THE 100 GREATEST BROADWAY SONGS
from West Side Story
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
sung by Maria & Tony (duet version); Maria, Tony, Anita, Bernardo, Riff & Gangs (quintet version)
When writing their modern update of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, the creative team was having trouble with the all-important "Balcony Scene." Originally, they had placed the sweet marriage-themed tune "One Hand, One Heart" at that point in the play. But both librettist Arthur Laurents and director Jerome Robbins felt that it came across as too pristine and hymn-like. Laurents felt that two young teenagers who have just fallen in love "at first sight" would not be pristine, but full of raging hormones. So Bernstein and Sondheim rewrote the two lovers' theme that appeared in the "Tonight" quintet (all the major characters singing right before the rumble). Therefore it became another one of those "motif" numbers that is used as both the sexually charged duet and the tense-filled pre-rumble quintet.
"Wouldn't It Be Loverly"
from My Fair Lady
Music by Frederick Loewe
Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
sung by Eliza Doolittle & Company
Almost every "traditional-styled" Musical has what is known as an "I Want" song (A song when the leading character reveals their innermost dreams and desires). This could be considered one of the most famous "I Want" songs. It even has the words "All I Want..." in it! The poor flower girl Eliza Doolittle sings this number after being publicly chastised by Professor Henry Higgins for her harsh cockney accent. He even drives it into her head that the way she speaks is the reason she is at the station she is in life (which is the crux of George Bernard Shaw's plot!). After this chiding, Eliza states (in front of her cockney friends) what she wants most out of life with this beautiful number to which everyone in the audience can relate.
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
sung by The Master of Ceremonies & Company
Like "Tradition" and "Comedy Tonight" before it, Cabaret's producer-director Harold Prince (who ironically had also produced Fiddler and Forum) wanted to open the show with a number that told the audience what the show was about. Kander and Ebb wrote this fantastic show-stopping opener that had the devilish Master of Ceremonies (originally played by Joel Grey and portrayed in the revival above by Alan Cumming) showing us the glitzy and seedy world he inhabits. He literally "welcomes" us all to the "cabaret." It is a true metaphor for the entire show as the "glamour" of the Kit Kat Club is covering its sleazy and debauched manner. Which then becomes Prince's symbol of what prejudice and Nazism really is.
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Martin Charnin
sung by Little Orphan Annie
This became a relentless audition song for many a little girl who watched as girls like Andrea McArdle (above), Sarah Jessica Parker and Aileen Quinn became stars singing this song. Mixed with Charles Strouse's simple and uplifting melody (something he was very good at with shows like Bye Bye Birdie!), Martin Charnin's lyrics really captured the essence of the Little Orphan Annie comic strip. Let's face it, everyone wanted a life like Orphan Annie's. To seemingly come from nothing only to be adopted by the country's wealthiest man, that is the ultimate "rags-to-riches" story. And through it all, Annie always kept an optimistic charm saying that "Tomorrow will be better." Which is exactly what this song states.
"Getting To Know You"
from The King and I
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
sung by Anna Leonowens & Children
Most of the creative people on Broadway have said and believed that "Teaching is the true noble profession." Once again, Oscar Hammerstein II showed his opinions in his lyrics and summed up what teaching is all about: "Getting To Know [the Students]." According to Hammerstein (speaking through the character of Anna Leonowens), the more you get to know your student, the better chance you have of teaching them (and they retain and understand what they learn!). And with this fun song (with Richard Rodgers' simple and beautiful melody), Hammerstein showed his great respect for teachers (and their noble profession!).
"The Impossible Dream (The Quest)"
from Man of La Mancha
Music by Mitch Leigh
Lyrics by Joe Darion
sung by Don Quixote de La Mancha
Like "Tomorrow" earlier, this song also had repeated usage over the years (particularly by lounge singers like Wayne Newton!). But you can't blame them when the music is so uplifting and thrilling...and the message is so poignant. One of the questions constantly asked of Don Quixote throughout Cervantes' classic novel is "Why?" And his answer (or rather Cervantes' answer!) is a poetic speech about following his quest. Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion turned this speech into a powerful ballad (with Leigh's Bolero-styled tempo) about how the quest, no matter how "impossible," is the most important thing in life. It is considered one of the most significant solo-male numbers in Broadway history and has become an anthem for following one's dreams.
"Send In the Clowns"
from A Little Night Music
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
sung by Desiree Armfeldt
As promised, I give you the highest-ranking song with both music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (two more songs with just lyrics by Sondheim will appear later in the list!). And this song is considered (even jokingly by Sondheim himself!) his biggest hit. This "11 o'clock number" comes towards the end of Sondheim's Musical adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night. The lead character of Desiree Armfeldt (who, up to that point in the show, had not sung a solo number!) realizes all but too late what (and who!) she wants. She then sings about the irony of her sad situation. The song became the celebrated hit of the 1973 show especially when Frank Sinatra covered it in one of his concerts that year. Two years later, folk singer Judy Collins covered the song on her album...and it went on to win Stephen Sondheim the Grammy Award for Best Song of Year! No wonder it's his biggest hit!
Tomorrow, we jump into the Top 20 of this list with a few more Great Broadway songs including two more from Rodgers and Hammerstein (they're everywhere!); as well as the highest-ranking songs from The Gershwins and Cole Porter!