365 Days of Musical Theater: 61-75
The assortment of songs in this installment really runs the gamut of emotions, from the truly comedic (Donna Lynne Champlin in By Jeeves) to the tragic (Sandra Mae
Frank and Katie Boeck in Spring Awakening) with hope, frustration, and joy thrown in (Wicked, High Fidelity, and Legally Blonde, respectively) for good measure. I hope you'll take the time to listen to (or better yet, watch where available) each of these entries. Although I didn't do it in purpose, I feel like there is truly something for every emotion in this batch.
These were tweeted between April 24, 2022 and May 8, 2022.
All entries in my 365 Days of Musical Theater Series can be found here.
61. 'That Was Nearly Us' from By Jeeves (Donna Lynne Champlin as Honoria, John
Scherer as Bertie) Filmed Version (2001)
I don't remember why or how my father and I ended up at the Broadway opening night of By Jeeves in October 2001, but I am forever thankful that we did. Based on novels by P. G. Wodehouse (that I had never heard of, let alone read) which follow the misadventures of one Bertie Wooster and his valet, the titular Jeeves, By Jeeves is the definition of charming. It uses a small cast and has a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn. Outside of Jesus Christ Superstar, it is my favorite of ALW's works. After using such a downer for my last song in the entry prior, I wanted something that was a good deal of fun and the first thing that came to my mind was Donna Lynne Champlin's turn as Honoria, Bertie's ex who clearly still has feelings for him that he certainly does not reciprocate. Champlin is vibrant, relentless, and hilarious, and an absolute must-watch. In fact, the entire show is--and thankfully there is a filmed version that you can watch in full here. The songs (especially 'It's a Pig' which makes me laugh so hard I cry) are best when viewed in context, but once you see the staging, they become delightful even with just the audio. Whenever I need a smile, this farce is one that I turn to, and with moments like 'That Was Nearly Us' it never ceases to help. Watch here.
62. 'Model Behavior' from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
(Laura Benanti as Candela)
Original Broadway Cast (2010-2011)
I fully admit that I don't remember too much from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. I sat in a seat that was so far away it was practically outside, and left the performance with three things about it etched in my mind: the pre-show curtain having a recipe on it for Gazpacho, Brian Stokes Mitchell comparing tomorrow to an ice cream sandwich on a silver platter, and Laura Benanti's hilarious 'Model Behavior.' I thought everyone needed to hear her rambling, panicky phone call song because this was the true highlight of the show for me. Listen for the bit about the spider/raisin, it is my favorite. Listen here.
63. 'Cryin' in the Rain' from High Fidelity (Will Chase as Rob)
Original Broadway Cast (2006)
High Fidelity was not perfect, but it should have had a longer run on Broadway. I drove up to Boston to see its pre-Broadway run and loved it, then loved it again when it played (very briefly) in New York. Based on the book and film of the same name, it tells the story of Rob, a record store owner, whose relationship with his current girlfriend, Laura, falls apart, leading him to consider his past girlfriends and what went wrong each time. The show was witty, with seriously underrated performances from its cast, and a score I still love. 'Cryin' in the Rain' is a short song from the second act where Rob (played expertly by Will Chase) is at his wit's end and vents his frustrations in supremely dramatic (and raging) fashion. I've always loved it. I think I even used it as my alarm sound at one point because the opening is just so demanding that I knew it would wake me up. It may have only had 14 official performances on Broadway (for some of which Will was ill--and yes, I remember him hiding glasses of water around the stage) but it is still something I listen to, and I'm pleased to share it in case others missed out on the fun. Listen here.
64. 'Get Out and Stay Out' from 9 to 5 (Stephanie J. Block as Judy)
Original Broadway Cast (2009)
Dolly Parton is an American treasure as well as one of the best songwriters of the modern era. The theater community was lucky to have her write the score for 9 to 5, the musical based on the 1980 film of the same name, that she starred in alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. My favorite part of it was 'Get Out and Stay Out,' the 11 o'clock number performed by Stephanie J. Block whose character, Judy, has finally decided to evict her ex-husband (aptly named Dick) from her life. It's a powerful anthem about recognizing one's self worth and removing toxic people from your life, and it's great. Listen here.
65. 'Mr. Bojangles' from Fosse (Ben Vereen, Edwaard Liang, Brad Anderson)
Filmed Version (2001)
There were a lot of things I liked about Fosse, which showcased all the Bob Fosse choreography a person could ask for, with 'Rich Man's Frug', 'I Gotcha', and 'Mr. Bojangles' at the top of my list. I picked 'Mr. Bojangles' because it's beauty is in its subtlety, which differentiates it from many of the other numbers. Watch here.
66. 'Swing!' from Wonderful Town (Donna Murphy as Ruth, Company)
Tony Awards Performance (2004)
Donna Murphy is a Queen of Comedy in my book, and if I ever was lucky enough to have even 1/100 of the talent she has, I'd be happy. Her performance as Ruth (the decidedly un-hip sister) in Wonderful Town was a tour-de-force and although she certainly wasn't the first and won't be the last to play the role, I am certain she will always be the best in my heart. In 'Swing!' she is tasked with the job of promoting a club called the Village Vortex where she gets drawn in by the swing music. My closest friends will tell you that I love to drop lines from this into conversation (particularly 'get hep' and lies about my favorite dish being fish). I never liked the sweet role of Eileen (Ruth's sister), because I am definitely a Ruth myself. Do yourself a favor and listen to the whole cast recording (especially '100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man'), but also let yourself fall in love with Donna Murphy in 'Swing!' because it is pure fun. Watch here.
67. 'So Much Better' from Legally Blonde (Laura Bell Bundy as Elle Woods,
Filmed version (2007)
On this day I was looking at a list of musicals I'd made at the beginning of my 365 Days and I wanted to use one that I hadn't listened to in a long time. Legally Blonde jumped out at me and I considered 'Legally Blonde Remix' for its famous high belting, but then I remembered the frenetic energy of 'So Much Better' from the moment in the show when Elle Woods celebrates a major victory. Then I remembered that the show was filmed and aired on television (not sure how I forgot about that) and that excited me because I love when I can share actual performance clips. Watch here.
68. 'Rose's Turn' from Gypsy (Bernadette Peters as Rose)
Tony Awards Performance (2003)
Rose, the infamous overbearing stage mother of Gypsy Rose Lee, is a role any self-respecting diva of the stage or screen with a presence wants to play. I've been a fan of the Gypsy film (due to my love of Natalie Wood) since the dawn of time, but my first encounter with the show on a professional stage was the production helmed by Bernadette Peters as Rose in the early 2000s. My mother and I sat very close to the stage and she drew me in immediately. Bernadette Peters may be petite, but she is powerful, and so hers is the version I chose to share. Watch here.
69. 'I Want it All' from Baby (Liz Callaway as Lizzie, Catherine Cox as Pam, and
Beth Fowler as Arlene)
Tony Awards Performance (1984)
Baby closed on Broadway shortly before I was born so, for obvious reasons, I never got to see it. However, as a theater lover who listened to anything and everything I could, the cast album eventually crossed my path and the two most-popular songs from it at the time were 'The Story Goes On' (where a woman realizes her pregnancy will lead to the continuation of her family line just as she was the continuation of her ancestors' line) and 'I Want it All' (where three pregnant women at different stages of life examine all their dreams and how they, well, want it all.) I hadn't listened to Baby in years when it returned to my consciousness early in the pandemic. I'd agreed to write some monologues for the 365 Women a Year Monologue project. One of the women assigned to me was Carmen Barros, an incredibly accomplished Chilean actress and singer. I worried my lack of Spanish would make it hard for me to research her, but then I found a video of her performing 'I Want it All' in Baby and as soon as I watched it my worries went away. I was taken in immediately by her easy command of the stage and charisma, and suddenly writing was easy. It reminded me, too, of how great this song is. Although I used the original English version for this post (which you can watch here), I hope you will also check out Carmen Barros in the Spanish-language version (which you can watch here), she'll be the one in the grey suit/skirt.
70. 'Funny Honey' from Chicago (Ruthie Henshall as Roxie)
London Cast Recording (1998)
At the end of the 1990s, it was announced that Ruthie Henshall was going to make her Broadway debut in Chicago. This made my teen heart grow several sizes with excitement. I'd fallen in love with her as Fantine in the concert version of Les Mis that I watched regularly and the London cast recording of Chicago that featured her as Roxie Hart was my preferred version. The thing was, when she came to New York this time, she wasn't going to be playing Roxie, she was going to be playing Velma. I was a little disappointed that I wouldn't be seeing her perform 'Funny Honey' live, but ended up absolutely blown away by her Velma--she was one sassy bitch. It was a magnificent experience (as was meeting her after) but her 'Funny Honey' is such a central part of my musical listening history that I had to share it. Listen here.
71. 'Mama Who Bore Me/Bitch of Living' from Spring Awakening (Sandra Mae
Frank and Katie Boeck as Wendla & Voice of Wendla/Daniel Durant and
Alex Boniello as Moritz & Voice of Moritz, Company)
Deaf West Revival Tony Awards Performance (2016)
Sometimes a revival can completely change your opinion of a musical. For me, the biggest example of this is Spring Awakening. When the original Broadway production opened in 2006, I saw it but I didn't fall in love with the show despite some great musical moments and super-talented performers. Then, a decade late, the Deaf West production came to Broadway and all that changed. This version, for me, got to the heart of what Spring Awakening should be as an exploration of the troubles that come with growing up in a society that continues to restrict, oppress, and fail its children. It wasn't overly flashy and loud, but it made sure the audience saw the vulnerability of its characters and was perfectly cast. It hit me in the heart. I will never stop being upset that we did not get a professionally-released video recording of this production, but I am glad that I can at least show you the two songs that they performed for the Tony Awards. It is a thing of beauty and completely unforgettable. I found myself watching this on repeat after seeing the recent documentary about the original production. Now you can watch it, too. Watch here.
72. 'Lost in the Wilderness' from Children of Eden (Darius de Haas as Cain)
American Premiere Recording (1998)
Children of Eden (which, as the title suggests) covers Biblical themes from the book of Genesis, has not yet made it to Broadway, but it was incredibly popular in my theater-loving circles when I was growing up. The song that's always appealed to me the most is 'Lost in the Wilderness,' in which Cain (of the famous pair of brothers, Cain and Abel) expresses his rage and frustration over the fact that their parents (Adam and Eve) got them kicked out of Eden and have also prevented them from exploring beyond a designated area. To me it has always been a lament and an attempt to give Abel a reality check. I've been listening to Darius de Haas on this recording for...well...a very long time, so I was happy to get this chance to share it. Listen here.
73. 'There is Nothing Like a Dame' from South Pacific (Florence Henderson)
Broadway Backwards (2015)
Despite being a classic, South Pacific has never been one of my favorite musicals. Then, I attended Broadway Backwards 2015 and Florence Henderson (Mrs. Brady!) came on stage and did the most delightful version of 'There is Nothing Like a Dame' that I have ever seen. This is that performance. Watch here.
74. 'The Wizard and I' from Wicked (Idina Menzel as Elphaba)
Original Broadway Cast (2003 - Present)
When Wicked is the topic of conversation, 'Defying Gravity' is the song that usually comes up with regard to the character of Elphaba. It is an important one, for sure, but I've always preferred 'The Wizard and I.' It's a great moment when Elphaba shares her hopes and dreams and admits that one of them is to have the green removed from her skin so that others will accept her. It is a sweet instance of vulnerability and one that I think everyone can relate to, because who among us hasn't ever wished things were different? Listen here.
75. 'Me and the Sky' from Come From Away (Jenn Colella as Beverley, Company)
Original Broadway Cast (2017 - 2022)
I have a complicated relationship with Come From Away. I recognize that it is a much-loved show, but I had difficulty sitting through it. I don't think I was (am) ready for a musical about 9/11, but a great many people certainly had the opposite reaction. One of those people was my mother, who absolutely adored it and saw it multiple times without me being the impetuous for the repeat (a rare thing!) So, when Mother's Day came around, I selected 'Me and the Sky', performed by the magnificent Jenn Colella, as a nod to my mom's love of this show. It's a song about what happens when you've dedicated your life to something that becomes a literal weapon of mass destruction. People with access to Apple+, I believe, can still watch a filmed version of the show in its entirety or you can listen here.