the genius that is director Harold Prince (and his brilliant set designer, the late Maria Bjornson!).  Prince uses things like doubles, a turntable (complete with boat!) and a dry ice machine to show the audience the Phantom's world beneath the Paris Opera House.  Combine that with the power of Andrew Lloyd Webber's music and the performances of the leads (especially Christine's high D's and E's at the end!) and you have a phenomenal show-stopper.

    SONG #80
    "Don't Rain On My Parade"
    from Funny Girl
    Music by Jule Styne
    Lyrics by Bob Merrill
    sung by Fanny Brice

    When Jule Styne went to the small Village Vanguard night club in Greenwich Village, he was completely floored by the vocal prowess of a young singer named Barbra Streisand.  He clutched his wife's hand and whispered: "She MUST play Fanny Brice!"  At the time, he was working on a Musical project about the life of the late Ziegfeld star and they were having trouble finding the right singer to play the part (Mary Martin, Anne Bancroft, Carol Burnett and Eydie Gorme had all turned down the project!).  When Styne saw Streisand, he immediately began writing with her voice in mind and this was one of the songs he composed.  He filled it with high belts that no other female on Broadway had done or were doing at the time.  And Bob Merrill, the lyricist, injected a lot of Streisand's own personality into the words making the merge between actress and character almost seamless.  And let's face it, no one can perform this song like Streisand (except maybe Lea Michele!).

    Tomorrow, more Great Broadway songs including more songs from Sondheim, Porter, The Gershwins and Rodgers & Hammerstein!

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