- Glenn Sonnenberg
Musings from the Bunker 2/13/21
MUSIC AND POETRY IN LYRICS
I want to thank Mark Greenfield (the old softie…!) for the idea of highlighting romantic songs from Broadway musicals. Music and poetry are combined this week.
While some lament that there isn’t enough melody in current music, I lament the lack of evocative lyrics (frankly, some of the better turns of phrases are found in rap). As we are on the eve of Valentines Day, I also lament that, in particular, there aren’t enough quality love songs. Not to sound too much like the cranky old man I am, often when current music addresses love it does so at the expense of the objectification of women or lurid descriptions of a love interest’s physical attributes.
Too often popular music of any generation is obsessed with finding the “perfect” romance or the “perfect” mate. What is so interesting in much of American musical theatre is that romance is found in unusual places and often with imperfect mates. Here are several of my favorites, with a few selected lyrics:
“Suddenly Seymour,” from Little Shop of Horrors. “Worldly” girl who suffers through abusive relationships falls for a funny looking, quirky nerd. Everyone is eaten by a plant. But they’re in love. I love this song:
“Nobody ever treated me kindly
Daddy left early, mamma was poor
I’d meet a man and I’d follow him blindly
He’d snap his fingers, me, I’d say “Sure.”
Suddenly, Seymour is standing beside me
He don’t give me orders, he don’t condescend
Suddenly, Seymour is here to provide me
Sweet understanding, Seymour’s my friend.”
From the Rick Moranis movie version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DD7VIKZnGA
“Something Wonderful,” from The King and I. While “Hello Young Lovers” may be one of the greatest show-stopping songs of love, as articulated from an observer, this song is arguably the greatest. The king dies and “wife number one” sings of the great attributes of an imperfect man who struggles to bend to the new ways but can’t quite do it. It is a haunting love song to a great man from a wise woman. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gdyk1q2Szfc Read these lyrics by Rodgers and Hammerstein:
“This is a man who thinks with his heart,
His heart is not always wise.
This is a man who stumbles and falls,
But this is a man who tries…
“He will not always say what you would have him say
But, now and then he’ll say something wonderful
The thoughtless things he’ll do will hurt and worry you.
Then, all at once he’ll do something wonderful…”
“For Good,” from Wicked. Yes, I know, I know. People will say Defying Gravity is the best song or “As long as You’re Mine” for romance. To me, this ode to the love of friendship, and how we each are better for knowing the other, is my favorite:
“…So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you.
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have rewritten mine
By being my friend.
Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a sky bird
In a distant wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed fro the better
But because I knew you
Because I knew you
I have been changed for good…”
Here are Kristin Chenowith and Idina Menzel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZ0pXUb5jVU
“Bill,” from Showboat, an unlikely lover and one who appears to lack many of the traits one would desire:
“I used to dream that I would discover
The perfect lover someday
I knew I’d recognize him if ever
He came ‘round my way.
I always used to fancy then
He’d be one of the god-like kind of men
With a giant brain and a noble head
Like the heroes bold in the books I’ve read.
But along came Bill
Who’s not the type at all
You’d meet him on the street
And never notice him…”
…I love him because he’s wonderful
Because he’s just my Bill.”
SOME OTHER FAVORITES
“On My Own,” from Les Miserables. Heartbreaking as Eponine sings that she is on her own, her love for Marius unrequited. Beautiful song of love and loss.
“Johanna” from Sweeney Todd. It’s not just the demon barber of Fleet Street. Sondheim at his absolute best. I won’t get into the irony of the song or the old beggar woman who hears the tune being sung and her relationship to Johanna. Watch the show.
“Maria,” from West Side Story. Boy in gang meets girl affiliated with rival gang. No one is happy. Still they fall in love and sing about it. He dies. She cries. Romeo and Juliet.
“On the Street Where You Live,” from My Fair Lady. Lerner and Loewe at their best. The unlikeliest of couples as reformed misogynistic blue blood linguist realizes it was the unsophisticated flower lady all along.
“Helpless,” from Hamilton. I love Hamilton and I love the exuberance of this song, particularly how one sister comments on the love she sees emanating from her sister as she falls for the young, brash, bastard son of a Scotsman and a whore…”
“Do You Love Me?” from Fiddler on the Roof
“Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered, from Pal Joey
Tomorrow, some Valentine’s poetry.