It’s hard to believe we’re almost half way through another decade. As far as new Broadway musicals go, the biggest commercial hits from the past few years have been shows like The Book of Mormon, Kinky Boots, Once, Newsies, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, and most recently, Hamilton. What about the other 60+ original musicals that opened on The Great White Way? Well, some have been critical and artistic successes- others not so much. Also worth celebrating: Cyndi Lauper became the first female songwriter to win the Tony Award for Best Original Score in a Musical in 2013, and Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron became the first all-women team to win the same award in 2015. It’s great to see female musical theatre creators finally getting the acclaim they deserve (I previously wrote a post about this).
Musically and vocally, contemporary Broadway musicals continue to feature a variety of styles. Although the first full-out Broadway rap musical, Holler If Ya Hear Me, shuddered after only 38 performances last year, the show could still end up being a precursor to other similar musicals (Hamilton frequently features rapping as well). ‘Legit’/classical-based singing also made a bit of a comeback recently thanks in large part to the success of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. Today, Broadway musicals incorporate nearly every major musical style imaginable. I find this situation very exciting, and I look forward to seeing where things continue to go.
That brings me to the main point of this post. After reading a recent article by A.V. Club about modern musical theatre songs the writers feel should be standards, I decided to compile my own list of showstoppers from Broadway musicals from THIS decade (aka 2010-present). My selections below cover various musical and vocal styles, and I think each song is wonderful in its own unique way. I’m splitting this post into two parts, and this post contains my first ten selections (including five for men and five for women). P.S. I’m writing this post late, so the commentary may not be particularly insightful ;-).
P.S. If you need assistance choosing appropriate repertoire for yourself or for your students, please check out my new repertoire consulting business, The Repertoire Guru.
1. “Wait for It” from Hamilton (2015)
Music & Lyrics by Lin Manuel-Miranda
How could Hamilton NOT be number one on this list? I’m going out on a limb and predicting the show will be THE defining musical of the 2010s (not unlike Rent in the mid-1990s). Hamilton seems to be all anyone can talk about right now- and for good reason. It’s brilliant. Choosing only one song from the show’s pop-rock/hip hop-driven score was tricky. The most obvious choice is probably “My Shot”, but something about “Wait For It” resonates more with me. It’s dark, insightful, and oddly uplifting all at once (not to mention incredibly catchy and borederline haunting). The song is performed below by Leslie Odom, Jr. (SMASH, Leap of Faith) and the show’s ensemble.
2. “One Perfect Moment” from Bring It On: The Musical (2012)
Music by Tom Kitt; Lyrics by Amanda Green and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Bring It On is an interesting, somewhat stitched-together musical beast. The show is part dance/gymnastics extravaganza and part traditional musical. For some reason, I avoided it for years until recently. Now I wish I hadn’t- there are some stunning musical moments throughout the show’s score. In fact, “One Perfect Moment” gets my vote as the best female ‘I Want Song’ song from any Broadway musical from the past five years. The piece was co-written by Tom Kitt, Amanda Green, and, you guessed it… Lin Manuel Miranda (which gives Miranda two top spots on this list). Taylor Louderman performs the song below.
3. “How It Ends” from Big Fish: The Musical (2013)
Music & Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Despite closing after 98 performances on Broadway, Big Fish has developed a cult following over the past few years (not unlike the 1998 novel and 2003 Tim Burton film the musical is based on). The show’s fantastical narrative comes to a close with this gorgeous 11-o’clock number sung by actor Norbert Leo Butz (Wicked, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Last Five Years) . The piece is truly a magical moment in an already captivating musical fairy tale. Big Fish contains some of Andrew Lippa’s best songwriting work to date in my opinion, and this selection is a great example of that.
4. “Fly, Fly Away” from Catch Me If You Can (2011)
Music by Marc Shaiman; Lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman
Hairspray scribes Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman returned to the ’60s with this musical adaptation of a 2002 film titled Catch Me If You Can. As in the film, the musical’s plot revolves around Frank Abagnale, Jr., a real life con-man turned security consultant, throughout his many outlandish exploits. “Fly, Fly Away” is performed near the end of the show by the character Brenda, a young woman who professes her love for Frank even after learning of his fake identity and many illegal escapades. The song is a completely over the top, 50s/60s-style power ballad, and that is a big part of why I love it. It is performed below by the fabulous Kerry Butler (Bat Boy, Little Shop of Horrors, others).
5. “Santa Fe” from Newsies: The Musical (2012)
Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Jack Feldman
It is difficult to remember a time before Jeremy Jordan was a household name for many theatre fans. After a brief stint in Frank Wildhorn’s short-lived musical Bonnie & Clyde, Jordan catapulted to stardom as the lead in Disney’s Newsies: The Musical. That show is a stage adaptation of Walt Disney’s 1992 live-action film musical by the same name. Jordan shines as the character Jack in this Act I closer. In the song, Jack laments a failed protest and promises that he’ll soon leave New York forever. Even though actor Christian Bale (yes, Batman) sang a version of this song in the original film, the Broadway arrangement is completely fresh and exciting (and HIGH).
6. “Always Starting Over” from If/Then (2014)
Music by Tom Kitt; Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Fresh off her role as Elsa in the Disney animated film, Frozen, Idina Menzel joined the cast of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s new musical, If/Then. In the show, Menzel played a newly divorced, 38-year-old urban planner who moves to New York City for a fresh start. The Broadway production received mixed reviews, but it ran for a full year thanks in large part to Menzel’s captivating performance night after night. Below is “Always Starting Over”, the show’s powerful 11-o’clock number.
7. “Leave” from Once (2012)
Music & Lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
Once is full of show-stopping moments, but one of the finest comes very early on in the musical’s plot. In “Leave”, we meet a thirty-something Dublin busker (identified only as “Guy”), who sings a heartfelt ballad of unrequited love in a local bar while accompanying himself on guitar. The piece is folksy, visceral, and breathtaking (the perfect song for a cold winter night). Steve Kazee’s gorgeous but rough-around-the-edges rendition has yet to be topped in my book. Just listen to those cries.
8. “Ring of Keys” from Fun Home (2015)
Music by Jeanine Tesori; Lyrics by Lisa Kron
Fun Home is an artistic triumph on many fronts. As noted above, the show’s creators became the first all-women team in history to earn a Tony Award for Best Original Score. Fun Home‘s plot is based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir of the same name. The story revolves around Bechdel’s relationship with her gay father and her attempts to unlock the mysteries surrounding his life. It has been called “the first mainstream musical about a young lesbian.” In “Ring of Keys”, young Alison notices a delivery woman and feels an inexplicable kinship with her. The piece is performed below by talented young actress, Sydney Lucas.
9. “I Believe” from The Book of Mormon (2011)
Music & Lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone
Before Hamilton, the musical that theatregoers couldn’t stop talking about (and still can’t in many cases) was The Book of Mormon, a religious satire crafted by South Park creators, Trey Parker and Mat Stone and Avenue Q composer, Robert Lopez. The show is filled with homages to and parodies of other Broadway musicals, television shows, films, and more. For my money, The Book of Mormon boasts one of the most exciting (and frequently outrageous) musical scores of the 21st century. In “I Believe”, the character Elder Price confronts an African war lord, determined to convert him to Mormonism. The results are… less than successful. The piece is performed below by Andrew Rannells (Hamilton, Jersey Boys, Hedwig) and the show’s ensemble.
10. “Finding Wonderland” from Wonderland (2011)
Music by Frank Wildhorn; Lyrics by Jack Murphy
Frank Wildhorn is sometimes referred to as the king of pop musical theatre power ballads. Some critics say that is all he writes, but it’s hard to deny the guy knows how to craft a catch-y, moving tune. Below is the 11-o’clock number from his short lived Broadway musical, Wonderland. The show is a contemporary take on Lewis Carroll’s timeless literary classic. In the song, Alice writes down what she has learned from her adventures in Wonderland, realizing that time is fleeting and “ordinary magic happens every single day”. It’s pure cheese, but I need some of that every now and then. Janet Dacal (In the Heights, Good Vibrations) sings the piece below.