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Top 5 Musical Theater Songs that Bring the Waterworks

Numbers from Spring Awakening, Cats, and Rent are on the list. logo

John Gallagher, Jr. as Moritz in Spring Awakening (© Doug Hamilton)

These are the songs that make me reach for the Kleenex box every time. Caution: Heart-wrenching emotion ahead! It seems that the songs on this list have a recurring theme: loneliness. I think the reason why these songs make me connect emotionally is because each one involves the character reaching out to the audience because they are alone in the show onstage. I feel a personal connection with the people singing these songs. And isn't that what theater is all about?

1. "And Then There Were None" from Spring Awakening

This song always gets me because it is the song during which Moritz first thinks of suicide. He turns to his last resort, Melchior's mother, and she denies him the money to flee to America. Throughout the song, Moritz slowly realizes that he has nowhere to go. The song truly describes one of the major messages from Spring Awakening: the loneliness that teenagers feel when their problems become insurmountable and the adults that surround them offer no support or solutions. One line in particular brings a lump to my throat every time. The music changes to a sadder, less rock-like melody, and Moritz sings, "They're not my home, not anymore. Not like they so were before." I was bawling in the theater, and I still feel the emotion when I listen to the cast recording.

2. "Memory" from Cats

Part of the reason why this song means so much to me is because Betty Buckley, who I did a workshop with earlier this year, performs it so beautifully. This is a song that is about pouring your heart and soul out to the audience. Grizabella is a beautiful character who is alone and yearns to feel happiness again. For that happiness, she literally reaches out to the audience with "Touch me. It's so easy to leave me all alone with the memory of my days in the sun."

3. "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" from Les Miserables

Les Miz is one of the biggest emotional rollercoasters out there, and this song is one of the most tear inducing. "Oh my friends, my friends forgive me that I live and you are gone." The lyrics are so beautiful and tender and are even more beautiful when brought to life by a beautiful tenor voice.

4. "Being Alive" from Company

This is undoubtedly one of Sondheim's most disputed songs from one of his most disputed shows. I've always had many questions about Company. Why can't Bobby find love? Is it because he hasn't found the right woman, or is it because he hasn't accepted his homosexuality? The end of the show is most perplexing. Some have argued that Bobby commits suicide…one theater even ended their version of Company with Bobby hanging himself. I have to agree that "Being Alive" ends the show on a sad note. At first it seems as though Bobby is begging for this beautiful love that everyone wants, but as it goes on it becomes a song just about wanting something more than numbness. It's not a healthy love. Bobby sings, "Make me alive, make me confused. Mock me with praise, let me be used. Vary my days, but alone is alone, not alive." Bobby is not alive because he feels nothing. It's a heartbreaking song about loneliness and confusion about the meaning of life.

5. "I'll Cover You Reprise" from Rent

It doesn't matter who's singing it; I cry every time. Collins and Angel share such a special love that we get to see blossom as the show develops. By the time Angel dies, we are convinced that their love was a truly once in a lifetime, soul mate kind of love. Collins' grief is so evident in the song that we all feel it.


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