"Ooooh, a good topic," wrote John Connors, in response to my asking readers to supply their entries for The Most Beautiful Songs Ever to Grace a Broadway Stage, after my Thursday night group at J.R.'s voiced its opinions.
"You hit the nail on the head with a couple," Connors added, and then listed his own favorites: "Sunday," "Finishing the Hat," "Beautiful," and "Lesson #8" (Sunday in the Park with George); "Somewhere" (West Side Story); "John 19:41" (Jesus Christ Superstar); "Not a Day Goes By" (Merrily We Roll Along); "Loving You" and "Nobody Has Ever Loved Me" (Passion); "Edelweiss" (The Sound of Music); "Too Many Mornings" (Follies); "No More" (Into the Woods), "There Was a Barber" (Sweeney Todd); and "Send in the Clowns" (A Little Night Music). What interested me was how many readers voted for songs by Sondheim, whom many barbarians allege can't write a beautiful melody.
"Ah, it's been far too long since we did a '50 Most' list," wrote Mike Rhone, a frequent contributor to my inventories when I did them at BroadwayOnLine. "My list of 'How-could-you-possibly-leave-offs' includes 'Johanna' (Sweeney Todd); 'Tonight,' (West Side Story); 'If Ever I Would Leave You' (Camelot--Lerner & Loewe got shafted by you and your friends!); 'This Nearly Was Mine' (South Pacific); and 'Unexpected Song' (Song and Dance).'" Then Mike mentioned two songs that made me hit my head in frustration. How could I forget "A Quiet Thing" (Flora, the Red Menace), which Jeff Haslow also cited, and "Make Our Garden Grow" (Candide), which Frank Darmstadt, Jerry DeFina, Shelby Ferrin, Don Gibbs, Brad Howell Houghton, and Bob Manasco named?
But I'd be humiliated many more times while reading readers' responses, for I should have remembered The Phantom of the Opera's "All I Ask of You" (Brooke E. Newborn and Frank Soldo took me to task for this); Rags' "Blame It on the Summer Night" (Jeff Haslow); Pal Joey's "I Could Write a Book" (Frank Soldo); A Tree Grows in Brooklyn's "Make the Man Love Me" (Jerry De Fina and Charlie Guggenheimer) and 'I'll Buy You a Star" (Joe Meagor); Merrily We Roll Along's "Our Time" (Stuart Soloway); The Full Monty's "You Walk with Me" (Shelby Ferrin, Amy Krivohlavek, Bob Manasco, Marty Silverberg); Sweet Adeline's "Some Girl Is on Your Mind" (John W. Griffin); Chess's "Someone Else's Story" (Scott Cain and Christopher Pazdernik); On the Town's "Some Other Time (Alan Gomberg, Frances Yasprica and Raymond Yucis); Darling of the Day's "That Something Extra Special" (Alan Gomberg); Cyrano's "You Have Made Me Love" (Edward R. Cox, Jerry DeFina and Ed Glazier); and, finally, The Golden Apple's "It's the Goin' Home Together," Porgy and Bess's "Bess, You Is My Woman Now," The Phantom of the Opera's "Prima Donna," and the title song to My Favorite Year--none of which anyone mentioned, but titles I later remembered on my own.
Well, I shouldn't say "finally"--for, Lord knows there were plenty of other opinions. I took the liberty of omitting songs that weren't ever heard on Broadway, but one thing's for sure: The list reiterates that beauty is indeed in the ear of the beholder. Below is the first half (approximately) of the many responses I received, in alphabetical order; I'll cover the remainder in my next column on Wednesday, January 9.
Aman1016: "By now, I'm sure you've got a ton of votes for 'Bring Him Home' or 'Come to Me' from Les Miz. But my nominations include 'Leaving's Not the Only Way to Go' (Big River), 'I Just Want to Know' (Big), 'New Music' and 'Wheels of a Dream' (Ragtime), 'Alone in the Universe' and 'Solla Sollew' (Seussical), and 'If the World Were Like the Movies' (My Favorite Year)."
Robert Armin: "'Mama, A Rainbow' (Minnie's Boys) is not at the top of my list (you've already mentioned many of my favorites), but it's one of the most appealing non-romantic love songs ever written."
JoeB: "'Make Someone Happy' (Do Re Mi)--and John Reardon's version on the original cast album is the definitive one." (To which I say, "Gee, Joe, doncha think it's a little short and perfunctory?)
Dorothy Brady: "I'm such a duffer that I don't know a large percentage of the songs your friends chose, but I think you and I are in agreement on 'With Every Breath I Take' from City of Angels. I would have expected it to win a Tony for Best Song if there were such a thing as a Tony for best song."
Scott Cain: "'Long Past Sunset' (The Human Comedy), 'Unlikely Lovers' (Falsettos), 'Anthem' (Chess), 'At My Side' (Welcome to the Club), and 'Bring Him Home.' Please forgive me that mine all are post-1970 but, ya know, I don't like to listen to anything any earlier than that."
Marc Castle: "'Take Care of the House' (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue). Hands down."
Mark Cibulka: "One of the most beautiful songs has to be 'Solla Sollew.' If you ever lose someone or just feel really crappy, you'd wish to be in a place like Solla Sollew. I'm only 20, so I have more recent shows stuck in my head. From The Capeman (I wish they would release the cast CD!), 'Time is an Ocean' is music to my ears. 'Pity the Child' from Chess is so sad. See a pattern here? No? Then let me add 'Who Will Love Me As I Am' and 'I Will Never Leave You' (Side Show), 'Tell Me It's Not True' and 'Marilyn Monroe' (Blood Brothers). Some on these you may wince at but I think it was said in the movie American Beauty that beauty is everywhere and, to me, these songs are beautiful in their own way."
Edward R. Cox: "Is a 'most beautiful song' a plaintive melody, a lush orchestration, or one that lilts and intensifies with the emotions? Does a ballad count simply because it is a ballad, or does a person feel a song is beautiful when it floats liltingly along, landing on the ear and settling within the heart? I'd include 'Storybook,' 'When I Look at You,' 'She Was There,' 'I'll Forget You' (The Scarlet Pimpernel); 'Chanson,' 'If I Have To Live Alone' (The Baker's Wife); 'Millwork' (Working); 'I Do Not Know A Day I Did Not Love You' (Two By Two); 'Back To Before,' 'Journey On,' 'New Music,' 'Gliding' (Ragtime); 'In My Own Lifetime' (The Rothschilds); 'Love Song' (Celebration); 'Unusual Way,' 'Simple,' 'Getting Tall' ("Nine"); 'Empty,' 'Mama, a Rainbow' (Minnie's Boys); 'To Make The Boy A Man,' 'I Am Going To Love The Man You're Going To Be,' 'I Leave The World' (Goodtime Charley); 'Chain Of Love,' 'Reach Out' (The Grass Harp); 'Home,' 'Beauty and the Beast' (Beauty and the Beast); 'With You,' 'Morning Glow' (Pippin); 'Children Of The Wind' (Rags); 'Sunset Tree' (Darling Of The Day); 'Moonfall' (The Mystery of Edwin Drood); 'Presents For Mrs. Rogers' (The Will Rogers Follies); 'Artificial Flowers' (Tenderloin); 'Lily's Eyes' and 'How Could I Ever Know' (The Secret Garden); and 'I Will Never Leave You, 'Alone In The Universe' and 'Solla Sollew.' And then there was a wonderful song in the Jones/Schmidt Philemon that I remember being aired on PBS. I recorded the show on audiotape but lost the cassette a few years afterwards. I listened to it repeatedly for some odd reason, visualizing the entire production. I never found a copy of the cast recording or a video of the show, but I think it was called 'His Face.'" (To which I say: Actually, Ed, it was called "I Love His Face," and I hope PBS runs the show again very soon--for your sake and mine. But Philemon never played Broadway.)
Frank Darmstadt: "'Dear Friend' (She Loves Me), 'Who Are You Now?' (Funny Girl), 'Warm All Over' (The Most Happy Fella), 'He Always Comes Home to Me' (Dance a Little Closer), 'Think of Me' (The Phantom of the Opera), 'Hello, Young Lovers (The King and I), 'How Are Things in Glocca Morra? (Finian's Rainbow), 'Heather on the Hill (Brigadoon), 'Move on (Sunday in the Park with George)."
Jerry DeFina: "'My Heart Stood Still' (first from London's One Damn Thing after Another, first on B'way in A Connecticut Yankee); 'I Wish It So' (Juno); 'If I Ruled the World' (Pickwick); 'Glad to Be Unhappy' (On Your Toes); 'A Sleepin' Bee' (House of Flowers); 'The Party's Over' (Bells Are Ringing); 'Almost Like Being in Love' (Brigadoon); 'Away from You' (Rex); 'I Never Meant to Fall in Love' (Christine); 'No One Is Alone' (Into the Woods); 'Magic Moment' (The Gay Life). What a wonderful place Broadway has been in enriching us with so many marvelous songs."
Jeff Denison: "'Children and Art' (Sunday in the Park With George) and 'I'll Cover You-Reprise' (Rent). These songs make my heart ache."
Ron Fassler: "I'd say that you and your Thursday buddies hit the nail on the head when you figured there'd be loads of Rodgers and Hammerstein on the list. As difficult as it is to name an absolute favorite, I'm pretty sure that 'If I Loved You' (Carousel) is the one for me. There's something about that melody and the sheer drama of it. It's not too clever. It's not too operatic. It's perfectly perfect and truly beautiful. And I'm in the camp that would put 'Pretty Women' (Sweeney Todd) very high on the list. That melody soars and 'proof of heaven as you're living' is one hell of a beautiful lyric."
Ron Fassler's son Jeremy Fassler: "Dad just told me about your column. I vote for 'Oh, What A Beautiful Morning' from Oklahoma! has even got 'beautiful' right in the title!"
Shelby Ferrin: "I know you lost any fondness you once had for The Full Monty score when Dave Yazbek picked his nose at the Tony Awards, but I was and still am moved every time I hear 'You Walk with Me,' 'Breeze Off the River,' and 'You Rule My World.' If 'Tell Her I Love Her' from Urinetown were sincere, it would score very near the top of my list. And finally, I would state unequivocally that, in my opinion, Broadway has never heard a melody as beautiful and soaring as Chess's 'Anthem.' Even before I ever got into musicals, I would get shivers when I heard my dad play that in the car."
Ed Fonseca: "'I Don't Remember You' (The Happy Time) is my favorite. It was also done in tandem with the hymn 'Saint Pierre.' But, whether alone or together, the words and the melody line are simply evocative and spine tingling, in a very delicate and beautiful show that somehow the world has forgot."
Ed Glazier: "I gave myself a day to think about this topic and realized I could probably go on forever, so I basically decided to stick with the list I came up with in the shower this morning: 'Lonely House' (Street Scene), 'What Would I Do?' Falsettos), 'When Did I Fall in Love?' (Fiorello!), 'Dear Friend,' 'Sunday' and 'Lily's Eyes.'"
Alan Scott Gomberg: "'Windflowers' (The Golden Apple), 'Who Are You Now?' (Funny Girl) and 'I'm Old Fashioned' and 'The Way You Look Tonight.' Sure, [the last two] are movie songs, but weren't they in Jerome Kern Goes to Hollywood? So they'd count. You didn't say 'written for Broadway,' just 'heard on Broadway.'"
John W. Griffin: "'Why Was I Born?' (Sweet Adeline), 'Moon in My Window (Do I Hear a Waltz?), 'Moon of My Delight' (Chee-Chee), and 'Sunday' and 'Beautiful.'"
Gryffindor249: "'Under the Tree' (Celebration); 'I've Never Said I Love You' (Dear World); 'I Won't Send Roses' (Mack & Mabel); 'Our Private World' (On the Twentieth Century); 'Only Love' (Zorba); 'A Little Bit in Love' (Wonderful Town); 'Moonfall' and 'Perfect Strangers' (The Mystery of Edwin Drood); 'Go to Sleep, Whatever You Are' (The Apple Tree); 'Tonight' and 'Windflowers'."
Jeff Haslow: "Are you sure 50 will be enough? I'd add 'All at Once You Love Her' (Pipe Dream); 'How to Handle a Woman' (Camelot); 'Embraceable You' (Girl Crazy); 'I Know Him So Well (Chess); 'Tonight,' 'Maria,' and 'Somewhere' (West Side Story); 'More I Cannot Wish You' (Guys & Dolls); 'Mamma, Look Sharp' (1776); 'Sometimes a Day Goes By' (Woman of the Year); 'The Sweetest Sounds' (No Strings); 'What I Did For Love' (A Chorus Line), 'The Wedding Song' (Miss Saigon); 'Johanna,' and 'Not a Day Goes By.'"
David Hudson: "I disagree with your disagree-ers on 'Pretty Women,' for the more I listen to it, the more it stuns me. But I also like 'Song of a Summer Night' (The Most Happy Fella), 'Moonshine Lullaby' (Annie Get Your Gun), 'Lily's Eyes,' 'I Do Not Know a Day I Did Not Love You,' 'Unexpected Song,' and my personal favorite, 'New Music.' By the way, I sang your first choice, 'I Hear Bells,' in a college production of Starting Here, Starting Now. It isan amazing song and simple perfection, isn't it?"
David-Edward Hughes: "'Simple Little Things' (110 in the Shade), 'Time Heals Everything' (Mack & Mabel), 'I Don't Want to Know' (Dear World), 'In Buddy's Eyes' and 'Too Many Mornings' (Follies), 'What's The Use of Wond'rin?' (Carousel), 'Not a Day Goes By,' 'No One Is Alone,' 'Chanson,' and 'Unexpected Song.'"
Marcelo Kotliar: "'One More Kiss' and 'In Buddy's Eyes' (Follies), 'Please' (Miss Saigon), 'Sheer Perfection' (King David), 'Sarah Brown Eyes (Ragtime), 'Unusual Way' and 'Only With You' ("Nine"), 'He Plays the Violin' (1776), 'I Got Lost in His Arms (Annie Get Your Gun), 'At the Ballet' (A Chorus Line), and--please don't laugh--'Slipping through My Fingers (Mamma Mia!), 'Forever Yours' and 'Come Down From the Tree' (Once On This Island--I know, they cut that last one), 'There But for You Go I (Brigadoon), 'Bill' and 'Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man (Show Boat), 'Her Face' (Carnival), 'Piraeus, My Love' (Illya Darling), 'Larger Than Life' (My Favorite Year), "When I First Saw You' Dreamgirls), 'Stay With Me' and 'Giants in the Sky' (Into the Woods), 'You Should Be Loved' (Side Show), 'You'll Never Walk Alone' (Carousel), 'Shadowland' (The Lion King), 'In My Own Lifetime,' 'If Ever I Would Leave You,' 'Sunday,' 'What's the Use of Wond'rin,' 'Move On', "Edelweiss,' 'Lily's Eyes,' 'Johanna,' 'Sometimes a Day Goes By,' 'With You,' and 'Make Someone Happy.'"
Amy Krivohlavek: "I would have loved to be sitting around your table! I'd also add 'Nothing's Gonna Harm You' and 'Kiss Me' (Sweeney Todd), and 'I've Never Said I Love You.' But 'Never Again' (King David) is near and dear to my heart right now. I'm working it up for auditions, and I want to cry every time I sing it. It's a song that makes you want to curl up inside it."
Alan Kull: "'Right as the Rain' from Bloomer Girl--although not necessarily the original cast version."
Valerie LaCount: "For a song to qualify as beautiful to me, I have to not only hear beautiful chords but also feel them strike my heart. So I would have to vote for 'The Last Night of the World' (Miss Saigon), 'Who ill Love Me As I Am?' and 'Children Will Listen.' When my husband just asked me what I was writing and I told him, he voted for 'Bring Him Home' and 'The Wedding Song.' "
Elisha Landman: "I cannot believe that no one at the table mentioned 'What Would I Do?' from Falsettos--and, trust me, this has little to do with the fact that my brother Jeffrey was in the Broadway production."
Robert LoBiondo: "Your article reminded me of a wonderfully beautiful theater song, albeit Off-Broadway. It's a melancholy song, but I do adore it: 'My Holiday' from Now Is The Time For All Good Men. So simple and beautiful, and I love that the singers ask that they wish they had someone to love, and not someone to love them." (To which I say: Yes, I know I said I wouldn't include off-Broadway; but this argument was so eloquent, I had to bend the rules).
James K. Lockwood: "'To Each His Dulcinea' (Man of La Mancha), 'Love, I Hear' (Forum), 'More I Cannot Wish You,' and 'Maria.' My favorite song that never got to Broadway (or the U.S. at all) is Maggie May's "It's Yourself". (To which I say: Yeah! For this stunning melody, I'll make an exception.)
William E. Lurie: "'What I Did for Love' is the most beautiful show song ever, even if it doesn't really fit in the show."
Robert Manasco: "'The Proposal (Titanic), 'One Hand, One Heart' (West Side Story), 'Perpetual Anticipation' (A Little Night Music), 'Lion Tamer' (The Magic Show)," and 'By My Side,' 'Come To My Garden,' 'How Could I Ever Know,' 'With Every Breath I Take,' and 'Our Private World.' By the way, you always bring up songs and shows I've never heard of but ones I usually really enjoy once I've tracked them down. Now I look forward to finding and listening to a cast album of Starting Here, Starting Now, so I can hear 'I Hear Bells'!"
[The second half of this column will appear on Wednesday, January 9. To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at email@example.com]