Friday, May 17, 2013

The 100 Greatest Broadway Songs - Part XII

SONG #36
from Hair
Music by Galt McDermott
Lyrics by James Rado & Gerome Ragni
sung by Dionne & Company
What better way to introduce audiences to the "hippie" movement than to sing a funky song about "mystic crystals" and "moons in the seventh house."  This song has become an anthem  not just for the "hippie" movement, but for the rock Musical that was introduced to Broadway with Hair and skyrocketed to popularity throughout the 1970s.  It was a new kind of Musical that no one before had ever seen (though that dancing horse might be a bit much!).

SONG #35
from Carousel
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
sung by Billy Bigelow
Billy Bigelow is yet another one of Oscar Hammerstein II's favorite characters.  I think Hammerstein was drawn to flawed people, anti-heroes and tragic figures.  Those are the kind of characters that make the best drama (i.e. Oedipus, Hamlet, Doctor Faustus, etc.).  For Hammerstein, Billy Bigelow was no different than those classic dramatic characters.  That is probably why he cleverly titled his big solo number (where Billy runs the gamut of emotions and thoughts over the prospect of his impending child) a "Soliloquy."  It is calculated to state Billy's dreams; yet, at the same time, move the plot forward (which is what the Hammerstein book songs are supposed to do!).

SONG #34
from Fiddler On the Roof
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
sung by Tevye & Company
When Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and librettist Joseph Stein brought their Musical adaptation of Sholem Aleichem's stories to producer Harold Prince, they originally wanted Prince to direct it.  He felt that he wasn't the right director for it and suggested Jerome Robbins.  Robbins agreed as long as Prince produced the show.  And Robbins' biggest contribution was this groundbreaking opening number.  He wanted a number that encompassed what the theme and the characters are all about.  So Bock and Harnick wrote "Tradition," which was a number that introduced Tevye and all of his fellow villagers of Anatevka.  This song, according to all involved, helped to make the show universal and take it to a new level (something Robbins was no stranger to, as you will see!).

SONG #33
"Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered"
from Pal Joey
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Lorenz Hart
sung by Vera Simpson
Pal Joey has two great distinctions in regards to the partnership of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.  First, it is the team's most notable of their shows (with its jazzy score and amoral characters).  Second, it was the last original show the pair wrote together as Lorenz Hart was suffering from the effects of his years of alcoholism (Rodgers would go on to find another writing partner!).  But from Pal Joey, this beautiful and quite lyrical number has become a jazz standard that has been recorded by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Frank Sinatra to Barbra Streisand (above).

SONG #32
from West Side Story
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
sung by Anita, Rosalia & Shark Girls
This is the story of how two great choreographers melded their methods together to create a fantastic show-stopping number.  When Jerome Robbins was about to go into rehearsals for West Side Story, he threatened to quit.  Now, knowing Robbins, this alone is not unusual; however, co-producer Harold Prince was not pleased.  What they discovered is that Robbins wanted help in creating the choreography for what he wanted to be his masterpiece.  So he and Prince hired former dancer and newly minted choreographer Peter Gennaro to assist Robbins and create most of the choreography for the Puerto Rican Shark gang (Robbins would focus on directing the show, supervising Gennaro and creating the dances for the Jets).  The first number Gennaro worked on was this song that had the character of Anita (originally played by the phenomenal Chita Rivera) singing about the joys of being in the U.S.  Gennaro's steps wowed the creative team, but (according to Stephen Sondheim) the staging wasn't quite right.  So Robbins stepped in and re-worked it with Gennaro.  The next day, the team was doubly wowed by the changes and Chita Rivera went on to stop the show every night!

SONG #31
"Don't Cry For Me Argentina"
from Evita
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
sung by Eva Peron
When Tim Rice conceived the idea of creating a Musical about the wife of Argentinian President Juan Peron, he wanted Eva to have a song that could serve both as a speech to the people of Argentina and to the audience itself.  He and Lloyd Webber created this song that is sung on the balcony of the Casa Rosada at the beginning of the second act (after Peron has been elected President).  The song became the centerpiece of the original Evita concept album and was a hit single for original singer Julie Covington.  Once director Harold Prince was staging the number for the original London production, he told original star Elaine Paige that he didn't want her to worry about the melody.  He wanted her to think of the song as a political statement that Eva is giving to the people and to stare down the crowd (and the audience!) as you defiantly sing the song at them.  And believe me, no one stares down a crowd like original Broadway star Patti LuPone (above)!

SONG #30
"And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going"
from Dreamgirls
Music by Henry Krieger
Lyrics by Tom Eyen
sung by Effie Melody White
From one diva anthem to another, this song is most definitely the biggest hit from this smash Musical about a black girl group in the 1960s trying to crossover from the R&B world to the Pop world.  The character of Effie Melody White, loosely based on the late Supreme Florence Ballard, is a diva with an attitude that is driving everyone crazy.  And because of her antics, she gets dismissed from the group (much like Ballard was let go from The Supremes at the height of their popularity).  But because she is in love with the slick manager and she doesn't want to see her dreams end, she defiantly stands there and sings this emotionally soulful ballad.  Whether it is original Broadway star Jennifer Holliday (above) or Oscar-winning film star Jennifer Hudson, this song really knows how to move an audience.

SONG #29
"I Believe In You"
from How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
Music & Lyrics by Frank Loesser
sung by J. Pierrepont Finch
When writing the score for the adaptation of Shepard Mead's satirical novel, Frank Loesser felt that the lead character of Finch (with his sly and conniving ways!) needed a love ballad...with himself.  Because Finch is ultimately selfish and self-serving, Loesser wanted the "11 o'clock number" to be a song that Finch sings to himself not just to pick himself up, but to compliment himself.  The resulting song is this delightful song that is both hilarious (because of the circumstances!) and sweet (because of the sentiment!).  It also makes the audience root more for Finch as he is surrounded by the inept corporate bigwigs that want to take him down!

In the next post, we will be heading into the Top 25 of the Greatest Broadway Songs with more from Rodgers & Hammerstein, Kander & Ebb and the highest ranking song with both Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

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