Welcome back! Much like in my last installment, as I considered the songs that fit into this post, I realized there was a pattern: two-thirds of them are solos. This group definitely favors a smaller number of performers. There are 10 solos, 2 duets, 1 trio, and 2 company numbers. I know this feeds into the recurring revelation that I enjoy any time a performer gets the music to themself, but it also shows the wide variety of solos available to the world.
Here, you will find a powerhouse 11 o'clock number, songs that bring tears to your eyes, ones that energize you and make you laugh, and (most significantly to me) the first song that ever scared me when I saw it performed live.
This entry is also important because it's where we cross the 200-song mark. That means we are over halfway through the year and, if you've been building a playlist along the way, it's getting pretty big. Want to let me know what your favorites have been so far? Drop a comment on this post. Happy listening!
196. 'Just Over the Line' from Dessa Rose (LaChanze as Dessa, Rachel York as Ruth,
Norm Lewis as Nathan)
Original Cast (2005)
Back in the '00s, I went with my friend Andrew to see Dessa Rose because we both loved musicals by its composers, Ahrens and Flaherty, and its trio of leads: LaChanze, Rachel York, and Norm Lewis. Our high level of anticipation did not lead to a let down (though I do vividly recall some very loud speakers sitting near us during it that threatened to ruin the experience.) For me, the best part of the entire production (which I remember even more than the annoying audience members) was 'Just Over the Line.' The musical is based on a novel of the same name and it tells the story of Dessa, a Black woman who has run away from enslavement, and Ruth, a white woman who helps those who have run away but also has to confront her own ties to the institution of slavery. In 'Just Over the Line' the two women (whose relationship is extremely contentious) are on a journey that involves a high-risk plot that could help many of the formerly enslaved reach true freedom. Tensions are high and the song is an excellently played duel between the two women, with inserts from Norm Lewis' Nathan (whose relationship with Rachel York's Ruth is one which Dessa certainly does not approve). Listen here.
197. 'Colored Lights' from The Rink (Liza Minnelli as Angel)
Original Broadway Cast (1984)
'Colored Lights' is one of those songs that I never would have known if my voice teacher didn't assign it to me. It's from a musical that showcased Liza Minnelli and it's a great one for anybody learning a belty sound or exploring the importance of interpretation. In fact, I'd love to see it have a resurgence in popularity. There's something beautiful in the way the character describes her life and the feeling that something (the colored lights of the title) was missing with completely natural language. The character, Angel, uses phrases like 'well, anyway...' after she questions her facts (was it Sam or was it Fred she was talking to?) and it lends a wonderful opportunity to investigate the importance of memory and feeling and lean into the humanity that creates our emotions. I love it. Listen here.
198. 'One, Two, Three' from The Fix (John Barrowman as Cal)
Hey, Mr. Producer!: The Musical World of Cameron Mackintosh (1998)
As a kid watching Hey, Mr. Producer! I knew nothing about the musical The Fix except that John Barrowman sang this incredibly catchy and high-powered song from it that I loved. That memory alone was enough for me to include it in here. As an adult, though, I know it has to do with US politics, dealings with the criminal underworld, and Cal - a politician's useless drifter son who gets pulled into the middle of it all. Watch here.
199. 'Lovely' from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Preshy Marker
as Philia, Brian Davies as Hero)
Original Broadway Cast (1962-1964)
The reason this song follows one from The Fix is because the first time I heard it, Ruthie Henshall was singing it in the revue Putting it Together and one of her co-stars was John Barrowman. However, 'Lovely' is actually from the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. One of the things I love about it is that it is entertaining in any context. If you take it out of the original show to perform it, you can change how you play with exactly how serious you are about what the song proclaims, which is that the person singing is lovely and, well, not much else. ('I can neither sew nor cook, nor read or write my name/But I'm happy, merely being lovely' is one of my favorite lyrics.) Listen here.
200. 'Not a Day Goes By' from Merrily We Roll Along (Bernadette Peters)
Sondheim! The Birthday Concert (2010)
For my 200th song, I decided to continue with Sondheim music after sharing 'Lovely' the night before, but to go to the opposite end of the emotional spectrum with it. Bernadette Peters is one of the best Sondheim performers on the planet and 'Not a Day Goes By' is a song that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let you go until it is ready. If you don't find yourself holding your breath as the song builds through its repetition of 'day after day...' you probably aren't in the right mindset for the song at that moment. Giver Bernadette Peters your full attention, and you should feel something stirring in your soul as you watch her. Watch here.
201. 'If It Is True' from My Life with Albertine (Kelli O'Hara as Albertine)
Original Cast (2003)
I never had the opportunity to see My Life with Albertine, and I don't recall listening to the cast recording until well after the show had closed on Broadway, but I do remember thinking Kelli O'Hara sounded flawless on this song, which closes the show. It reminds me of an old classical theater love song, where the lyrics are such that you could pop it right out of the show and perform it anywhere. Listen here.
202. 'Jasper's Confession' from The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Will Chase as Jasper)
Broadway Revival (2012-2013)
This musical is based on an unfinished story by Charles Dickens. Since the story has no proper ending, neither does the musical. This nontraditional format means that a variety of characters have the possibility of being the guilty party and whose confession gets performed depends on the turnout of an audience vote. Because of this, it's possible that you could see the show multiple times and not see all of the endings. I've chosen my favorite one, performed by the fabulous Will Chase, but is it really a spoiler if it might not be even in the show if you were to see it at any point in the future? I don't think so. Listen here.
203. 'Are You on the Bus?' from Leap of Faith (Krystal Joy Brown as Ornella, Kendra
Kassebaum as Sam, Kecia Lewis-Evans as Ida Mae, Leslie Odom, Jr. as Isaiah, and Raúl Esparza as Jonas)
Original Broadway Cast (2012)
First, it was a movie starring Steve Martin. Then, it became a musical with Raúl Esparza. In both cases it is about a con man posing as a faith healer and traveling around the United States making fools out of true believers. When I think back to seeing this short-lived production, two things come to mind: Raúl Esparza wearing a jacket that looked like it was made from a disco ball, and this song. Listen here.
204. 'I Have a Fire' from Scandalous (Carolee Carmello as Aimee Semple
Original Broadway Cast (2012)
Carolee Carmello is one of the best musical theater performers of our era. Although this production only ran for 60 performances (31 previews and 29 regular), having Carmello star in this biographical musical about Foursquare Church leader Aimee Semple McPherson made it worth the effort to go before it closed. The show may not be at the forefront of anyone's memories, but she really blew the song's big final number, 'I Have a Fire', out of the park. In a show that was far from lauded, she was perfect, so I had to share it. Listen here.
205. 'This Man' from Chaplin (Company)
Original Broadway Cast (2012-2013)
To round out this spurt of biographical musicals, I went with Chaplin which, as you can guess, was about the famous actor Charlie Chaplin. Rob McClure did a wonderful job in the title rule and I remember particularly appreciating the production's dependence on a black and white color palette. To represent this show I picked its final number because I thought it was lovely, but some of the solos are underappreciated and worth checking out, too. Listen here.
206. 'I Love You Like a Table' from Waitress (Christopher Fitzgerald as Ogie, Kimiko
Glenn as Dawn)
Original Broadway Cast (2016-2020)
I saw Waitress and the biggest thought I had when I left was 'Christopher Fitzgerald and Kimiko Glenn were perfect together in it.' Because of that, the obvious choice from this musical was their love song. It is as entertaining as it is sincere and they sell it expertly. Listen here.
207. 'Molasses to Rum' from 1776 (Gregg Edelman as Edward Rutledge)
Broadway Revival Cast (1997-1998)
This revival of 1776 was my first engagement with the show, and I fell in love with it immediately. One of my earliest core theater memories is seeing this production from a very close seat in the right side of the orchestra. The biggest reason this is important to me is because I remember the angle from which I saw 'Molasses to Rum' performed for the first time. Gregg Edelman as Edward Rutledge loomed above me like the horribly dominating character he was as he filled the theater with a stunning ode to the slave trade (the 'beautiful waltz') complete with an reenactment of the process of a slave auction. There is nothing comfortable about hearing this song, but that's what makes it so brilliant. You are forced to sit there in your discomfort and realize that this embodies exactly how some people felt. It is a remarkable piece of theater and when performed well, like Gregg Edelman did, it is unforgettable. Listen here.
208. 'Lot's Wife' from Caroline, or Change (Tonya Pinkins as Caroline)
Tony Awards Performance (2004)
When Caroline, the titular character from Caroline, or Change, confronts both herself an God in 'Lot's Wife', everyone in the theater is bound to lean forward, fully engaged. I remember attending the opening night of the original production and being utterly impressed by how Tonya Pinkins' intensity and vulnerability was a masterclass in capturing the essence of a character's inner struggle. Here, she performs the number at the Tony Awards. Watch here.
209. 'Sunset Boulevard' from Sunset Boulevard (Michael Ball)
Live at Royal Concert Hall Glasgow (1993)
There are a lot of great songs in Sunset Boulevard, but for me this one stands miles above the rest. It contains all the elements I love: crisp lyrics and lots of them, a melody that sticks in your head, and the potential for holding an audience in the palm of your hand even as you're talking about life's less-savory elements. You need a lot of swagger to do this song well, and Michael Ball does a great job with it here. Watch here.
210. 'How Can I Lose You?' from Myths and Hymns (Annie Golden)
Official Recording (1999)
Myths and Hymns is a song cycle by Adam Guettel (The Light in the Piazza) that was often mentioned in theater circles when I was growing up, but for some reason I never listened to it. Then, during the heavy days of pandemic lockdown a streamed 'concert' version of it occurred where all the performers were in their own homes. There were many gorgeous contributions and you can (should) lose yourself in it by watching it in full here, but one that really struck me was Dove Cameron singing 'How Can I Lose You?' It was contemplative with lyrics like "I look around now/You're what I see/Pictures of you leaving me" that made me want to go back and listen to the official recording of it by Annie Golden. Annie Golden's voice brings (as expected) a very different quality to the song, and I thoroughly enjoy listening to both back-to-back, but it felt right to showcase hers, as it is the one that all my friends talked about back in the day. Listen here.