feature image credit: Maciej Bledowski / Shutterstock
A series in which we use the power of song to share a multimedia slice of our memories and experiences across time and bandwidth. Do you remember where you were when you heard this one, or this one? We do.
When I was 12, my parents took my sister and me to see the Phantom of the Opera at the Pantages Theatre in Toronto, Canada. I remember being completely overwhelmed. It was like the movies, but more intense, more real, more tangible. When Christine hit those high notes, when the Phantom played his own death knell song, the music became a thunderous vibration, filling the whole theater. It lifted me, made me catch my breath, holding a fullness in my chest that was new and thrilling.
Though Phantom is one of my least beloved musicals now, musical theatre is one of my favorite hobbies. I’m not a particularly skilled vocalist. I’m an OK actor. After failing high school musical auditions more than once, I settled for running the lightboard. My relationship to musical theatre is as audience member, listener, sing-a-long-in-the-shower belter, and devotee of contemporary and weird musicals. Musicals are escape and transformation and connection to your deeper self. As someone who is always thinking of the next 10 things I have to do — or that are overdue — good theatre forces me to pause and sit and become immersed in fantasy.
There is nothing I love more than sharing a deafeningly silent, poignant moment with 300 other audience members; grinning wide through a rousing musical number that makes me want to stand and cheer; or tearing up at a matinee with the gray-haired woman seated beside me. In that spirit, I want to share some of my favorite musical moments with you. Here are some of my favorite things from my favorite shows, the songs that embrace me in the tender places of my steely heart.
Ring of Keys from Fun Home
Let’s just start here, because everyone has cried to this song. If you haven’t, you are probably going to right now. Or you are a cyborg incapable of emotion, which is understandable.
Do you remember the first time you saw a visibly queer person? A beautiful butch? The first time you felt that glimmer of recognition or tingling of desire. For many, this song is about self-realization. For me, it’s more about naming my desire. I remember the first time I saw a woman with short hair and men’s clothes and a cocky swagger in her walk. She was a manager at the McDonald’s I worked at in high school. She was bisexual and had a boyfriend and was in her twenties and a huge flirt. I’d known I was bi for a while, but I had never flirted with a woman before. I didn’t know what I even liked in a woman, what I was attracted to, until I met Stacey. I didn’t know a woman could be like her, look like her, make me blush like her. It switched something on for me that couldn’t be un-switched. When I listen to “Ring of Keys,” my heart just stops for a second. It makes think about coming into my own identity, about seeing someone and suddenly having my whole future open up before me. It’s a song about unlocking all those lonely queer places in your closeted heart, finding your people and your self.
“I know you. I know you. I know you.”
Good Morning Sunshine from Hair
I was not yet born to see Hair in 1967, the musical that set the stage for rock musicals and was billed as the “American tribal love-rock musical.” (That “tribal” part’s a bit awkward, but hippies, amiright?) So I watched the 1979 movie version on VHS, over and over and over. Sometimes I think about how Hair defined my mom’s generation and I knew it as video and about how Rent defined my generation and teens today know it as a video. What I’m saying is, I’m sure the movie was nowhere near as impactful and moving as the original stage version. There is no way I could understand the racial tensions of the 60’s, the toll of the Vietnam War, and the beauty and trappings of the sexual revolution. Similarly, I grew up in the angsty aftermath of the AIDS epidemic and I doubt today’s teens could really understand that from watching Rent.
I loved Hair, the movie. As a teen who was both really sexually curious and terrified of my sexuality, watching Hair with my friends and singing along to “Sodomy… fellatio… cunnilingus…” and “I’ve got life, life, life, life, liiiiiife!” felt really good. It’s a musical that made me feel a way about politics, about our role in effecting change, and about our responsibility to each other. Years later, I was carrying a cardboard coffin through the streets of D.C. during a Bush inaugural anti-war protest in my bright red faux fur coat, shouting “No Justice! No Peace!” into a megaphone. I think it’s safe to say that my obsession with Hair was because it shouted about sexuality at a time in my life when I was afraid to whisper and it called me into my activist soul.
Satisfied from Hamilton
Methinks I relate a little too much to Angelica Schuyler, as portrayed by the super-talented Renee Elise Goldsberry. Not because I’m potentially in love with my sister’s husband. No, I relate to Angelica because she is a smart, witty, independent woman who is always pushing herself and her politics, who really struggles to put her own needs first. She’s always reaching for more, more, more, and she’s so strong in her convictions. I’m pretty sure Waffle has actually said to me, “You’re never satisfied with what you have.” I am always thinking about, “OK. What do I want to be doing in five years? What else can I do to make change? Am I doing enough? Could I do this one more thing?” and I am less inclined to think, “Am I taking care of myself? Is this too much?” Dating me can be a challenge for a romantic. I’ve scheduled outreach programs on the same night as my spouse’s birthday. I’ve gone to out-of-town lobby days on our anniversary. I may be out of town for our anniversary again this year. Like Aaron Burr, sir, I’m the worst. Too bad Angelica wasn’t into gal pals and/or isn’t alive anymore, because we could definitely hang. I feel like we’d get each other on a deep sisterly level.
People Like Us from The Wild Party
“Oh, the city. So many lights you can actually pretend one of them’s shining on you.”
Toni Collette, you gorgeous femme fatale. I don’t even know why I like this song so much, other than that it’s fucking beautiful. This musical was genius and had an incredible cast including Collette, the incomparable Eartha Kitt as a Vaudeville diva, and Mandy Patinkin as the abusive boyfriend. It’s based on a controversial 1928 narrative poem of the same name by Joseph Moncure March, that was banned and impossible to find in print until it was reprinted in 1994. There is some bad representation. The lesbian is aggressive and possessive. The bisexual is a sexual predator. But again, in 2000, we were still in the dark ages. The fact that a character even was bisexual, that there was a love song by a woman for another woman, made me feel less alone.
There’s a Fine, Fine Line from Avenue Q
Driving through the woods and farms on Route 3., white-knuckling the steering wheel, crying into the hair falling across my face. That’s what this song is to me. It was my go-to breakup song during the year of on-again-off-again, the track I screamed into the nothingness expanding endlessly in front of me as I drove as far as I could go until I had to turn around and head back home again.
Last Night of the World from Miss Saigon
First off, this musical is my problematic fave. Oh dear, it’s such a mess. It is the white savior-est of the white savior stories. Its portrayal of Vietnamese people is awful. It literally upholds the Asian virgin/whore stereotype. It’s the actual worst.
Tell that to 12-year-old me, who picked this soundtrack up right when I was starting to get into musicals, right after Phantom. When you don’t have any media representation that looks vaguely like you, you grab onto what you can.
Lea Salonga, who played the lead role, enchanted me with her voice and her power. She was 18 when she originated the incredibly difficult role in London and then on Broadway, showcasing her impossibly wide vocal range. Beyond being a popular recording artist in the Philippines, Salonga was also the first Asian woman to play a lead role in Les Misérables on Broadway. She is the singing voice behind Disney’s Jasmine and Mulan and she is currently back on Broadway in the original cast of Allegiance. Her voice and her story as Kim in Miss Saigon brought me to adolescent tears, laying on my bed, reading along from the liner notes as I played the double-disc CD.
When I first started becoming friends with my spouse in college, this was one of the musical soundtracks we discovered we both loved. On a car ride to Hamilton College to see Dorothy Allison speak, we put this CD in and belted along to the songs and this was our favorite song. Despite all the reasons it should be problematic, I will always have warm fuzzy feelings for this song and it will always make me think of my love.
Miss Saigon is coming back to Broadway for a revival. I think it should probably stay in its racist past, but I also know that deep in my heart, I am totally going to want to see it again.
Out Tonight from Rent
Mimi. Mimi. Mimi. I know I should have latched onto Joanne and Maureen. I KNOW. And I did. I mean, I loved every character in RENT, every song. RENT was the musical of my teen years. Everyone who went to high school circa 1996-2000 sang “Seasons of Love” in chorus as some point. It was the 90’s. It was the aftermath of the AIDS epidemic. ACT UP and Queer Nation was a little before my time, but RENT was, in many ways, a slightly sanitized version of the radical queer heart of the 90’s. Maureen was the first bisexual character I saw in popular media. Mimi was everything I wanted to be when I grew up, though looking back, I suppose she was supposed to be somewhat of a cautionary tale. It didn’t matter. She was free in ways I wanted to be free and for me, she was 100% about owning your sexuality, owning your body, being shameless. I wanted her and I wanted to be like her.
The movie never quite meant the same to me as the stage version did and as the music did on it’s own. I was a senior in college when the movie came out. Rosario Dawson absolutely killed it in the movie performance (the clip above), but Daphne Rubin-Vega was my one and only true Mimi. I was lucky to see her a few years later as Magenta in the Rocky Horror Picture Show revival and she slayed my heart.
Carrying the Banner from Newsies
This dumb-ass musical about some hot guys who kind of look like dapper lesbians was a staple of my puberty years. My two best friends and I would watch it every weekend, sing all the parts in harmony (sort of). We had Newsies doppelgangers. Cat was Sarah, the hot chick and the only girl in the whole damn show. Heather was Davey, the sensible one who took care of the less sensible ones. I was Racetrack, the funny wise guy. I was always the funny wise guy growing up. The cool friend who my friend’s boyfriends enjoyed hanging with. The funny fat girl Korean sidekick to my white friends who I felt sure had so much more sexual capital than me. I digress. This song is just so fun. I have to admit that I mostly like the movie version of Newsies. I saw the Broadway show and it was… I dunno… too cheesy for me as a stage show. Maybe I just grew up a bit and had a harder time finding myself in it. I don’t know. This song still reminds me of sitting on the floor in Heather’s den, watching this tape and rewinding to watch this song over and over and discussing which dancers were the hottest.
Touch Me from Spring Awakening
I intentionally linked this newer version of “Touch Me” from the 2015 Deaf West revival of Spring Awakening. I saw the Deaf West production twice this past year and I honestly loved it more than the original production, which I also saw on Broadway. In the Deaf West revival, the whole show is performed (not interpreted, performed) in ASL and spoken English, with a half-hearing and half-deaf cast. It brings another layer of intimacy and meaning to the show, which is at its heart about teens being cut off from knowledge and self-autonomy. It’s also historically accurate, as deaf kids were often and still are forced to adapt to oral communication for the comfort of hearing people.
This musical is for millennial misfits what RENT was for my teen years. Spring Awakening is a powerhouse. It’s the musical that launched Lea Michele’s career. It’s about teens rebelling and bursting into their sexuality at a time when adults refuse to listen to them and trust them. It’s still very relevant today. “Touch Me” brings me back to my childhood bedroom, where I privately and guiltily explored the pleasure of my body while being absolutely sure it was wrong and dirty. It’s about that time in your life, whether it is in your teens or after you come out in your later years, when you are aching to be touched, ripping out of your skin, throbbing with desire, and kind of afraid of what giving in to your desires might do do to you, too. It gives me chills every time.
Say It To Me Now from Once
Can you tell that I like emotional power ballads? Actually, I knew my spouse and I were going to be friends for life when I realized we liked all the same belt-it-at-the-top-of-your-lungs musical tracks from all the same musicals. This song is like that moment when you’re with that person you like and you think they like you, too, but neither of you can find the words. And you’re looking down at your hands and wondering if they will touch and hoping, hoping that they will. It’s the moment right before I sloppily kissed my boi on the sweaty dance floor of that drag bar, even though we were both in long-term relationships with other people, even though it was a huge risk, even though I didn’t know if he’d kiss me back. It is the moment just before I took the leap and in my mind there is always two versions of that story, the one that really happened and the one that could have happened if I’d stopped myself before my lips reached his neck.
“This is what you’ve been waiting for…”
I could go on forever and ever and ever and ever. I have so many favorites that it’s impossible to put them all here. Let’s keep the mixtape going in the comments. I’d love to hear about your favorite musical tracks and artists and your favorite musical moments. What songs make your heart soar?
Oh man, I love this series so much, thank you for this! Kaelyn, I think we also have the same taste in musical tracks – I actually have a playlist that is just called “Divas Belting” with all my favourite big belt-y numbers from my favourite musicals. A short sample:
You Don’t Know – Next to Normal
All That Jazz – Chicago
The Music and the Mirror – A Chorus Line
Rose’s Turn – Gypsy
Breathe – In The Heights
Climbing Uphill – The Last Five Years
On My Own – Les Miserables
I Believe in Love – Hair
Out Tonight – Rent
The Dark I Know Well – Spring Awakening
Come to Your Senses – tick..tick..BOOM!
A Boy Like That – West Side Story
No Good Deed – Wicked
Some of these have good stories, or powerful memories, but for the majority of them, I just like the feel of my voice and my body as I scream them into the ether.
I can’t tell you how many of these were on my original Mixtape. But I realized 20 songs was too many. Ugh. “Come to Your Senses” is my other favorite break-up song. “Climbing Uphill” and “Breathe” and “I Believe in Love”!
A Chorus Line is one of my favorites that didn’t make this list, though I am partial to “What I Did for Love” as my favorite belt-y song.
Thanks for sharing this! I have a Spotify musical playlist, too, with a lot of my faves. It’s almost 4 hrs long! LOL.
This feeds my soul. Thank you!
Glad you enjoyed it! It was so hard to narrow it down to a reasonable number of songs. There are so many that got left off!
I love this so, so, so, so much!
Broadway queers unite!
(RENT was my first love from basically ages 12-18, and my go-to pick me up all the way through college. It was my first introduction to something like fandom. I will always hold a space in my heart for Mimi and Angel.)
Haha, I feel like I should now tell you that a 13 year old lil baby C.P. used to do this number on our kitchen table after school. Literally ON THE TABLE. I used the bathroom counter for “Out Tonight”. “Take me or Leave me” and “Happy New Year” were reserved for belting in the shower. haha. I’m forever thankful that my Mom wasn’t home between 3pm and 5pm.
From one musical theatre nerd to another – I looked at the thumbnail shot of that Wild Party clip and honestly thought Toni Collette was Julia Murney and that was the OTHER Wild Party. Haha oops.
Also, I’m so glad you linked the Deaf West Spring Awakening. I didn’t see the original Broadway production, but I know from the cast recording and non-Broadway productions that I have always been too old for that musical. That said, I just saw the Deaf West version last week and thought the production itself was absolutely beautiful and remarkable.
I also saw Spring Awakening when I was a little older and it is A LOT OF MUSICAL, just a lot of issues and angst and obvious metaphors to pack into 2 hours. I mean, so is RENT, but I was in the appropriate demographic when I fell for RENT. I liked the original, though, because I liked the music. I saw it late in the game–not with the original cast. I think Hunter Parish was playing Melchior and he was OK. The Deaf West version blew me away. I got teary watching the rehearsal videos and I knew I had to see it. We ended up seeing it twice before it closed. I firmly believe it was superior to the original. The restaging and new choreography and the addition of the “Voice of…” characters was beautifully done. I wish it wasn’t a limited run.
HAHA on Wild Party! I have to admit I am in the LaChiusa score, though I’ve seen a regional performance of the Lippa version. I liked it, too. I think I just happened to listen to the LaChiusa version first and that’s what imprinted on me. Also, I find the LaChiusa version grittier and nastier and I like that. Aaaaaanyway, now I’m just rambling about musical theatre nonsense…
My issue with Spring Awakening is that the music doesn’t function as it’s supposed to in musical theatre. It doesn’t advance the plot. It’s basically some pop (indie? alt-rock?) music interspersed in a very melodramatic play. I do like the music as music, it just doesn’t do anything for the show! But I totally agree about the Deaf West production and I hope more of their projects make it to NYC.
I’m in the Lippa camp for Wild Party, but that’s mostly because of an undying love for Julia Murney and everything she does. Nothing against the LaChiusa score, but my only real exposure to it was when an opposing show choir did a whole set from that show and it was super inappropriate for high school and ridiculous.
(Nothing is ever wrong with rambling about musical theatre nonsense.)
This is relevant to my life. I write musicals & plays, run a non-profit theatre company for queer women, produce benefit concerts, and more! Theatre is my life, my love, my career, my education. I’m writing a one woman autobiographical musical based on my Live Journal entries from high school, about how RENT made me gay and almost killed me, and then saved me. It’s tentatively called “Life Sucks/I’m In Love”.
Here are some songs that I love. Many are from shows that I either worked on, but they all have a place in my heart.
Yank! was the first show I worked on in NYC. It’s a love story between 2 servicemen in World War 2. You can get the cast recording on iTunes.
I first saw Next to Normal when it was at 2nd Stage (off-Broadway), before it went to DC and then transferred to Broadway. I saw the show after a very painful battle with mental illness. “Growing Up Unstable” was cut before it hit Broadway, and while it’s not my favorite song, I miss it.
I love Ragtime. I love this song. This version is from the short-lived 2009 revival.
Scottsboro Boys is a musical by the writers of Cabaret and Chicago. It flopped on Broadway, but it will always be in my heart.
And just for kicks, here are some songs I wrote:
Thanks for sharing these great songs! Especially the ones your wrote! WOW!
I’ve only seen the Broadway version of Next to Normal, so I’d never heard “Growing Up Unstable.” Thanks for sharing it! Next to Normal is an incredible show, one of my favorites. It almost made this list, but then I couldn’t decide which song I liked most or which meant to most to me.
Oh wow, N2N is one of my favourite shows, but I too have only ever heard the OBC version, so I never even knew this existed, this is incredible!
Thanks so much for this! I’ve been a Broadway lover since elementary school, when I was in a 4th grade production of Oklahoma! I love Rent, but really don’t appreciate Spring Awakening as I’m too old for it. One of my big memories was when I was in a production of South Pacific while beginning my gender transition. I was playing one of the sailors and it was awkward, but still enjoyable. Now, one of my life goals is to play Miss Hannigan. If men in drag can do it, why not a trans woman?
Here’s a sampling of my favorite songs:
I Am What I Am- this has become my life anthem. It’s all about being your authentic self.
Losing My Mind- this song proves the genius of Stephen Sondheim.
Tomorrow- while this may sound like a song for a Polyanna, it never fails to cheer me up.
Mr Cellophane- I’ve felt like Amos does in Chicago many times. When your in a room with family or friends and you feel like no one knows you exist, it’s incredibly painful.
Send In the Clowns- just another incredibly beautiful Sondheim song
I could go on for hours about my love for Broadway.
A Sondheim devotee! I have to admit I’m not as into Sondheim, but I can’t deny his genius. His music perseveres through time. “Send in the Clowns” is a personal favorite.
Thanks for sharing your favorite songs. This is a great list! I think you’d be a great Miss Hannigan!
I don’t get everyone commenting here saying they were too old for Spring Awakening. I saw it for the first time with its original Broadway cast when I was 18, so I guess I was in the right demographic, but still, I think so many of its themes and issues are really universal. Censorship? Religious conservatism? Sexual abuse? Not being able to live up to your family’s expectations? Yeah, maybe a lot of that stuff comes up for most people for the first time in high school, but it never stops being powerful or relevant.
I would also highly recommend checking out Frank Wedekind’s original play Spring’s Awakening, which the musical is based on.
And to Mezza, regarding the disconnect between the music and the story, you’re right, the music doesn’t fit, but that’s completely intentional. I don’t think music is supposed to function any particular way in musical theatre, this is just one way of doing it. The music is supposed to highlight the rich, electric inner lives of these children who live in a society so rigidly buttoned-up and controlled, that the only way they can truly express themselves and be themselves is inside their heads, shown in the musical as song. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the show live, but when you do, it’s so incredible, the scenes are all lit with this warm, soft, natural, light, and then the second the music starts, the lighting just instantly switches to all these electric neon lights with strobes lights and flashes of blue and green and purple, it’s so fucking incredible.
I’m with you, Allison! I was 26 when I saw the original B’way production, so a little older, and I loved it! The music won me over right away. I can’t imagine not loving the score. Then again, I’m a huge fan of contemporary musicals, much more so than musicals anytime before the last 60’s. Lots of contemporary musicals have experimental or non-traditional scores. I thought the music was incredible and moving from the moment I heard it. It is the music that made me see the show. Even though I was a little past my teen years, I could see why younger folks were connecting with the show. It made total sense to me. The show itself waxed a little dramatic, but I saw a regional production of RENT recently and felt the same way. Rent was everything to me when I was in my teens.
I also agree the juxtaposition between the modern rock score and the traditional costumes and setting are intentional. In the original production, they had the on-stage seats, where lucky audience members mingled with some secret members of the chorus who would suddenly jump up during a number to represent the connection between modern times and the characters in the play. It was an interesting choice, having the show literally framed by modern teenagers. In the new version, they didn’t do the stage seats and I’m glad. However, the “Voice of” characters represented modern teens and had modern dress and looked a little older, I think representing the character’s inner self as well as the connection through generations. Absolutely the themes in Spring Awakening are still relevant today! It’s an important show that touched and changed a lot of people!
I saw Spring Awakening with the original Broadway when I was 25 and I LOVED IT.
Me too – I still brag to people that I got to see Lea Michele’s boobs and Jonathan Groff’s butt :)
Musical Theater gives me life!
When I was little, a “Best of Musical Collection” was on sale at our supermarket, and I fell in love with it then. It was full of the old, old classics.
My first roomate introduced me to a VHS of “Hair”,which was revelatory! I later rented “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Rent”.
This is rather unusual for where I live, since Musical Theater is not a well respected art form in a country where you can stumble into any old church around Christmas and listen to a Bach oratory.
Opera and Theater houses actually lose state funding if they put on more than one musical number a year.
The few that are put on are crazily overpriced.
I therefore didn’t see my first show until I was almost thirty!(Wiiicked)
So, every time I see a musical, or listen to one in its entirety, I always am so full of happiness and sheer amazement.
So, here’s a list of things that I’d love to add:
West Side Story – Maria (It’s one of those songs from the knock off CDs that has always moved me in its beauty and simplicity)
Wicked – For Good (I saw this live when Stephen Schwartz came to town, and of all the songs that evening, it gave me goosebumps. It’s just so raw.)
The Phantom of the Opera – Point of No Return
You should have seen my face when I finally watched the DVD of “The Phantom” after having meant to see it since I was little.”Point of No Return” isn’t standard fare like Music of the Night” or even the titular “Phantom of the Opera” but it exemplifies the sultry and yet lonely longing theme of the musical so perfectly and is rather underappreciated as songs go. “The Phantom” is the one recording where I prefer the German version, because it was sung by opera legends,and Peter Hoffmann lends the song a lyrical and sweet quality it lacks in the movie version:
Rent – I’ll Cover You
Well, I would really like to hug this entire musical. Especially a guy being able to openly love his queen on my very own TV screen made.me.so.happy.
Glee- I Dreamed a Dream
Back, when the show was really, really good and doing really,really revolutionary things, that scene and song blew me so out of the water, I was walking around dazed for days.
Speaking of Gut Punches:
Hair – Manchester, England, England
And speaking of points of origin:
Cabaret – Mein Herr
Watching this in the height of summer in a show tent in Berlin, without knowing at all what I was in for, was such a special treat, I can’t even tell you.
Well, I almost fainted sitting down, I can tell you that.
Thanks for this list! I think it’s time to revisit some favorites!
Wicked! What a great show to kick off with! It’s so fun and really spectacular! The costumes, set design, everything is so BIG. I love your picks! These are all songs I love, too! Thanks for sharing!
What a great list! Deaf West Spring Awakening is a phenomenon, and I encourage people who don’t get to go to Broadway (as much as I do) to watch out for the announcement of the tour dates.
I wouldn’t necessarily include all the same songs as you, but I agree with all of your Rent opinions – from the inexplicable Mimi-fave (I also liked Joanne but you’re not supposed to admit that your favorite bohemian is the one with an office job) to the strong feelings about Rubin-Vega as the One True Mimi.
Also, I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but: I saw Rent when I was 12. I had been questioning my sexuality for weeks beforehand (thanks fanfic)! But suddenly, when Mimi started dancing on that fire escape, my eyes went wide, I began to shift awkwardly in my seat, and my inner voice went “yeah, you’re definitely a little bit gay.”
Haha. Yeah, Mimi is pretty hot. As much as I applaud Rosario Dawson’s movie performance, it was just something else to see Daphne Ruby-Vega literally hanging from the scaffolding, precariously gyrating against the rails in dangerously high heels. Ugh. So good. So confusing sexually. LOL.
I can’t wait for the Deaf West National Tour! A lot of the performers were new to Broadway and, quite frankly, there aren’t a lot of roles for deaf actors in general, so I hope that means we’ll get a lot of original cast on the tour! I would travel to see it again. It’s that good! If I lived in NYC, I’d probably have seen it 10 more times.
Yeah, my coworker ended up seeing DWSA 12 times (opening, closing, and 10 other lotteries). He got very lucky (and also put his name in several times a week).
A great list, although it really makes me feel old. I started with my parents’ cast albums: Candide, Brigadoon, Kiss Me Kate, and now I’m a major Sondheim fan. While some folks here may feel too old for “Spring Awakening,” I think that Sondheim means more and hits harder as you get older. Meanwhile I missed Rent completely, but am totally hooked on the Hamilton cast recording.
Hamilton College will perform Spring Awakening in a couple of months, although not Broadway quality.
The albums I picked up from my parents were original The Who’s Tommy, which eventually became a staged musical and Cabaret, the Liza version. I never related as much to the earlier classics, but I also wasn’t exposed to them except for high school musical versions.
I don’t think I could call myself a Sondheim fanatic, but I do like a lot of his shows and his lyrics are prolific. Much of it is certainly contemporary–ground-breaking, even! My favorites are Into the Woods! Company! Follies! Sweeney Todd! Brilliant, brilliant stuff.
Glimmerglass is doing Sweeney Todd this summer! See you there!
Might be worth the 3 hour trek!
Oh, also currently OBSESSED with Hamilton. I haven’t seen it yet, but listen to the soundtrack almost daily.
My thing was more of the classic film musicals. (Cyd Charisse <33333 and also Lena Horne, and Judy Garland, and Eleanor Powell, and Ginger Rogers, and Esther Williams, Peggy Ryan, and…)
Lots of the classic male gaze anthems take on a new life when the queer gaze gets involved. It can be a little difficult to get too irritated with songs extolling the virtues of the ladies when you, well, empathize with some of their sentiments. And as a few have noted concerning the Cruel Intentions pics this week, [referring to when Sarah, Reese, and Selma visited the musical parody production] queer reappropriation/reclamation of “girl-on-girl is hot!” imagery for their own purposes is not just possible, but also the reality of how some people came into their identities.
And yeah, every time these songs pop up on my music player, I just get the biggest shit-eating grin on my face, as well as some lecherous leering at certain lyrics, in complete agreement, with that little extra bit of smugness because this song was an ode to female objectification, but damn right ladies are great.
A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody, from The Great Ziegfeld
Here’s the Girls from Ziegfeld Follies
Dames, by Harry Dubin and All Warren, from 1934’s Dames, as well as the Broadway adaptation of 42nd Street
Beautiful Girls, from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies
One, from A Chorus Line
You Stepped out of a Dream, from Ziegfeld Girl
Baby You Knock Me Out, from It’s Always Fair Weather
I like the idea of a queer reappropriation of these classic songs. I have to admit that is partly why I’m not into older musics. SUCH GENDER STEREOTYPES. MUCH BINARY. I watched “Gigi” (the movie version) when I was a teen and was thoroughly off-put.
But in a queer context, the most sexist songs can definitely be kind of sexy.
omg cyd charisse fan club here as well
THANK YOU for posting these are so PURE
It is just a sampling! I have SO many favs!
“Touch Me” is one of the most beautiful songs in the entire universe!! I am also a big fan of “Take Me or Leave Me” for a karaoke duet.
Really, it is! Anything from Rent is a great karaoke song, really. Can I be Maureen?
You know, I have been devotedly lurking here for forever, and I am not at all surprised it’s taken a post about musicals to lure me out of lurkdom.
BECAUSE MUSICALS ARE MY FAVOURITE GODDAMN THING ON EARTH.
I spend a lot of time thinking about things like my top five whatevers, so I am prepared for this moment.
Another Winter in a Summer Town from Grey Gardens. Just. I can’t. I can’t even get into it.
I Don’t Know How to Love Him from Jesus Christ Superstar. So simple, so heartfelt, so beautiful.
The Origin of Love from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It hurts and heals my heart at the same time.
Wait for It from Hamilton. ALL OF HAMILTON.
Almost Real from Bridges of Madison County. Kelli O’Hara is the love of my life.
HELP. I am leaving so many out. It feels like I am betraying my babies. Ugh I am so weird but who cares.
Can we talk about our favourite musical theatre performers?! It’s hard to have such unwavering love for Laura Benanti and just like…not shout it from the mountaintops.
Welcome into the light!
“I Don’t Know How to Love Him” always gets me, too.
“Origin of Love” is one my faves. I wish Hedwig, the characterization, wasn’t so damn problematic. Admittedly, I saw the Broadway revival twice: once with Neil Patrick Harris and once with John Cameron Mitchell. I never saw the original production, but the movie was a big big part of my queer identity feelings process in college. Even as I’m screaming inside like, “THIS IS TERRIBLE TRANS REPRESENTATION!!!” I do love that song. I am confused about what it means for bisexuals like me, though. Are we fused with two other people? Three? More? Are we free agents?
ALL OF HAMILTON.
Laura Benanti is great! Are you in the pro- and anti-Idina Menzel camp? I’m pro, though I found If/Then kind of exceptionally boring.
KaeLyn! Thank you for the kind welcome, and for engaging me in musical theatre nerdspeak!
Yes, there are definite issues around Hedwig and trans representation, but I think I fell in love with that song before I was consciously and carefully and critically thinking about that kind of stuff, and it’s just…stuck in my heart. My interpretation is that the song isn’t about who you love/are attracted to in general so much as how you lost/find your endgame lobster? (Which in itself is obviously a troublesome concept, but like, so is everything, so I let myself have this song.)
I am very much on the pro-Idina side. Admittedly, her voice isn’t nearly at its peak anymore, and sometimes, I find her timbre a little…grating…but I saw her as Elphaba, and she blew my stinking socks off, so my heart can’t let that go. I didn’t see If/Then!
This conversation is top notch. I feel on the verge of an AS commenting spiral.
CHRIST OK SO
My Beloved Late Grandmother was a little bit obsessed with Stephen Sondheim and thus Bernadette Peters
It actually may have been the other way ’round, but you can’t have one without the other, can you?
Recently, my mom asked me to organize the CD collection that no one has touched in years so we could shove it in the attic, out of sight out of mind, and over half of the CDs were Sondheim CDs inhereted from my Grandma. There were, like, three different copies of the original cast of Sunday in The Park With George. It was nuts.
This is to say, Bernadette Peters was my first celebrity crush, “first” meaning I was so young that crushing on an adult celeb meant hoping they’d someday adopt you.
1. “Anything You Can Do” – Annie Get Your gun (w/ Bernadette Peters, obviously) was the first professional stage production I ever saw. I was young enough that I dont really remember it. My Grandmother took us to the kennedy center and smuggled in her own candy because fuck overpriced concessions. We feasted on Snickers bars and it was heaven on earth, I Tell You.
2. Stay With Me – if you think we didn’t own the fuck outta the DVD of the Kennedy Center Original Broadway Cast performance of Into The Woods, you’d be dead wrong, son. This song makes me almost cry. I’m stone cold, so I don’t ACTUALLY cry, but it hits me hard, man. The way Bernadette-as-the-Witch’s voice waivers and breaks into vulnerability at “I am home / who out there could love you more than I?” UGH, MAN. IT HURTS SO GOOD.
(Honorary Mention To “Witch’s Lament”)
3. “For Good” – OK so Wicked BLEW THE FUCK UP when I was thirteen years old, and I got the book for Christmas along with tickets to see the show with my family. I’d been listening to the soundtrack, sans understanding of the plot, for MONTHS at this point, and I read the book in a single night, and it was a LOT. Do you remember middle school, y’all? The feelings of alienation? Walking around every day like an open wound of emotion? Not the complex, adult, trying kinds: the FEELS that are so basic and pure they cut right to the core.
Wicked (the novel) left me feeling empty. I almost didn’t want to see the show, that’s how much it hurt, and how much it meant to me. In this song, Elphaba and Galinda are aknowledging their relationship and its passing. Do you remember how many frienships died in middle school???
I wept to this song, guys. I wept to it by the light of a lava lamp I bought at Spencers.
4. “Astonishing” – OK so, as a whole, Little Women doesn’t really do it for me, but Sutton Foster and her one eyebrow (u kno the one) is a majestic creature from outerspace // the way this song nostalgias back to an earlier song, an earlier age, and just ACHES with What Could’ve Been and Lost Childhood Dreams and that YEARNING FEELING for being little and unbruised makes it worth mentioning. That and I listened to it on repeat for most of my junior year of high school, so.
5. “Color and Light” – Mandy Patinkin is a God with a golden voice, a national treasure, plz forgive him for being in Homeland we all make mistakes he’s only HUMAN
this list could go on forever so I’m stopping now, but yeah. Musicals. Damn.
((Honorary Mention to “Tomorrow” because I knew all the words when I was, like, five, and belted it regularly, much to the delight of my parents I’m SURE))
Bernadette Peters is such a babe. Ugh ugh ugh. I love her and her raspy, powerful voice. “Stay With Me” is definitely one of my favorite songs from Into the Wood. I was a little nervous about the movie version because I didn’t know if Meryl could stand up to the standard for the Witch in my mind, which is definitely busty Bernadette Peters. I thought she did pretty OK, surprisingly, but yeah, there is no one who can sing it like she can!
Wicked the novel is really good, but really dark. SO DARK. Nothing like the musical, really. I feel like I don’t know if it’s even appropriate for most preteens. It’s very adult and very political and dense. The musical is definitely the family-friendly version. Because, you know, Elpheba doesn’t become a radical anarchist who attempts to assassinate the leader of Oz, nor does she live in a hobbit hole living her sad revolutionary, lonely life without showers. Anyway, “For Good” is such a song. Better than “Defying Gravity,” in my opinion!
Sutton Foster forever.
I probably need to reread Wicked as an adult, because there were some THEMES in that book and I remember, as a kid, thinking “there is a lot here that I am NOT GETTING”.
I distinctly remember thinking “OK, that time clock is a symbol for something and I have no idea what it is. And also that nurse maid lady who is, at this point, hundreds of years old. She’s some kinda portent.”
Not that I’m any better at reading for theme and symbol in my twenties than I was at thirteen, But A Kid Can Hope!
(My general disillusionment with the rest of the Wicked series has kept me from following through on this. That and I need to reread House of Leaves before I reread anything else because THAT BOOK THO)
The ending to the musical was a pleasant surprise, but, after the book, also a bit of an anti-climax. I was ready for some cathartic weeping, and instead I got this tidy little ending!! I felt kinda DUPED, to be honest.
RE: “Stay With Me” I think the reason I love this song, and also “For Good”, so much is that sort of painful feeling of wanting to hold time and stop it, or wish yourself back to sometime simpler. The way nostalgia is always sad and happiness, in the now, can create that looming sense, that preemptive mourning, that sting of vulnerability because you know it’ll end.
Basically, I’m the kind of person who will cry over home movies.
Things about parents and children and childhood really fuck me up, which is weird because I don’t have kids. But I WAS a kid, I guess? I don’t know.
But the little wounds, the small ways kids get broken into adults over the years, and the way friendships fall apart over minor betrayals or just a slow drifting, and how parents are held hostage and forced to watch it all and just. Let it happen: that shit is like a weird masochistic drug for me.
I can’t co-sign ‘Stay with Me’ and ‘For Good’ enough. As well as your overall endorsement of Bernadette Peters. ‘Unexpected Song’ and ‘Not A Day Goes’ by are two other Bernadette classics that make me weep.
The utter anguish and love in, ‘Who out there could love you more than I? / What out there that I could not supply?’ gets me every. damn. time.
Oh no feelings, big mountain of feelings and incoming Great Wall of Text.
After ballet, musical theatre is my oldest friend and it was there for me like a book in a way ballet wasn’t. It was my own little corner, my own little chair. My wings of fancy.
Also probably helped little me process, not just escape, the shit I was dealing with.
But until like you dear KaeLyn my relationship with musical theater started on the other side of the proscenium and I still hold that musical in high regard.
It was Fiddler on the Roof JR. I was 8 years old and the brief reprieve I got from changing schools was over because I had been placed into special ed.
My mother signed me up for theater camp that summer because she needed to give me something. Something I could do, something I liked and was not connected to the kids I went to school with. According to her I was born a dancing fool, I had been singing along with Disney movie since forever and fairly well for an untrained kiddo.
But uh singing was one of those things that make my sibling punchy, clearly I needed an outlet for it (and lots of things).
Someone is probably gunna find the fact that an 8 year old already knew what the Holocaust was to be fucked up, but hey I loved history and history class was just too slow for me so I read ahead. Alot.
What I’m trying to very awkwardly get around to saying without telling people details how much it sucked to be in special ed is that a musical about a persecuted people trying live their lives and preserve themselves under persecution was cathartic for me, a child who was a marked other and suffered for it.
Not that I am trying to say my school experiences are any way equal or equivalent to the experiences of Anti-Semitic persecution in 20th century, but it gave me perspective on the human pack behaviour and reasonable doubt when a majority claim a thing didn’t actually happen or wasn’t that bad to a minority group or when people don’t want believe atrocities.
My mother once told me learning about the Holocaust as a post-war generation that level of inhumanity and social organisation dedicated to it just wasn’t conceivable, which is why some people just refused to believe it. I think I broke her heart when I told her why I found it believable. Good parents want to protect their children, but sometimes they can’t. It is an impossibility, a thing out of their control.
As adult I understand the fiddler but cannot sing Sunrise, Sunset without my voice breaking no matter how warmed up I am because swiftly fly the years, one season following another laden with happiness and tears. The poignancy of that song grows with you or isn’t poignant until you’re grown.
Next musical I was in was Children of Eden and I have like no attachment to it. Other than it was my first exposure to khoros style staging, reminded me of Hunchback of Notre Dame level mega-drama and burnt the words “born in sweat and pain” into my mind forever more. It did me no extra damage or contributed in anyway to my atheism or pagan ways.
Then it was Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
I don’t think I can pick a specific song from that musical because I consider the entire thing the last gasp of my innocence, the last cinder of childlike optimism and hope.
Additionally it was the year of my first real life that make one nerous crushes on 2 real life girls, not just Brandy.
One was my friend whose beauty I could only describe as that of a deer. She was lanky in that beginning puberty way that should of been awkward but it was graceful on her. Like a deer, something that could outrun you if it wanted to run from you or kick the shit out of you.
Also her skin was well a fawn sorta shade and she had these green eyes that reminded me of what’s like to under green leaves when the sun hits them just right and makes stained class of them. I think it was her who told me my eyes reminded one of what’s like to be under cool shade of strong old tree like the oaks in City Park. We never kissed or anything but that was the first time I had fluttery feelings about someone and could touch their skin, hold them and feel um well (proto?)sex feelings. I reaaaally don’t want to say what age I was because it kinda disturbs me and she was the older woman at 12. Wow that is a lot about a person I never kissed.
The other girl was far, far from my reach she was Cinderella and very different sort of beauty (stacked front and back..ok I was tiny unknowing pervert) and totally had the aura of a Disney princess, the kindness too. We had the same shoe size and I know that because I tried on her glass slippers. Yeah I was sneaky and yes the prop mistress would have wrung my neck.
So maybe I’d say my mixtape so far would be
My Own Little Corner
Ten Minutes Ago
The last musical I was in was The Music Man and it very foreign to me because uh heheh I’m from the sort of sinful place those townspeople feared in 1912 and modern Anglo Protestant America is still foreign to me. But it was a fun experience and I got a named solo part. Our Mayor Shinn was this tiny little kid who just old enough to be enrolled in theatre camp. He lisped the word feathers in”collecting tar and feathers” and only that, was just hysterical with his dramatic little kid faces and mannerisms.
So maybe in honor of my bit part add Iowa Stubborn to the mix?
Now we’re at when I was too old for theatre camp and some memories of life before I had those lovely four opportunities where I got to be a performer of musical theatre.
Around 2003 or 2004 which was just in time for Chicago to come out on DVD and to be bought with me in mind. It was…my Rent? I’m not saying I identify with the characters, I’m trying to say it was impactful and I will never be done with it ever.
The costumes, the sensuality, the brassiness, the rage and other strong emotions it all spoke to me in away nothing else did at the time until I got into heavy metal and classic rock.
Also corruption was a very relatable theme and the desire to get away with something terrible while feeling kinda shitty about the innocent that get damned, but moving on with things because that’s life nothing I could do to fix it; or so was my philosophy at the time.
The first musical I ever saw was the 1998 VHS of Cats, but it was more for ballet and a love of the four foot cats then the musical-ness. I got mad that everyone was mean to Grizabella, but were nice to Old Deuteronomy and Gus then was a bit…delighted when Macavity came and terrorised them. The way older women are treated by our society compared to the way older men are honoured was something I was at 7 already sensitive and pissy about.
Gave my MawMaw extra attention then and especially now.
Later in life someone suggested Grizabella was ostracised because she had been slutty/vain in her youth and didn’t properly follow the ways of her people. I gave them the finger.
Still Mister Mistoffelees was the first musical number I can remember that made me want to sit very still so I couldn’t miss a thing. I cannot tell you why, but I will throw a pillow at you if try to interrupt to me while watching it without even taking my eyeballs of the screen to aim.
The last big moment me and musicals had was the immense privilege of watching The Lion King musical in Mahalia Jackson Theatre, I cried actual tears during The Circle of Life. It was an emotional moment for a lot of reasons, but one of which was the fact it was my first time back there since she re-opened after Katrina and it was where I performed in the Nutcracker.
The director of my ballet school would not even let me audition for our school’s Nutcracker and I auditioned for the Nutcracker of a Russian traveling company and got not just one but 3 parts. There was no lack of qualified candidates and I got 3 parts. It was the most self confidence boosting moment of my young miserable little life. Not even losing one of my parts because my understudy’s mother was conniving stage mother could bring down me from that high.
It hurt that the Mahalia was outta commission from 2005 to 2009 for reasons other than my own personal little triumph, but it was such an emotion moment to experience that song and see her in glory again. Fat, streaming tears y’all and zero shame about it.
So I think I my musical mixtape might be:
My Own Little Corner
Ten Minutes Ago
All That Jazz
Macavity: The Mystery Cat
When You’re Good To Mama
Cell Block Tango
The Circle of Life
They Live In You
Wow this was a lot of words and didn’t even wax poetically about how power literally comes from core in singing and the figurative of being vocal for yourself is also something that must come from the core. Or fact any of the strange and sometimes ferocious sound I’ve learned to make resonate in the head, but come from the core. There’s bunch potentially poetical about that.
Love it. Love all of it. Thanks for sharing so much of your self and your past with us.
Yes to all of these, but also, HAMILTON!
Satisfied was my fav!!
I think I love every Hamilton track, all gazillion of them.
I still love “Phantom,” but it makes me sad that they didn’t follow the book more closely. I used to sing the songs with my best friend throughout middle and high school. But that, “Rent,” “Spring Awakening” and “Wicked” are my all-time faves. And this run of “Spring Awakening” looks mind-blowing. I teared up watching that video. Just. Damn. All the feels. <3
Seriously, it is an amazing production. Definitely catch the National Tour if it comes near you!
UGH YES FOR THIS! THIS THIS THIS!!!! This is my jam! Not to mention a few random personal connections throughout this! LOVE that Broadway is getting some queer lady lovin on here!
My friend Emily Skeggs plays middle Alison in Fun Home on Broadway .. and adding “Changing My Major” would be my ONLY change to this list :)
OH and YES on including Deaf West’s version of Touch Me! Here’s my other little connection: The performance that you posted my best friend directed. He was the Assistant Director for the Broadway Production!
Both those shows has me BALLING uncontrollably in the theatre last year. Pure brilliance on Broadway this season. And Hamilton. Let’s not even go there. #AMAZING
WAIT WHAT YOU KNOW EMILY SKEGGS?! Paging @alioh!
AND YOUR FRIEND WAS AN ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR DWSA?!
WHAT IS YOUR LIFE?! CAN WE BE FRIENDS?!
Also, can you snag me tickets to Hamilton? j/k
Ahh, thank you for paging me @kaelynrich!!! Hi @meganmitchell, it’s nice to meet you! Your life sounds real exciting and your heart sounds full of theatre and your soul sounds full of jazz hands. <3
Thanks for this post! I enjoy musicals but I haven’t actually gotten around to seeing/listening to enough of them. Definitely hopping on the Hamilton bandwagon, and I was lucky enough to see Avenue Q on Broadway (though a few years after I’d heard the soundtrack). Gosh, all this Rent music is reminding me how much I loved it.
Wanted to plug a fairly obscure musical co-written by the lovely and talented pair of Vienna Teng & Tanya Shaffer: The Fourth Messenger.
Some of my favorites are: https://thefourthmessenger.bandcamp.com/track/knock-knock (I’m weak against multipart harmonies…)
https://thefourthmessenger.bandcamp.com/track/bois-riche (Such fun)
Ugh. This is great! Thanks for sharing!
Avenue Q is a really fun one. It’s still playing off-Broadway!
I was so excited to comment on this post I had to go eat a ginormous chocolate chip cookie to calm down first. I recently moved to a new city and I cannot find a soul who will talk about musical theater with me! I mean I have my best friend from college (theater major) but she lives in NYC now and of course has friends on bway, in orchestra’s etc and is now all authoritarian ab musical theater in a way that sucks the fun out of it for me!! This has only been a *real* issue lately because even though I am a bit of a cynic in general and especially about extremely popular new musical theater (I was real burned by the rent movie) I got bit bad by the HAMILTON bug and stayed up for 48 hours one weekend reading every line and every commentary on every line on the genius website to ensure that I fully understood the insanity of what I was listening to, and now I am dying to talk about this mess with someone who isn’t going to be a buzzkill!! I MEAN I have been listening to musicals since I was 11. My first CD’s were Fiddler and A Chorus line (bought for me by my dad for my birthday after I explained to him that I wanted to be on broadway and needed to start a accruing a lengthy collection of cast recordings, personally I thought these were very bizarre choices for a kid but whatev) It was the beginning of long, rocky love affair with all things theater for me that ended about 5 years ago when I graduated and needed to zone in on my real life goals of *not* becoming a broadway star…..!! Much like a painful and *not* mutual break up with an ex, I was forced to stay away from musicals for awhile. That is until recently, when like I said I have been driven insane by Hamilton. I will not be able to recover from the genius of this shit. SATISFIED just slays me, I can’t get it out of my head. It is so gut wrenching and relatable and nothing short of revolutionary, truly to listen to a woman acknowledging her place in the world, her sacrifices and her choices in an era where this was absolutely unheard of to the soundtrack of modern hip hop–WHATTHEFUCK.
*****This ends the rant section of this lengthy and delayed comment.******
(You may be wondering how caffeinated I am at this moment in time and the answer is VERY.)
The time has come for me to admit to you my very embarrassing (no fear!) list of the shows that are quite frankly, aside from my cat, everything to me.
The Last Five Years (no I have not seen the movie, no.)
Wicked (The Wizard and I is every queer kids journey omg)
John and Jen (does anyone know about this beautiful piece?)
HAMILTON (ughhhh I can’t stop)
Rent (In an age before Tumblr this show saved me)
Little Women (Astonishing of course)
West Side Story (no explanation necessary)
Godspell (oof so good)
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (the o.g. hamilton, anyone else see the episode of Andrew Lloyd Weber on The Late Show w Stephen C. and hear him say outloud that he wishes he had written hamilton and then goes on to play Heaven on My Mind with Stephen and it tears my soul up from it’s roots?)
Cinderella (yes with Brandi and B.Peters. My heart be still)(*also the gf is on a mozart in the jungle kick and I had to in detail explain to her that bernadette was the first woman I ever loved bc she had no idea who she was, le sigh)
(Once Upon a Mattress, Fame, A Chorus Line, Suessical!!)
Well, I’m off to continue to blow off errands/to-do’s in order to watch youtube vids of old musicals I had forgotten existed, it’s like getting caught up in reading old journals-feelings crack!!!
Thanks for the feels AS!
Those are all great shows! OK, I have to admit I’ve ever been into Little Women, BUT no disrespect. I forgot about Fame and how much I love it!
I didn’t even attempt to capture all my actual faves in this mixtape. It would have been too long. It might make more sense to divide the musicals I’ve loved into categories, like “Weird Off-Broadway Shows” “Campy Rock Operas” “Sexy Murdery Sexiness” “It’s the 70’s” “Cloyingly Romantic” “Sort of Racist” “Not Cats But Kind Of The Same Level of Whatever” “Game Changers”
YES TO EVERYTHING to you wrote about “Satisfied.” I love it so much. I really want to see Hamilton, but it’s sold out until August. :weeps: And though I go to NYC frequently, I don’t actually live all that close. Not close enough to make it to the #Ham4Ham lottery. :/
Ahh 70s musicals! Right-0! I think that is my unofficial fave category–I forgot to add HAIR
of course that got me thinking about Company, and yes-Fame is an old fave of mine–the teachers argument! Yay :)