The Great American Musical: The Best Songs and Soundtracks
West Side Story
Leonard Bernstein's fabulous score perfectly highlights both the warmth and love of the story, as well as the harsh reality of hatred and death. There isn't a dull number in the show, some featuring amazing dancing and others showcasing incredible vocal prowess.
Romeo and Juliet inspired the story for this song and dance extravaganza, and this scene mirrors the famous balcony scene. The sheer joy of new found love makes this song memorable, and it's theme is used throughout for effect.
It's haunting, beautiful and famous. Placed in the context of the story, it becomes even more powerful. With incredible genius, Bernstein uses this simple melody throughout nearly every piece in the score, giving it a feeling of unity that you can't really find anywhere else. Also, the West Side Story Symphonic Dances have a fugue-like movement on the theme that stands alone well
The plot line has a few laughable elements, but the score for this is one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's best.
If I Loved You
The love song from the work has become famous as a solo piece, but in the story it is original, not running effusive as most love songs do. It also creates a setting for the relationship between Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan, giving an aloofness yet intensity to their love.
You'll Never Walk Alone
This one has also become famous independent of the musical, being used for it's inspiring lyrics and message. Given the context of the tragedy in the story, it is extremely powerful and moving.
June is Bustin' Out All Over
The full chorus and dance routine is loads of fun and laughs. It's lively and perky, with lots of young blood to keep it moving.
The Phantom of the Opera
Technically, Andrew Lloyd Webber's most famous musical isn't American, it's British. But the film was American made, which give those on this side of the pond at least a little bit of a claim, right?
Think of Me
An end-of-love song with poignancy and beauty that somehow seems forgotten on most of Phantom's popularity rosters. Emmy Rossum does an excellent rendition in the film adaptation.
All I Ask of You
Another love song that is even popular as a duet outside the musical. It has a grand, sweeping line and beautiful, tender sentiments, making it a sure hit.
Lerner and Loewe's musical re-telling of the old English legend is given a refreshing, light-hearted twist, at least for a majority of the story. There is of course the inevitable heart-break at the end for King Arthur, but for the most part the tunes are lively and engaging. I highly recommend the Broadway original cast recording over the film soundtrack. You can't do better than Julie Andrews, Robert Goulet, and Richard Burton.
The title song is catchy and fun, with King Arthur trying to woo his reluctant lady-love by explaining the charms of his kingdom. Gentlemen, take note, because it worked quite effectively. Guenevere stays to become queen of the realm where it never rains till after sundown, and by nine p.m. the moonlight must appear.
If Ever I Would Leave You
The most famous song from the score is everything an epic love song should be. Lancelot's eloquent declaration of love is what my mother would term "schmaltzy", and it's rightfully been used a great deal by other artists.
My Fair Lady
In spite of all their squabbles and oddities, Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins make up one of the most memorable couples in musical history. Perhaps because of their illustrious background--they originated in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, and then were given songs by Alan Loerner and Frederick Loewe. This composer/lyricist team were some of the first to use the same melody (or at least portions of it) in various numbers to give the score more cohesiveness.
I Could Have Danced All Night
We all know that you have to be in love to have that kind of energy at 3 o'clock in the morning, but enjoying Eliza's raptures vicariously is great at any time of day. It's almost impossible not to sing along, the happiness is so contagious.
Fun Fact: Though Audrey Hepburn's singing was dubbed by Marni Nixon, they left one line of her original recording in this song. See if you can spot it.
I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face
It's one of Henry Higgin's few moments of tenderness and vulnerability throughout the whole musical, and even then it's sprinkled with bits of obstinacy throughout. And though we may never know if they end up staying together, it doesn't matter because we can finally see that he really is human, underneath that thick layer of sarcastic armor.
Singin' in the Rain
I have to confess, I don't like most of Singin' in the Rain. I found the plot dull and trite, and the characters frustrating. But there are about two minutes of that movie that can't help but make you smile. Isn't it ironic that some of the happiest two minutes of film ever made take place in a dark, rainy alley?
Oh, and you should know that the Good Morning scene is great too. It has some of the best reasons ever to not go to sleep.
The Music Man
Who cares if Meredith Wilson was a one-hit wonder? He gave us Marion the Librarian, Harold Hill, and Winthrop, and their lively little mid-western town of characters, along with a collection of catchy, show-stopping songs.
Seventy Six Trombones
Fun and carefree, and has the most ridiculous band leader hat imaginable. It sets the mood perfectly for the rest of the movie, with great choreography to boot.
Marion the Librarian
Also known as "How to Defrost Old Maids". And just a hint: If you don't know what carrion means, don't go look it up. Ignorance is bliss.
Till There Was You
Shirley Jones sang it perfectly, and melted all the facade right off Harold Hill's heart. Doubtless, he would have run away from her if she hadn't been honest enough to say what her thoughts and feelings were, and echo his own.
Guys and Dolls
Marlon Brando couldn't sing-- his vocals were recorded one or two notes at a time, and then the ones that were on pitch were all pasted together to make up a complete song. So what is he doing heading up a cast for a musical, along with Jean Simmons who wasn't exactly operatic herself? You'll have to watch it and find out, because this innovative story gets along quite well with them being believable as the worldly gambler and the girl with a suffering Salvation Army style mission. Of course, they have to fall in love, and they do it superbly with a supporting cast of Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blane to add a few laughs. The dialogue is snappy and clever, and occasionally quotable.
Never think that you know how your going to meet the love of your life, because those plans won't work out. This song is proof as Skye and Sarah make their own plans, not knowing how they will all be changed within twenty-four hours.
Guys and Dolls
The title song describes the plight of every man in love-- he's helpless in the hands of his "doll". And it's proven throughout the story that he can do nothing to save himself, though no one seems to be wanting to be saved too badly.
Which is Your Favorite?
Which of these musical scores have you heard, and which do you like the best?
I would like to make a note that not all of the films in this list are something of which I approve, whether it's some of the content, or the worldview. I'm simply listing some of my favorite songs, and why I love them! Thanks for reading!