Today, I read this article from TimeOut. My thoughts? It tries to please everyone. There's a song from every genre and every era, nothing is too obscure, no show is listed more than once, and it looks like there's been an effort to include many different writing teams. And I think it's a well-done list! They nail a lot of songs and have some wonderful and surprising picks.
I'm curious what songs the article's writers would have chosen if they didn't want to try to please everyone. Or if they were strict about musical theatre selections instead of choosing some operetta and rock. Or if they tried to limit their selections to one song per writing team.
That's where this list comes in.
I've kept the original structure and a lot of their selections, but I've replaced songs where I feel they should be replaced. There are no repeat writing teams (though Rodgers, Hammerstein, and Sondheim are on here twice with different partners) and kept the list to Broadway musical theatre. My order is a little messed up (“Twenty Million People” would probably not go above “Cabaret,” for example), but I did that to hew more closely to the original list for comparison's sake. I repeat: THESE SONGS ARE IN THIS ORDER TO COMPARE THIS LIST MORE EASILY TO THE ORIGINAL!
Let's do this!
1. “Rose's Turn” – Sure, absolutely this deserves the #1 slot. How could it not?
2. “Bill” - “Ol' Man River” is great. It really is. It's also problematic, which is why its lyrics have been re-written at least four times over the years. Try “Bill” instead.
3. “Finishing the Hat” – Yeah, okay. This can stay. Good choice, list! Can I say at this point how I'd like to sneak “Someone in a Tree” on this list somewhere?
4. “Twenty Million People” – I love me some Dreamgirls, but apart from the wailing high performance “And I Am Telling You” needs, there's not a lot to this song dramatically – the character starts and ends the song in the same place. And besides, where is Flaherty and Ahrens on this list? Something had to go to make room for “Twenty Million People,” the greatest opening number ever, and it might as well have been “And I Am Telling You.”
5. “Some Enchanted Evening” – Yup. Works for me.
6. “Cabaret” – OMG yes. Put it higher, even!
7. “Wait For It” – Alright, “Satisfied” is great from a structural point of view, seeing previous events in an entirely new lens. But it's rather undramatic with a character telling the story of something that already happened. “Wait For It” on the other hand cuts straight to Burr's character and locks into place everything we're about to see him do. It's a more solid choice.
8. “A Musical” - I love “Losing My Mind,” but if I could include more Sondheim I'd probably put “You're Gonna Love Tomorrow/Love Will See Us Through” just for the sheer audacity of that number. But I can't put any more Sondheim. So I'm gonna go with “A Musical” from Something Rotten! I don't think I've ever laughed harder in a theatre… and talk about audacity!
9. “Ya Got Trouble” – Damn right! Maybe “76 Trombones/Goodnight My Someone” for the surprise value of seeing the two numbers eventually come together… but no. Can't beat “Trouble.”
10. “Some Other Time” – All the tears. Bonus points for the musicalized existential sigh.
11. “Adolpho” – “A Little Priest” would break the writer rule. Again. But oh man, it was tough to cut “Priest”. So let's through in another comic number that gets me every time, “Adolpho” from The Drowsy Chaperone. The show isn't as bloody as Sweeney, but it might just be more tragic.
12. “Heaven on Their Minds” - “Memory” is a very conventional pick, but I'm not picking the conventional in my list. “Memory's” music is Puccini and the lyrics are Elliot – not real musical theatre 'stuff' at all. If we're going for Webber we should go back to the beginning and go for “Heaven on Their Minds.” Kick-ass music that jump-starts the entire show and immediately lets us sympathize with one of the greatest villains ever? Absolutely.
13. “You Can't Get a Man with a Gun” – “There's No Business Like Show Business” is fine, but it goes on a bit long. “You Can't Get a Man with a Gun” is a tighter song with clearer character development and is just plain funnier.
14. “Astonishing” – Oh Carousel. I'd put at least four songs on the list if I could. If I would cheat and include the whole opening sequence of “If I Loved You” Or “Soliloquy” just because. So let's go for another show-stopping solo and have “Astonishing” from Little Women.
15. “Stoned” – Sorry Les Miz. You're a great show, you've got some great songs, but the sum of your music is better than your parts so I can't in all honesty put “On My Own” or “I Dreamed a Dream” on the list. And “One Day More,” though hella impressive, is too jumbled and interconnected for this list. So here comes Passing Strange! “Keys” was the Tony performance, but it's so, so tough to pull it out of context – it's like singing “Hey Jude” and only doing the “na, na, na, na na na naaaa” section. “Stoned,” on the other hand, works great out of context and is an amazing, rockin' piece.
16. “You're Nothing Without Me” – I like Sweet Charity plenty, but if I had to pick a Cy Coleman work (and there are so many to choose from in so many different styles), it would be something from City of Angels. “You're Nothing Without Me” is phenomenal, and right up there with “Lilly's Eyes” for tenor duets.
17. “The Riddle Song” – I know, “Don't Rain on My Parade” is truly fantastic, but Styne already got the top slot so I don't feel bad about knocking another one of his iconic songs off the list (even if it's with a different collaborator). So go check out Adam Guettel's complex, fun, clever “The Riddle Song.” Sondheim says you should too!
18. “I Love Betsy” – I just don't feel like “Aquarius” is a musical theatre song. It feels much more like a pop song, as do all the Hair songs. Which is fine, but I have a hard time including those on a list of Broadway songs without also including, say, “Beautiful” and “Oh What a Night.” Besides, this list needs some JRB and “I Love Betsy” is super catchy and sets up the rest of the show well.
19. “Cookies” – I love A Year with Frog and Toad so very much and “Cookies” feels like a Christmas miracle filled with joy and light and, well, cookies. But if I could include more Kander and Ebb I'd put “Mr. Cellophane.” Props to the original list for not going for “Cell Block Tango,” but I don't think “All That Jazz” is the best Chicago pick either.
20. “Summertime” – Sure, I can go with this. Problematic but iconic.
21. “Vanilla Ice Cream” – Oh man. Fiddler is great, and “If I Were a Rich Man” could totally be on the list. But I don't know, She Loves Me is such a perfect little music-box musical, I kinda have to go with it.
22. “Model Behavior” – Yeah, “Send in the Clowns” is the popular pick, Sondheim's only radio hit. But, well, another Sondheim. Yazbek needs to be invited to this party too. So go check out his frenetic, tour-de-force “Model Behavior” from Women on the Verge, Pepa!
23. “The Poker Game” – Major credit to the original list for “Lot's Wife.” I'd definitely include this tour-de-force on a best-of list. But I first fell in love with Tesori's music on the Violet cast album's “The Poker Game,” where present-day Violet interacts with her younger self through a poker game she's playing with some fellow travelers. The trope of different time periods interacting is something that frequently comes up in Tesori's work, so the amazing “The Poker Game” goes on this list as a gateway to her other songs.
24. “Sit Down, John!” – I love “Tonight” and West Side Story, but let's go with some 1776, a musical that makes you forget for a few moments that we did, in fact, sign the Declaration of Independence.
25. “Adelaide's Lament” – Major props to the list for putting “Adelaide's Lament” and not “Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat.” It can stay put.
26. “Guido's Song” – Breaks my heart to cut some Gershwin, but G's already got Porgy while Yeston has nothing! So go for “Guido's Song” from Nine. It's an “I am” song where we fall in love with the character, see all his flaws, and see him breaking down all at the same time.
27. “Meadowlark” – Yes, I know “Defying Gravity” is the popular choice (did you see what I did there?). But it's just dwarfed by the achievement of “Meadowlark” from Baker's Wife. Longer song, higher belt, similarly huge stakes.
28. “Life of the Party” - I love “Glitter and Be Gay,” but it's really operetta and we're making a musical theatre list. Also, it's another Bernstein. So go check out Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party and listen to this devastating number.
29. “I'm Breaking Down” – I feel bad about cutting the Fun Home number, but I already picked a work by Tesori that better represents her output. And seriously, no Finn on this list?! Pfft. Allow me to correct that.
30. “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” – You can stay. (Richard Rodgers, technically making me break my rules again…) I thought about “I Could Write a Book,” but really it's a toss-up.
31. “Tchaikovsky and Other Russians” – I really, really love “My Ship.” But sorry, I need me some of “Tchaikovsky's” flashiness. It's an insane patter song to end all other patter songs and you must listen to Danny Kaye sing it. Do it now. I'll wait.
32. “Tom” - “Totally Fucked,” what do half your lyrics even mean? Is there any journey? Any development? And you're the most coherent lyrics in Spring Awakening! I love you dude, but I can't say you're the best of Broadway when your lyrics are so, well, not theatre-y. So let's substitute one sex-fueled alt-musical with another and go for “Tom” from Hello Again.
33. “Montage” – Is it cheating to include, like, 15 songs from Chorus Line instead of one? Too bad. I'll cheat on this one. But “Montage” is an achievement, a miracle made of counterpoint.
34. “Seasons of Love” – Fine. I'll include this one, but I'm conflicted. It's so iconic, but it just doesn't do a lot and it hides some of the unwieldy structure of Rent. But I have a soft spot, so it can stay.
35. “Impossible Dream” – Yes and yes again.
36. “I've Decided to Marry You” – Major props to the original list for including “Lost in the Stars,” but I already have a Weill piece and I just had to include “I've Decided to Marry You.” It's complex but never opaque, it's laugh-out-loud funny, it furthers the plot, and, I know this is a bit outside the purview of talking about the song alone, the blocking is spectacular. Masterful comic brilliance.
37. “History of Wrong Guys” – If I had another Sondheim slot, “Being Alive” would be here instead of “Another Hundred People” (should'a gone with your first impulse, authors-of-the-original-piece). So I'll go with “History of Wrong Guys,” which is like nothing else in the musical theatre canon with its bizarre, contemporary quirky character being in the leading lady slot. So it gets included here. Well done, Lauper.
38. “Suddenly Seymour” – Okay, sure. This works for me. Other possibilities I toyed with were “Feed Me” and “Somewhere That's Green,” but as the song says, “Seymour's your man.”
39. “River in the Rain” – This list could be all Rodgers and Hammerstein, so let's go for “River in the Rain” from Big River. It's such a different sound than anything else on this list and, in the show, we get a moment to relax with the characters after a harrowing misadventure.
40. “I Am What I Am” – Yaaaassss Jerry Herman! This song is great!
41. “Why God, Why” – I know it's iconic, but I'm kinda tired of “Don't Cry For Me, Argentina.” So let's substitute it with another 80's mega-musical and go with “Why God, Why.” “Don't Cry” is a polished speech, but “Why God” is a conflicted cry.
42. “Maybe” – Definitely!
43. “Pretty Funny” – Yes, “Hello Dolly” is a star turn, but 90% of the song is the ensemble singing and dancing. Also, I'd like to put more new classics on the list with “Pretty Funny” from Dogfight. It's heartbreaking and fresh but evocative of the period it's set in.
44. “She Used to Be Mine” – It's an instant classic from Waitress.
45. “No One Else” – What's with the Jerry Herman love, listmakers? A song from each of his biggest Broadway shows? It's too much. If I were to to by those standards this whole list would probably be Sondheim! So let's go for another new classic and go for “No One Else” from Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, the electro-pop “War and Peace” adaptation. A soprano tour-de-force and the last moment of sanity in the show before a crazy avant-garde opera and a drunken duel in a rowdy bar.
46. “You're the Top” – I like “Anything Goes,” but we study “You're the Top” in songwriting class. You can't argue with perfection.
47. “Sal Tlay Kasity” – Yes, “Everyone's a Little Bit Racist” is excellent, but “Sal Tlay Kasity” from Book of Mormon is more subtle, has more heart, and ultimately hits harder than “Racist.”
48. “I'm Not at All in Love” – Sure, “Whatever Lola Wants” is great, but the best thing about it is what the performer brings to it. The song itself is super simple to account for the dance and the seduction. Basically, I love “Lola” but for a well-constructed song by Adler and Ross I'd prefer “I'm Not At All In Love” with all its subtext, joy, and self-delusion.
49. “Simple Joys of Maidenhood” – Sure, “Loverly” is, well, lovely. But “Simple Joys” is a killer – by the end of the show, Guinevere gets everything she sings about in the song and it brings about the end of civilization. Can Eliza say that about her song?
50. “Home” – No, “Ease on Down the Road” is catchy but inconsequential compared to “Home,” one of the richest songs in the musical theatre canon.