7 Showtunes to Sail the Sea This Columbus Day
Celebrate America's discoverer right, with sea-soaked songs of classic musical theater.
Everyone learns the Christopher Columbus song in elementary school — the one that goes something like this: "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." But did you know there was a musical based on Christopher Columbus' journey, entitled 1491? Starring John Cullum as the seafarer himself, the tuner was the last show written by the late Meredith Willson (The Music Man). The show also starred a young Chita Rivera as Columbus' mistress. While the show never reached Broadway, sinking out of town, it did serve to inspire TheaterMania's Columbus Day playlist of songs to get you ready to walk the plank, shiver some timbers, and discover new continents or, maybe more realistically, rediscover old musicals.
1. "Sailing" — A New Brain
Any fan of William Finn is likely familiar with A New Brain, the musical that premiered off-Broadway in 1998 starring Malcom Gets, Norm Lewis, Mary Testa, Chip Zien, and a young Kristin Chenoweth. The show dealt with Finn's own battle with arteriovenous malformation, an abnormal connection between arteries and veins that led to him having brain surgery. One of the standout numbers, "Sailing," is a touching meditation on ignoring time, and the relative merits of sex and embarking upon the sea.
2. "Godspeed Titanic" — Titanic
Maury Yeston is best known for his haunting melodies in Nine, but one of his more underrated scores is that of the musical Titanic, based on the ship of the same name that sank on its maiden voyage in 1912. No relation to the James Cameron blockbuster, Titanic featured Brian d'Arcy James, Victoria Clark, and Becky Ann Baker as crew members and passengers aboard the famed ship. "Godspeed Titanic" is a sweeping company number and, in our opinion, Broadway's version of "Leaving on a Jet Plane." (Just uh, just watch out for icebergs.)
3. "Journey On" — Ragtime
With Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens celebrating their 30-year partnership, there was no way we could leave Ragtime off this list. Based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime tells the story of three different groups in the United States in the early 20th century: African-Americans, Eastern-European immigrants, and upper-class elites. The show also features a who's-who of historical figures, from Harry Houdini and Henry Ford to Booker T. Washington and Emma Goldman. "Journey On" tells the story of Tateh and The Little Girl (played in the original production by future Glee star Lea Michele) entering America as Father prepares to leave. It's a perfect pick for your departure and imminent arrival on a new shore where you, too, can land a gig on a gripping teen musical drama.
4. "The Sailor of My Dreams" — Dames at Sea
Unless you plan on manning a ship solo, it's always good to have a love song on hand to sing to one of your sailors — just in case. Here we turn to Dames at Sea, a musical that kicked off Bernadette Peters' career as a Broadway legend. The title may deceive you, though — the musical, which premiered off-Broadway in 1966, doesn't take place on any of the seven high seas. Most of the scenes take place in a rehearsal room. This tuner is a parody of those flashy 1930s movie musicals in which understudies step into roles on Broadway and become stars. Peters starred as Ruby, a young, naïve (but determined) chorus girl from Utah who falls in love with Dick, an aspiring songwriting sailor. "The Sailor of My Dreams," which Ruby sings about her undying affection for Dick, is the perfect ballad to sing to your fellow seafarer — you know, that guy you met during Fleet Week.
5. "We Sail the Ocean Blue" — HMS Pinafore
Anchoring down our list is the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta HMS Pinafore, which takes place entirely on the sea. The story revolves around the captain's daughter, Josephine, who falls in love with a low-class sailor but is forced to marry the man her father chooses for her. The operetta, which premiered in New York in December 1879, opens with "We Sail the Ocean Blue," sung by the sailors on the Pinafore — and later by Kelsey Grammer to Bart Simpson.
6. "By the Sea" — Sweeney Todd
For those who are subject to seasickness, Stephen Sondheim has the song for you. Sweeney Todd, which was last seen on Broadway in 2005 starring Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris, tells the tale of a barber intent on revenge. His sidekick, Mrs. Lovett, runs a pie shop, and together they find creative solutions to perk up business and exact their revenge. In "By the Sea," Mrs. Lovett daydreams of a life away from the dark, grimy city of London. This song is perfect for those who decide to stay on land and wait for their lovers to return so they can pop them into pies. "Since marine doesn't appeal to you…'ow about rear admiral?"
7. "Blow High, Blow Low" — Carousel
For some, life on the sea is much better than life on land. "It's wonderful just to feel your hands upon the wheel," sings Jigger Craigin and his shipmates in the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. Based on Molnar's 1909 play Liliom, the story follows strong-minded carousel barker Billy Bigelow and his romance with the meek millworker Julie Jordan. Featuring some of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most romantic songs, including the classic "If I Loved You," the show, most recently appearing on Broadway in 1994 starring Michael Hayden, Sally Murphy, Fisher Stevens, Eddie Korbich, and a newcomer named Audra Ann McDonald, features an inimitable song about life on the sea: "Blow High, Blow Low." So there's that.