Top 10 Broadway Songs 2017-18

band's visit

The Tony Awards commencement ceremony is this Sunday and I am here once again to give you, in what should be one of Sunday’s awards, the top 10 new songs of this Broadway season.

This was a sparse season for original musicals and aside from jukebox shows (which I won’t even entertain) all we got was a Disney movie musical adaptation (Frozen), a kid’s television show adaptation (Spongebob Squarepants), a classic teen comedy adaptation (Mean Girls), and the little show that could, an adaptation of the 2007 Israeli film The Band’s Visit. These are the four nominees and there wasn’t even too many off-Broadway shows (with soundtracks) or otherwise eligible shows to qualify like last year’s Amelie musical (shout out to A Letter to Harvey Milk, an original Broadway production that I only recently discovered that may have some potential, but will not be making this list).
There are some good songs here even if doesn’t match the originality of last year (Dear Evan Hansen; Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812) or the year prior (Hamilton, Shuffle Along, Bright Star). I’m a stan for weird and unique takes on the musical, but even straightforward original content will do in an age of uber-franchised content (I suppose we’ve probably always been in this age, but it does feel particularly heavy this year). This year has little of that, the closest being The Band’s Visit which I will be championing as much as possible.
Before we begin, a couple of qualifications: 1. I haven’t seen any of these shows, so it will be based almost entirely on the song itself, with perceived story line implications taking up a small percentage of the ranking. 2. No previously released songs qualify, so “Let it Go” was not eligible.
10. “Hygge” from Frozen
Early reviews cited this as a highlight of the show, comparing the act 2 opener to Beauty and the Beast’s classic “Be Our Guest”. On first listen, I was not impressed, but on further listens, it’s a lot of fun, introducing the Danish idea of “Hygge”, the all is good mindset that continuously places them atop the world’s happiest countries lists. My love for this song was aided by my 8-month old’s enjoyment, sparking a full in home dance party in the midst of 48 hours of his battle with a fever. Fevers are not hygge, but hygge can help overcome them. Hygge!
9. “Monster” from Frozen
When trying to fill out the rest of the show of a previously established musical, it can be hard to create songs that live up to or even fit in with the show. The Frozen writers decided to give the Elsa character two more big ballads to accompany their mega hit which nobody can reallyvblame them for. “Monster” is the lesser of the two, but it’s still packed with the emotion and vocal delivery you would want.
8. “Waiting” from The Band’s Visit
“Waiting” is the slightest of the three openers that made the list, but it’s a really fun and essential introduction to this quirky show. It’s filled with Arabic instrumentation and offers a glimpse into the small town that will occupy the story space–a place where the residents are living lives that are forever waiting for something that doesn’t seem to come.
7. “Dangerous to Dream” from Frozen
 
The other Elsa ballad leads up to her introduction as the queen, unpacking her thoughts in a tense moment where she wonders what lies ahead of her while trying to hold in everything she’s kept secret for so long. Her dreams seem about to come true, but she knows that could be dangerous for everyone around her.
6. “Answer Me” from The Band’s Visit
The show’s sung closer continues the theme of waiting for something, a beautifully sung ballad, capturing the spirit of this longing quite sadly while never reaching full despair.
5. “I’d Rather Be Me” from Mean Girls
They thankfully chose to give Janice a song in the Mean Girls musical and she knocks it out of the park with an anthem to standing up for who you are (even if this includes getting into a fight). It’s a fun pop song and has a triple rhyme up front that’s delivered in a fun way. (Acted nice when she’s not nice / Well, I have some advice / Cause it’s happened to me, twice).
4. “Stupid With Love” / “Stupid With Love (Reprise)” from Mean Girls
 
I love the original and the reprise, so I’ve cheated and tied them together here. It uses a fun reggae rhythm to showcase Katy’s failed attempts at love, building up her relationship with Aaron and explaining why math came to mean so much to her. The reprise gives Aaron a chance to lament his relationship failures, gives us the classic October 3rd moment, and has the two duet in a lovely little way.
3. “Bikini Bottom Day” from Spongebob Squarepants The New Musical
*Sigh* I’ve never been a Spongebob fan. Not even as a kid. I found him obnoxious and the rest of the under water crew to be annoying. When I heard there was a Spongebob musical, I rolled my eyes. When I heard that different pop artists were individually writing different songs for it, I rolled them harder. When I finally listened to it, I… loved it? Well at the least the opener which introduces us to the brought-to-life musical version of Bikini Bottom. It’s a great song, unbelievably catchy and offers great introductions to these characters. Listen to it and you’ll be humming along, no doubt.
2. “It Roars” from Mean Girls
The part that doesn’t really work for me in the Mean Girls movie is the animal imagery. It’s explained too quickly upfront and when Katy begins imagining characters as wild animals it comes off as cheesy and unearned. In the musical, they lead off with a song that gives a better emphasis of Katy’s Kenya background with a number that truly shines and gives insight to her character and how she views the world. It’s a great opening number that journeys from her tent-living Kenya days into the wild high school life and all the intermingled turmoil and excitement inherent in that.
1. “Something Different” from The Band’s Visit
 
Katrina Lenk offers so much dramatically here as a woman questioning the internal state of her feelings for an older man she’s come into contact with. Every word is filled to the brim with intentionality and meaning as she sings over sparse instrumentation filled only by subtle piano and plucked Arabic strings. It’s a beautiful song and the one I returned to the most of any soundtrack released during the year.

Top 10 Broadway Songs of 2016-17

The Tony Awards are this weekend, wrapping up Broadway’s season of shows, in an all night dedication to the year’s best theater. While the awards are the most conducive awards show to its form (live performances), I’ve always felt they need to add a best original song award. The Oscars manage to find three new original songs to award every year, why not add something to award the best song, which is ostensibly the highlight of most musicals anyway.

In the name of all things ranked, I decided I would come up with a list of the best songs, both for personal pleasure and to introduce what was out there this year. I experienced almost all of these from their soundtrack release, which is admittedly not fair to a lot of these shows which are enhanced when placed live on a stage and in the midst of a story, but this isn’t always possible (obviously).

This list was eligible to any new shows that were also Tony-eligible (no revivals), as well as any off-Broadway shows that were released in this time period. As it goes, not every Tony eligible show had a soundtrack released and thus could not be considered. That being the case, there are only four shows on this list and one that is featured very heavily, that’s just how this art form works.

I’ll link an Apple Music playlist at the end for you to enjoy.

 

10. “Halfway” from Amelie 

This is the only show I’ve actually seen in person, so I am probably biased to enjoy it more than the others, but unlike critics and audiences, I found it an immense delight. “Halfway” is a duet between young and adult Amelie, reflecting on the lessons her mother taught her, lessons that were highly affecting, yet completely debilitating.

9. “Day One” from Groundhog’s Day

The opener to Groundhog’s Day introduces us to the ornery Phil Conners, the news reporter who continuously relives the same day as originally made famous by Bill Murray. Here, Conners contemplates his career as he suffers through what he sees as an absurd celebration in Punxsutawney–the epitome of small town America. It’s a ten-minute track that overviews the town, the main characters, and gives us the heart of Conners, a bitter man looking for something grander than what he’s got.

8. TIE “Words Fail” & “So Big/So Small” from Dear Evan Hansen 

I couldn’t pick between the two emotional closers to Dear Evan Hansen, the former sees the protagonist coming to terms with the mistakes he’s made throughout the show, finally expressing his innermost thoughts about not having a father; the latter flips the script, examining these damages from the perspective of his mother. This is the best of Broadway, emotions expressed through heart wrenching song, what else can you ask for?

7. “Pierre” from Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812

The Great Comet is a little frustrating to listen to, there’s a lot going on (which is surely amplified by seeing it live), and the lyrics are almost entirely transcripts straight from Tolstoy’s “War & Peace”, which means there is little rhyming or pop conventions. The show is inventive with its meddled genres and high drama, but grows tiresome by the time the second act hits. “Pierre” follows the prologue, giving us a Josh Groan ballad complete with a Russian choir interjecting throughout, creating the standout track from the show (though “No One Else” is close).

6. “Times Are Hard For Dreamers” from Amelie

The single of sorts from Amelie is a fun, poppy introduction to Philippa Soo as adult Amelie. It’s catchy as can be, a piano driven track that actually has its own “pop version” on the soundtrack. It’s rare that Broadway songs break through into mainstream playlists, but one could easily sneak this into a driving playlist and no one would bat an eye.

5. “One Day” from Groundhog’s Day

While “Day One” gives us insight to Phil’s thoughts, “One Day” let’s us into coworker Rita’s  struggles as a woman in the news industry, the objectification there, and her difficulties with love. She’s written a little too one-note, focusing acutely on her desires to find a good man, but Barrett Doss makes up for it with a great performance. It ends with the entire town expressing their dreams for tomorrow, heightened by the fact that Phil is having to live this ‘one day’ repeatedly and there is no tomorrow for him.

4. “Requiem” from Dear Evan Hansen

“Requiem” offers the unique perspective of a family mourning the loss of a member who they were all at odds with. Lead by Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss) asking why she should “play the grieving girl” if their relationship was something she never enjoyed. It’s a heartbreaking, but realistic look at family, heightened by the mix of lies and false hopes the characters have throughout the show. “When the villains fall, the kingdom never weeps.”

3. “Anybody Have a Map?” from Dear Evan Hansen

The show’s opener is essentially a duet between two mothers struggling with their sons and their life’s direction. It’s a deceitfully upbeat track, setting the tone for the murky waters that are to come. You’re going to have fun with this show, but you’re never quite sure how much fun you should be having. I’m not sure whether the show’s writers intended this to be the case, regardless, they know how to write some great songs.

2. “Sister’s Pickle” from Amelie 

It picks up a motif we hear Amelie’s mother sing early on and introduces both the crush Amelie is developing on Nino, as well as the anxiety that will cripple her throughout the show. It’s a tiny track, but absolutely infectious, the height of what attracts you to Amelie, the altruistic ball of delight that she is.

  1. “Waving Through a Window” from Dear Evan Hansen

This was probably the big breakout track of the year, an acoustic driven bouncing and poppy track that introduces the world to Evan Hansen. The music and lyrics were written by Pasek & Paul, now famous for having written the lyrics to La La Land, “Window” is tonally opposite from the songs that made up that film. It’s the sort of song one can listen to endlessly, the single that makes this the show you should introduce your non-musical loving friends to and ultimately the best song to come out of musical theater in the last year.

Listen to the whole thing here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/playlist/top-10-broadway-songs-16-17/idpl.ff5c6294d0654027bc9a153eed1def65

Other good songs: “No One Else” from The Great Comet of 1812, “Stuck” from Groundhog’s Day, “Playing Nancy” from Groundhog’s Day, “If I Had My Time Again” from Groundhog’s Day, “The Bottle Drops” from Amelie, “For Forever” from Dear Evan Hansen, “28 Hours/Wherever We Are” from Come From Away