Friday, May 24, 2013

The 100 Greatest Broadway Songs - Part XVI

SONG #10
from West Side Story
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
sung by Dream Soloist; in some productions, sung by Maria & Tony
This is one of my all-time favorite songs (and yes, it only got as high as #10 in the evaluation process)!  Not only do I love it because it is a beautifully poignant song with a powerful message (I mean when I was a naive kid, I truly believed a song like this could end all prejudice!), but I love it because it is musically a thrilling song.  Leonard Bernstein's music is so uplifting and almost operatic (it was originally sung by a woman cast as a Shark girl who later went on to fame at the Metropolitan Opera!).  And Stephen Sondheim's "purple prose" lyrics are romantic and almost "utopian."  It was originally the centerpiece of Jerome Robbins' massive ballet that occurs within the second act of the show, but has been used in many other capacities.  The song has been recorded by several pop artists including Aretha Franklin, Johnny Mathis, Cher, Celine Dion and, most notably, Barbra Streisand (as seen above!).

"The Music Of the Night"
from The Phantom Of the Opera
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Charles Hart & Richard Stilgoe
sung by The Phantom Of the Opera
I have talked about this song before and I do consider it Andrew Lloyd Webber's greatest song (from his greatest Musical!).  What is really fascinating about this song is not only how difficult a song it is (musically speaking) for the actor playing the leading role (no one can do it like Michael Crawford though!), but how it is considered (by many a Phantom "phan") one of the sexiest songs ever written for the stage.  In Harold Prince's gloriously staged original production, the song is sung by the Phantom once he has brought the ingenue Christine to his underground lair.  He has her alone, surrounded by candlelight, she is in a dressing gown and he is obsessively in love with her.  I think we all know what is on his tormented mind.  It really is the ultimate "seduction song."  I mean the song even climaxes (when he sings the phrase "the power of the music of the night")!

"I Could Have Danced All Night"
from My Fair Lady
Music by Frederick Loewe
Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
sung by Eliza Doolittle with Mrs. Pearce & the Maids
Most traditional Musicals have that moment in the show where the lead character (either the man or the woman!) realizes "I'm in love!"  And that moment more often than not is put into song.  And in My Fair Lady, a show that is highly considered one of the most romantic Musicals (without the lead characters ever sharing a kiss!), this is that moment.  Eliza Doolittle has been working with Professor Higgins day and night trying to learn to drop her heavy cockney accent.  It has been long and arduous for everyone in the household.  But in one evening, she begins to retain everything she has been taught and Higgins his excited (the thrilling "The Rain In Spain" number!).  Now Eliza has a new euphoric feeling that she has never felt before.  It is a mix of the accomplishment and (quite possibly) an adoration of her tutor.  So she sings about how that feeling could quite literally carry her away "all night," all while the housekeeper and maids try to get her to get some sleep.  It is an exciting and glorious song that is always sung beautifully (whether by original Broadway star Julie Andrews or film dubber Marni Nixon or Downton Abbey's Amy Nuttall in a UK touring production, above!).

"Ol' Man River"
from Show Boat
Music by Jerome Kern
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
sung by Joe & Chorus
It has been said before, but it needs to be said again: Show Boat changed everything.  And this song is the complete representation of that fact.  The song is sung by the supporting character of "Stevedore" Joe, who works on Captain Andy's Show Boat.  Yet the song serves as the overall metaphor of the show.  Oscar Hammerstein II wrote it to serve as that metaphor of being the one constant in these people's oftentimes chaotic lives: The Mississippi River.  Musicals were not written like this before.  Composers and librettists didn't come up with metaphors and character studies that would serve the plot.  They just wrote simple stories in which the songs could exist.  Jerome Kern's overwhelming and lustrous score mixed with Hammerstein's need to introduce character, metaphor and sprawling plots made for a landmark in American Musical Theatre.  I mean, the history of American Musical Theatre can be separated into two categories: before Show Boat and after Show Boat.  And since then, Broadway has "just kept rollin' along."

Tomorrow, I will slide right into the Top 5 of the 100 Greatest Broadway Songs.  We're inching our way to #1!

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