THE 100 GREATEST BROADWAY SONGS
"I, Don Quixote (Man of La Mancha)"
from Man of La Mancha
Music by Mitch Leigh
Lyrics by Joe Darion
sung by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza
The 1960s was full of new and groundbreaking staging techniques that were very different from the traditional styles of previous Broadway directors and choreographers. Man of La Mancha had some of those different staging techniques. Director Albert Marre insisted on staging the show in a Black Box Theatre and utilizing limited sets. He wanted the atmosphere to resemble a small prison cell that the lead character, Miguel de Cervantes, is thrust into with his fellow inmates of the Spanish Inquisition. In this cell, Cervantes re-enacts his great work about the crazed man who thinks of himself as a knight errant named Don Quixote de La Mancha. And this song introduces Quixote's world to everyone with its passionate and thrilling music.
Music & Lyrics by Jerry Herman
sung by Beauregarde Jackson Pickett Burnside & Company
In the same season as Man of La Mancha, this hit Musical was also a smash hit...and it could not have been more different. Jerry Herman was no stranger to a female-led Musical with a high-strutting chorus-filled title number (his more popular one shall appear later on this list!) and this one was just as popular as his previous one. With both of Jerry Herman's shows being huge successes in the late 1960s, they served as reminders that the traditional-styled Musicals were still quite popular with audiences despite the darker and more serious shows (i.e. Fiddler On the Roof, Man of La Mancha, Cabaret, Hair, etc.) arriving on Broadway and making a splash.
"Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)"
from Damn Yankees
Music & Lyrics by Richard Adler & Jerry Ross
sung by Lola
Gwen Verdon began her enigmatic career as a dancer for the legendary Jack Cole and eventually became his assistant. Soon she was courted to Broadway where she wowed audiences with her featured role in Cole Porter's 1953 hit Can-Can. She quickly became a sought after actress and dancer. She also came to the attention of choreographer Bob Fosse, who fell instantly in love with her. She became his muse and was thrilled to work with her for the first time on George Abbott's hit baseball-themed Musical Damn Yankees. This number became the show's most popular song thanks very much to the combination of Verdon's sensual performance and Fosse's sexy choreography. The two went on to make some of the most influential shows in Broadway history together (including Sweet Charity and Chicago!).
"I Don't Know How To Love Him"
from Jesus Christ Superstar
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
sung by Mary Magdalene
When Tim Rice wanted to create a solo number for the character of Mary Magdalene for their concept recording Jesus Christ Superstar, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber recycled a tune he had written earlier titled "Kansas Morning." It was very much based on the compositions of Mendelssohn and Lloyd Webber felt that the melody would fit perfectly with a possible love ballad. Tim Rice wrote new lyrics, re-titled it "I Don't Know How To Love Him" and cast a young pop singer named Yvonne Elliman in the role of Mary Magdalene for the recording. The song became a critically acclaimed emotional centerpiece of the album and climbed its way up the Billboard Charts as Elliman portrayed the role in the Broadway production of the show. It was also covered by Helen Reddy (a version which became more popular as the show opened on Broadway) and Petula Clark (a version which was released in the UK at the same time as Elliman's version). Though there have been several versions, Elliman's original is considered the most exquisite (especially as she repeated it both on Broadway and in the 1973 film version above).
from The Sound of Music
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
sung by Captain Georg Von Trapp
While Rodgers and Hammerstein were writing The Sound of Music, they realized that the character of Captain Von Trapp was not generating enough sympathy and they new that the real Von Trapp had to be a man of conviction and principle. So, while the show was out of town in Boston, Richard Rodgers began writing a simple waltz-like melody that could be played on the guitar (to showcase the Musical skills of Theodore Bikel, who originated the role of the Captain) and Oscar Hammerstein II utilized the theme of the Austrian flower, the Edelweiss, to serve as the lyrics. The song became so beloved that audience members actually believed it was an Austrian national song. It also became a haunting theme, as it was the last song that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II ever wrote together. For nine months after The Sound of Music opened on Broadway, Oscar Hammerstein II (the man who had changed the face of American Musical Theatre with shows like Show Boat and Oklahoma!) lost his life to stomach cancer. He has since lived on in his lyrics and librettos.
"The Ballad of Mack the Knife"
from The Threepenny Opera
Music by Kurt Weill
Original Lyrics by Burtold Brecht; English adaptation by Marc Blitzstein
sung by The Street Singer
German composer Kurt Weill left his home country when Adolf Hitler's Third Reich came to power, but before that Weill (along with playwright Burtold Brecht) had composed several successful German operettas that caught the attention of producers throughout Europe and even in the U.S. When Weill made it to Broadway, he was very interested in doing English adaptations of his German hits. After he died in 1950, author Marc Blitzstein made it his mission to adapt his 1928 operetta Die Dreigroschenoper (also known as The Threepenny Opera). He even cast Weill's widow, Lotte Lenya, in her original role of Jenny Diver. The show was produced Off-Broadway at the Theater De Lys in Greenwich Village (now known as the Lucille Lortel Theatre). The opening song, "The Ballad of Mack the Knife," became the show's most recognizable and even became a pop hit when singers like Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin recorded jazzier versions that soared to the top of the charts.
"Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend"
from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Music by Jule Styne
Lyrics by Leo Robin
sung by Lorelai Lee & Company
Anita Loos' comic novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a huge hit when it was published in 1925. Almost 25 years later, she was approached about adapting the novel into a Musical. The show had a score by composer Jule Styne (with help from lyricist Leo Robin) and starred a young Carol Channing in the central role of Lorelai Lee. Carol Channing's performance of this second act show-stopper became quite popular in the early 1950s...that is until 1953 the film version. For the film, 20th Century Fox cast their bombshell star Marilyn Monroe in the role of Lorelai and this number became the centerpiece of the film (thanks to choreographer Jack Cole!). Monroe's performance of this song has become so iconic that it has been parodied or honored by everyone from Madonna to Beyonce to Kylie Minogue to Christina Aguilera to even Nicole Kidman (in Baz Luhrmann's hit film Moulin Rouge!).
from Jesus Christ Superstar
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
sung by Judas Iscariot & Company
Yet another song from Jesus Christ Superstar and (this time) it's the title number! Record producer Robert Stigwood released this song as the only single from the original 1970 concept album (performed on the record by British singer Murray Head). The song became a #1 hit on both sides of the Atlantic and helped the album sky-rocket to the top of the charts. On Broadway, the song was performed by Ben Vereen and became a show-stopper in Tom O'Horgan's staging. Since then, it has become the most anticipated song in the show and Andrew Lloyd Webber's majestic theme music is constantly repeated throughout the Musical.
"Put On a Happy Face"
from Bye Bye Birdie
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Lee Adams
sung by Albert Petersen
Composing team Charles Strouse and Lee Adams wanted to be a successful Broadway team like Rodgers and Hammerstein. Their first Musical, Bye Bye Birdie, became an instant hit in the 1960 season and is highly considered the precursor to the rock Musicals of the late 1960s and 1970s. But within the show that is full of teenagers singing pop-like tunes and an Elvis Presley-like icon shaking his hips, Strouse and Adams wrote this quaint little tune that became an anthem for optimism in a time where things were changing. The song was initially introduced by Dick Van Dyke's leading character (trying to cheer up a sad fan of Conrad Birdie!) and had inventive tap-dancing staged by the great Gower Champion. Charles Strouse has jokingly said that it was just a simple tune that has since paid for his Uptown Manhattan apartment!
"Brotherhood of Man"
from How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
Music & Lyrics by Frank Loesser
sung by J. Pierrepont Finch, Wally Womper, Miss Jones & Company
Composer Frank Loesser knew everything about music and loved all kinds (from classical to pop!). For the finale number of his 1961 smash hit How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, Loesser wanted the lead character of J. Pierrepont Finch to "wile" his way out of the trouble he is in by not just charming the Chairman of the Board, but by inspiring him. He wanted Finch to grab Wally Womper's attention by practically leading a Gospel revival meeting. With "Brotherhood of Man," Finch leads the company in a hand-clapping inspirational finale that is always a show-stopper in every production. Whether it is performed by Robert Morse (in the original 1961 Broadway and the 1966 film), Matthew Broderick (in the 1995 revival, with the fantastic Lillias White as Miss Jones!) or Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe (in the 2011 revival, shown above).
In the next post, we will wade our way into the Top 40 of the Greatest Broadway Songs of All-Time (where you will see more from Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cole Porter and The Gershwins!).