Updated: Jun 12, 2022
Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, it was not uncommon to find me at at a Broadway theater on any given day of the week. When the theater industry very understandably shut down, I spent the time without live theater listening to shows I hadn’t seen or heard in a very long time. What this caused was a beautiful, nostalgic journey through shows I loved (and some I didn’t).
Now, of course, theater is back in action, but I really enjoy regularly reminding myself of the music that I’ve loved over the last 25+ years. To keep the fun going of listening to things that I know make my heart happy, I decided to begin a Twitter thread (which you can find here) that posted a different song from musical theater every day for a year. This blog series is where I allow myself to explain why I chose the songs, reflect on them, and sometimes suggest other songs from the show that I almost used. As of the start of writing this, I have been tweeting songs for 80+ days and no, not all of them are from Broadway productions. My dream is to not do much (if any) repeating of shows. We will see, as time goes on, if I maintain that or am unable to fight the urge to post a second song from a show I already featured.
It is my hope that anyone who comes across this series will enjoy going along for the ride and either find some new (to them) music to listen to or be stirred to remember something they haven’t heard in a long time. If either of these things happen to you, please don’t hesitate to let me know. Many of the songs I've selected have been recorded multiple times by different artists. I've made sure to specify the rendition I listened to that day and, as much as possible, included links for you to also listen.
1. 'Ich Bin Kunst' from Taboo (Boy George as Leigh Bowery)
Original Broadway Cast (2003-2004)
When I was in college I painted a lot of lyrics on my walls. One such lyric was 'Ich bin kunst' (German for 'I am art') from this Taboo song. Written by Boy George, Taboo follows the story of his younger self in Britain as he rose to fame and endured private struggles. Although the Broadway production was mired with bad press and did not last all that long, it was an instant cult classic, and I was among those regularly at the theater. The score is one of the best pop-influenced scores I've ever heard, and I highly suggest checking out the rest of it (especially songs like 'The Fame Game' and 'Petrified'), but I chose 'Ich Bin Kunst' because on the day I started this adventure I was thinking about those lyrics on the wall and the song that it came from. In it, the character of Leigh Bowery (a depiction of a real performance artist played by Boy George) addresses the audience about his life while the ensemble surrounds him in examples of his many created outfits. It is at turns challenging and playful, and certainly unforgettable. Listen here.
2. 'Summer, Highland Falls' from Movin' Out (Michael Cavanaugh) Original Broadway Cast (2002-2005)
Growing up on Long Island means I have been hearing Billy Joel musical all my life...but somehow I missed 'Summer, Highland Falls' until I went to see Movin' Out. This musical, which featured Michael Cavanaugh as the vocalist for Joel's music and a host of extremely talented dancers, brough the song into my life and it quickly became one of my absolute favorite. The opening lyric of, 'They say that these are not the best of times/But they're the only times I've ever known', is something that has stayed with me forever and it feels more accurate with every passing year. Listen here.
3. 'Let it Sing' from Violet (Joshua Henry as Flick)
Original Broadway Cast (2014)
Taboo and Movin' Out I really wanted to change gears and listen to a song that soared...and that's where 'Let it Sing' came in. Set in the US south in the 1960s, Violet follows the story of a young girl with a scarred face as she attempts to find a preacher who she hopes can cure her. Flick, a Black soldier she meets along the way, sings this song to her as part of their burgeoning relationship. Performed by Joshua Henry and containing lyrics like, 'You got to give yourself a reason to rejoice/For the music you make counts for everything', it is sure to move you. Listen here or watch Henry's 2014 Drama Desk performance here:
4. 'Sweet Liberty' from Jane Eyre (Marla Schaffel as Jane Eyre)
Original Broadway Cast (2000-2001)
Ever since I first saw Jane Eyre on Broadway when I was in high school, Jane has been near the top of my list of dream musical roles and 'Sweet Liberty' is one of the reasons why. I had tweeted three male songs in a row and wanted to change it up, so I decided going with a role I would give almost anything to play. If anyone out there has this kind of power: please revive it and also please put me in it. I'm ready. Listen here.
5. 'Marry Me a Little' from Putting it Together (John Barrowman as The Younger
Man) Original Broadway Cast (1999-2000) One of my longstanding disappointments is that the world did not get a cast recording of the short-lived Sondheim revue Putting it Together from the Broadway production. Loosely centered around an older couple (Carol Burnett and George Hearn) and a young man and woman (John Barrowman and Ruthie Henshall), it was full of classics like 'Not Getting Married Today' and 'Could I Leave You?' but for me John Barrowman's 'Marry Me a Little' was the absolute highlight for me. I went to the opening performance and then when closing was announced, I returned for that. Luckily, it was recorded in video format for posterity, so you can still watch it now, even if a proper cast recording wasn't released. Watch here.
6. 'I Wish I Could Go Back to College' from Avenue Q (John Tartaglia as Princeton,
Stephanie D'Abruzzo as Kate Monster, Rick Lyon as Nicky)
Original Broadway Cast (2003-2009) The day that I tweeted this was my first day at a new job on a college campus, and I had not spent regular time on a college campus since I was in graduate school. The first thing, then, that came to mind was this nostalgia-laden song from Avenue Q. It must be said that Avenue Q is one of my favorite musicals, and I could have chosen any song from it. Indeed, 'Purpose' would have been a good choice too because it is what inspired my Twitter handle. I cannot say enough positive things about the original Broadway cast of this show. It came out at the time when I was an undergrad and hit close to home in many ways while also making my sides split with laughter. The show is a special one and the cast was filled with wonderful people who showed me boundless kindness. I will never forget shouting my face off in Radio City Music Hall when it won the Tony. The music is, of course, partly by a pre-Frozen, pre-EGOT Bobby Lopez. Listen here.
7. 'The I Love You Song' from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
(Celia Keenan-Bolger as Olive, Lisa Howard and Derrick Baskin as Olive's
Parents) Original Broadway Cast (2005-2008) Although Spelling Bee is a really wonderful interactive comedy, 'The I Love You Song' is an emotionally-charged number about a little girl's relationship (or lack thereof) with her parents. I considered going with 'Woe is Me' which is my other favorite song from the show, but 'The I Love You Song' has gorgeous harmonies and is possibly my favorite Broadway song performed by a trio. At the time I tweeted this song I was watching The Gilded Age, which features Celia Keenan-Bolger as Mrs. Bruce, so Spelling Bee was on my mind. Listen here.
8. 'Don't Walk Away' from
(Cheyenne Jackson as Sonny + cast)
Original Broadway Cast (2007-2008) Cheyenne Jackson made his Broadway debut in Thoroughly Modern Millie then blasted his way on to giant Times Square billboards when he played an Elvis-like character in All Shook Up, but I fell in love with him in Xanadu. Although he had been part of pre-Broadway Xanadu, he was not the original Sonny on Broadway. The first time I saw it, James Carpinello was in the role. However, before the show officially opened Carpinello suffered an injury that would cause a long absence. Cheyenne was called in and took over and the rest is history. I liked Xanadu with Carpinello (enough to go back, obviously) but Cheyenne made a world of difference. His ability to play earnest and sincere while also hysterically funny was top notch, and his voice elevated the music to the stratosphere. To this day Xanadu remains tied for #2 in terms of productions I saw the most times (30) and Cheyenne's 'Don't Walk Away' is a major factor in why I returned time and time again. Watch here.
9. 'Grand Old Ivy' from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
(Matthew Broderick as Finch, Ronn Carroll as Biggley)
Broadway Revival Cast (1995-1996)
When I was in grade school, I went to see How to Succeed with my mother and my uncle. I have vivid memories of my mom chuckling the minute Matthew Broderick showed up on stage and of drawing the logo on my Trapper Keeper for weeks after. When thinking about this show from my theater past, I considered posting some of the classics ('Brotherhood of Man', 'It's Been a Long Day', etc.) but decided instead to go with a short, entertaining number where Finch is pretending he cares about the alma mater of a superior. It may not be the first song from the show that comes to someone's mind, generally, but it always makes me smile. Listen here.
10. 'Winter's on the Wing' from The Secret Garden (John Cameron Mitchell as
Original Broadway Cast (1991-1993)
Although I was aware of The Secret Garden as a show for many years, I did not see it performed live until the 2005 World AIDS Day concert benefitting The Joey DePaolo AIDS Foundation and Camp TLC. In that production, the role of Dickon (the character who sings 'Winter's on the Wing') was played expertly by Michael Arden. It quickly became one of my favorite songs in a show overloaded with lush, moving music (if you don't love 'Race You to the Top of the Morning' do you even have a heart?) and, since that concert was never professionally released, I chose the Original Broadway version to share. Since I was tweeting this at the start of March it felt like an appropriate time to introduce this ode to the coming of spring. Listen here.
11. 'Everybody Out' from Made
in Dagenham (Gemma Arterton as Rita + cast)
Original London Cast
In 2014 I was visiting a friend in London who absolutely loves English actress Gemma Arterton (St. Trinian's, Tamara Drewe, Vita & Virginia) so of course we had to see her in the musical Made in Dagenham. The show is centered on the 1968 Ford sewing machinists labor dispute, and 'Everybody Out' is its rousing Act One finale that serves as the call to strike. I particularly suggest listening to it when you're feeling fed up about, well, anything. Listen here.
12. 'Melisande' from 110 in the
(Steve Kazee as Starbuck)
Broadway Revival Cast
You will learn quickly as this adventure progresses that there are certain voices I am a sucker for, especially when they have a solo that either tells a story or moves me with the sheer emotion shown in it. I grew up singing the female music from 110 in the Shade, but for reasons unknown, I never listened to the male songs so the first time I heard 'Melisande' was when I went to see this production. It's a big Act II number where the character of Starbuck (Steve Kazee) is talking about the power of dreams and trying to encourage Lizzie (Audra McDonald) to go beyond her comfort zone. Later, Kazee would say that he didn't believe he was ready to play the role, but when I sat in the audience watching him, I was mesmerized and I still listen to his version regularly. Listen here.
13. 'King of the World' from Songs for a New World (Ty Taylor)
World Premiere Recording (1995)
Another male solo that I've always loved, 'King of the World' was originally performed by Billy Porter but when he was unable to be on the recording, Ty Taylor stepped in. I was not able to see the Porter production, so Taylor's version of this song is the one I know best and his vocals are killer. Songs for a New World is a revue, so there is no major plot that the song is tied to. Composer Jason Robert Brown said questions about the meaning of the song were constantly thrown his way, so in 2006 he finally gave an answer: 'I was living in a tiny studio apartment in Greenwich Village, I had no money, I couldn’t get a job, and I saw a lot of people who I thought were extremely talented getting nowhere. I was terrified that I would never have the chance to have my voice heard, that I would just spend the rest of my life stuck in a tiny apartment, never getting to share my music with the world. The song comes out of that, I guess, as much as anything. But what’s the story? It’s a guy in prison who genuinely believes he was the king of the world.' Makes sense to me. Listen here.
14. 'Asheville' from Bright Star
(Hannah Elless as Margo)
Original Broadway Cast (2016)
Carmen Cusack is a phenomenal performer who rightly received a lot of attention for her star turn as Alice Murphy in Bright Star, but for me Hannah Elless' Margo (a secondary character) has the best song. Situated in Act I, the audience sees Margo learn that her close friend (and crush) Billy has decided to move from their small town to Asheville in order to dedicate himself to getting published. Margo is supportive, but once she is again alone, viewers are treated to the simple, beautiful, and heartfelt song called 'Asheville.' In it, she wonders what his future holds but maintains that if his hopes don't come to fruition, he can come back home to her. I love singing it as much as I love hearing it and I was filled with delight when I was strolling through Dollywood on vacation and heard it playing over the speakers. Also, I should note that one of the writers of this show is Steve Martin. Yes, that Steve Martin. Listen here.
15. 'All That Matters' from Finding Neverland (Laura Michelle Kelly as Sylvia)
Original Broadway Cast (2015-2016) I followed 'Asheville' with 'All That Matters' because I felt like continuing my theme of songs I love to sing. The difference, though, is 'All That Matters' is much more of a vocally powerful ballad. Finding Neverland is based on the life of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, and his relationship with a widow named Sylvia and her four children. 'All That Matters' is Sylvia's solo number where she contemplates her life, grief, family, Barrie, and what it means to continue living. Listen her