Mark Shenton’s top 50 musical theatre songs: 50 to 41
Our associate editor, Broadway critic and resident musical theatre expert Mark Shenton is counting down his favourite 50 songs in the history of musical theatre. We will reveal them 10 at a time, with the final top 10 published on October 26. Shenton has only considered songs specifically written for musical theatre productions and only listed one song per musical. This is an inevitably subjective selection, but please list your own favourites in the comments below. We start with numbers 50 to 41.
50. It All Fades Away from The Bridges of Madison County
Broadway 2014 (music and lyrics: Jason Robert Brown)
Why I love it: One of the most influential composers of the last 30 years, Jason Robert Brown is the natural heir to a Broadway melodic tradition that owes as much to Billy Joel as it does to Richard Rodgers. Parade is probably his masterpiece to date, but the song that I like best is It All Fades Away from his short-lived 2014 Broadway version of The Bridges of Madison County.
Notable performances: Originally sung on Broadway by Steven Pasquale, he can be seen here in the recording studio for the cast album.
49. Dividing Day from The Light in the Piazza
Broadway 2005 (music and lyrics: Adam Guettel)
Why I love it: Adam Guettel has hardly been prolific as a composer but his output has been massively significant, including the gorgeous Off-Broadway musical Floyd Collins and Broadway’s The Light in the Piazza. Dividing Day from the latter is as spellbindingly melodic as it is tender and heartfelt.
Notable performances: Victoria Clark, who originally played Margaret, performs the song thrillingly.
48. Turkey Lurkey Time from Promises, Promises
Broadway 1968 (music: Burt Bacharach, lyrics: Hal David)
Why I love it: The only musical ever written by the great pop composer Burt Bacharach, this score is a tuneful delight and Turkey Lurkey Time is sheer joy. Michael Bennett’s choreography for the original production is also still spellbinding.
Notable performances: The original cast that includes the supreme Broadway dancer Donna McKechnie perform it in the 1969 Tony telecast.
47. Go Back Home from The Scottsboro Boys
Broadway 2010 (music: John Kander, lyrics: Fred Ebb)
Why I love it: Kander and Ebb’s evocative score for The Scottsboro Boys, first premiered on Broadway six years after lyricist Fred Ebb’s death, contains a scorcher of a a song in Go Back Home.
Notable performances: Audra McDonald recorded the song as the title track of her 2013 solo album, and it’s utterly exquisite: one of my desert island recordings.
46. Is It Really Me? from 110 in the Shade
Broadway 1963 (music: Harvey Schmidt, lyrics: Tom Jones)
Why I love it: Schmidt and Jones wrote the score to The Fantasticks, the longest-ever running Off-Broadway musical, but it is their score for 110 in the Shade that is their masterpiece; and Is It Really Me? is a haunting musical glory about a woman who suddenly realises that she is, in fact, beautiful.
Notable performances: Audra McDonald starred in the 2007 Broadway revival, and her performance just broke my heart.
45. Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered from Pal Joey
Broadway, 1940 (Music: Richard Rodgers, lyrics: Lorenz Hart)
Why I love it: Most of the Rodgers and Hart musicals from the 1920s and 1930s are unrevivable today, but many of their fantastic songs have become standards. One of their very greatest is Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, in which an older woman sings passionately of her sexual infatuation with a much younger man. “Worship the trousers that cling to him/ Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I,” she says. You recognise both the desire and the desperation at once.
Notable performances: Broadway’s grittiest and wittiest of all current leading ladies Patti LuPone sings a blazing version in this concert performance:
44. Bill from Show Boat
Broadway 1927 (music: Jerome Kern, lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II)
Why I love it: One of the most influential musicals ever written, Show Boat marked the shift from musical comedies to musical plays, combining a serious narrative story with gorgeous melodies by the great Jerome Kern. Bill is one of the most yearningly beautiful love songs in the catalogue.
Notable performances: This standard has been covered by numerous artists. But the stand-out for me is Rebecca Trehearn, London’s most recent Julie LaVerne in the 2016 West End revival that played at the New London after transferring from Sheffield’s Crucible. Trehearn possesses one of our very best theatre voices.
43. On the Twentieth Century from On the Twentieth Century
Broadway 1978 (music: Cy Coleman, lyrics: Betty Comden, Adolph Green)
Why I love it: Like a throwback to an earlier age of Broadway operetta, Cy Coleman’s ravishing melodies and Comden and Green’s hilarious lyrics make this one of my favourite musical comedies. The title track thrillingly sets up what is to follow.
Notable performances: Performed live on the 1978 Tony telecast.
42. I Get a Kick Out of You from Anything Goes
Broadway 1934 (music and lyrics: Cole Porter)
Why I love it: The verbal dexterity of Cole Porter as lyricist makes him one of the greatest-ever wordsmiths. He also wrote the loveliest of tunes to accompany them. Few songs are as effortless as I Get a Kick Out of You, written for his 1934 hit Anything Goes – a now-dated show that was given a hilarious reboot with a new book on Broadway in 1987. I get a kick out of this effervescent musical.
Notable performances: Patti LuPone was amazing Reno Sweeney in 1987, but the role was also gloriously taken by Sutton Foster in a 2011 Broadway revival.
41. Meadowlark from The Baker’s Wife
US tour 1976 (Music and lyrics: Stephen Schwartz)
Why I love it: The original pre-Broadway try-out may have closed on the road in 1976, but proving that great songs can survive the failures of their original production is the fact that Meadowlark has become a standard in its own right. It is one of Schwartz’s best-ever ballads. He may have also scored more enduringly popular shows such as Godspell and Wicked, but this is an absolute classic.
Notable performances: Many cabaret singers regularly sing it – but none better than the great Liz Callaway.
Numbers 40 to 31 will be published on Friday October 5. Listen to the playlist on Spotify:
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