THE 100 GREATEST BROADWAY SONGS
"Before the Parade Passes By"
from Hello, Dolly!
Music & Lyrics by Jerry Herman
sung by Dolly Gallagher Levi & Company
So many Musicals of the "Golden Era" had problems during their creative process...and Hello, Dolly! was certainly no different. Director-choreographer Gower Champion was having trouble with casting certain roles and staging several numbers; Composer-lyricist Jerry Herman was writing and re-writing songs (and throwing out some!); And producer David Merrick was being his usual overwhelming self and making demands of everyone from Champion to Herman to even star Carol Channing! One of the problems was the end of the first act. The song they had was not working out-of-town and Herman decided to sit down late one night and just compose a new one. This was what he came up with and, according to him, it saved the show. The build up of the number and Gower Champion's inventive staging helped keep the energy of the show at its height leading into the second act where we know it became more iconic (as you will see later in this list!).
"I Get a Kick Out Of You"
from Anything Goes
Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter
sung by Reno Sweeney
One of Cole Porter's biggest hit songs is this one that was introduced by Ethel Merman in the 1934 Musical Anything Goes. Once again, Porter plays with slightly "bluer" lyrics as the character of Reno Sweeney sings about champagne, cocaine and flying in a plane. But none of those "fads" compare to her friend Billy Lawlor, who she thinks is just "fabulous." The song has been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Ella Fitzgerald; And has been parodied on Sesame Street and (most famously) in Mel Brooks' 1974 brilliant comedy Blazing Saddles.
"If My Friends Could See Me Now"
from Sweet Charity
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
sung by Charity Hope Valentine
Sweet Charity was the Musical version of Italian director Federico Fellini's 1957 film Nights of Cabiria. With a libretto by the great Neil Simon, director Bob Fosse wanted to insure that Charity is one of the most hapless heroines in Musical history. And in this song, which became the centerpiece of the show, Charity thinks she's hit the big time just by hanging out with a famous Italian movie star. She ponders what her friends would do "if they could see" her at that very moment. The Fellini-esque irony is that ultimately her great night is just about as pathetic as her life has been up to that point. But in the moment, she doesn't care. Combining Bob Fosse's ingenious choreography with Gwen Verdon's fabulous performance is what made this song so legendary (in the film version, the fantastic Shirley MacLaine put her own stamp on the number). The song was revived in the 1980s when Carnival Cruise Lines used the tune in their commercials sung by talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford.
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
sung by Hattie Walker
For those of you who read this blog, you had to know that this song would be on here. Some of you might have thought it would have been higher! But as the late Dorothy Loudon says in her performance of the song above, Stephen Sondheim probably didn't know what he had when he wrote this tune that has now become an anthem for the performer dying to make it on the Great White Way.
"I Got Rhythm"
from Girl Crazy
Music by George Gershwin
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
sung by Kate Fothergill
Yet another song that was introduced to the world by the legendary Ethel Merman. In 1930, George and Ira Gershwin were composing the quaint Musical Girl Crazy for writer Guy Bolton. To show off his jazzy score, George Gershwin hired several local jazz artists to play in the orchestra pit (including Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman!). He wrote this song for the supporting character of Kate (played by Merman) to sing at the end of the first act. With this song, Merman became an overnight sensation and, according to legend, was told by Gershwin himself to "never take a singing lesson!" Thanks to all the jazz legends in the pit, this song was covered in all the clubs by all the great artists. Some of the more familiar versions of the song include above in the 1951 MGM Oscar-winner An American In Paris and a delightful twist on the song by the hilarious Muppets.
"All I Ask Of You"
from The Phantom Of the Opera
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Charles Hart & Richard Stilgoe
sung by Christine Daaé & Raoul
The Phantom Of the Opera is pretty much considered one of the most romantic Musicals in Broadway history and this song is one of the biggest reasons. Lyricist Richard Stilgoe was having great difficulty making this song, which was to appear towards the end of the first act, work properly. Every set of lyrics he wrote for it fell flat with composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and director Harold Prince. So, with the help of producer Cameron Mackintosh, Lloyd Webber found help from an unknown songwriter named Charles Hart. His lyrics, especially for this song, brought the Musical up to a new romantic level that it wasn't at before. The song has become a personal favorite of Lloyd Webber, Pirince and Mackintosh. It even has become one of the most popular songs to be sung at weddings!
Music & Lyrics by Lionel Bart
sung by The Artful Dodger, Oliver Twist & Company
When Lionel Bart was writing his adaptation of Charles Dickens' massive novel, he needed a number that would introduce The Artful Dodger and lure Oliver right into his world. Bart's solution was to write a song that was very similar to the classic British Music Hall. A song that makes everyone want to stand up and sing along. Anytime you hear it, you want to do exactly what it says: "Consider Yourself at Home!" The song is the show's "unofficial" anthem and is the highlight of every production (especially the 1968 movie version, above!).
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
sung by Bobby & Company
As I said before, Stephen Sondheim has a way of writing a song in each of his shows that hits at its very themes. In Company, lead character Bobby spends the whole show finding out about marriage, relationships and connectivity. At the end of the show, he asks the question: "What do you get?" What follows is one of Sondheim's most poignant songs that basically says what Bobby (and by extension, everyone) wants in life, which is to have that connection with someone that makes one feel "alive." Being one of Sondheim's most amazing songs, it has been performed by several actors (including original star Dean Jones, revival star Raul Esparza and concert star Neil Patrick Harris) and is always well-received by audiences.
"Till There Was You"
from The Music Man
Music & Lyrics by Meredith Wilson
sung by Marian Paroo & Professor Harold Hill
Like "All I Ask Of You" above, this is yet another highly romantic song that is filled with beautiful imagery. Who doesn't want to hear that they are the reason that someone finally sees all the possibilities in life? In The Music Man, stuffy librarian Marian Paroo spends most of the show trying to prove that the sly Professor Harold Hill is exactly what he is: a con man. However, when she begins to see the effect his "con" is having on the town of River City, Iowa, she begins to see him in a new light. She realizes that the more she knows about him, the more she loves him. And he falls right back in love with her, which is the typical kind of Musical-Comedy romance!
Tomorrow, I will reveal a few more the Greatest Broadway Songs as we slide into the Top 30 with songs from a few more landmark shows.