* No matter how painstakingly I ponder my lists for these columns, something always slips past me. It doesn't matter if I read and read my Top Ten Sondheim songs ten thousand times — there is inevitably an omission to regret. Sometimes, a rueful realization dawns slowly, over months of hearing a song popping up in people's concerts or cabarets I attend or on my iTunes shuffle. Other times a showstopper startles me into epiphany. "Yes!" "Her!" "Him!" "It!"
I don't think there's any getting around this problem. Just as these lists are subjective to my tastes, they are subjective to the time when they're written. I don't think anyone would fault me for excluding songs that haven't been written or that I can't have reasonably been expected to hear, but there are some mistakes that cry out for correction.
Click through to read nine corrections to this column.
9. "I Know Where I've Been" from Hairspray
When I sat down to write "You Can't Stop The Beat": The Top Ten Songs by Shaiman and Wittman, I immediately put on the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me. I remembered enjoying that show and its songs so much, but I hadn't listened to them in years and wanted to refresh my memory. What stopped me from including any of them was that as parody material, they felt more lightweight than much of the rest of the Shaiman-Wittman catalog. It was especially difficult to let go of "A Big Black Lady Stops The Show." This song is such a dead-on satire of something that happens all the time in musicals, including Shaiman and Wittman's own Hairspray, that I actually allowed it to prejudice me. I conflated this lampoon with the Motormouth Mabel's 11 o'clock number in Hairspray, "I Know Where I've Been" and subsequently left it off the list too. A year or so later I was sitting at the New York Pops 31st Birthday Gala honoring Marc Shamin and Scott Wittman at Carnegie Hall, watching the divine Jenifer Lewis raise the roof with "I Know Where I've Been," and I suddenly wished I could turn back time. This is a spiritual for our time, and it deserves its rightful place on many lists, most certainly including mine.
8. "The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha
Writing "I Want to Be a Smash": Top Ten Show Tunes to Make the Pop Charts Since 1964, it was difficult to get all my research done in time. I didn't have access to the decades of Billboard charts I needed to scan in my hunt for hit showtunes. I relied on other sources, mostly reading about musicals of the era and seeing which ones made the successful crossover into pop. It got easier with more recent shows, as so few make the transition that when it happens, it gets a lot of attention. So of course, the one that slipped through was from right at the beginning of the time I covered. A ton of people recorded "The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha and Jack Jones' 1966 single knocked Frank Sinatra's "Strangers In The Night" off the top of the Adult Contemporary chart July 23 of that year.
I haven't seen Mandy Gonzalez in many shows and it's been a while since the last time, so I hope her many fans will forgive my leaving her off "The Lady's Got Potential": Top Ten Up-and-Coming Musical Actresses. When a friend texted me to let me know what a great show I missed in Mandy's 54 Below engagement, I realized the error of my ways. I'll never forget her thrilling belting and beautiful presence in the (also unforgettable) flop Dance of the Vampires and she was, for me, the emotional rock of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes' seminal musical In The Heights.
An even more egregious error on my part in compiling "The Lady's Got Potential" was the omission of Alysha Umphress. I've known Alysha for years and spent countless nights moved to tears and hollering ovations into the wee hours back in the days when she sang every Friday at Brandon Cutrell's sorely missed weekly Laurie Beechman Theatre Friday night soiree, "The After Party." I've always known Alysha to have a singular musicianship and purity of voice and expression that never fails to grip me, but seeing her current Broadway triumph in On The Town, I remembered what a terrific actress and comedienne she is and wished for a do-over of my list.
As much as I delighted in Broadway's revival of On The Town, I spent a good deal of the show regretting choices I made in this column. How could I have left Jay Armstrong Johnson off my list of Stars Under Our Noses: Ten Broadway Leading Men Overdue for a Tony Nomination? I supposed I can forgive myself this since I'd only see Jay star in straight plays and in some ensemble roles on Broadway, but his star-making brilliance in On The Town demands high placement on many a list. I don't know when was the last time I was as wowed by such inspired, original, charismatic work in a musical.
4. "On The Willows" from Godspell
I honestly cannot believe I left "On The Willows" out of "You're Gonna Be Popular": The Top 14 Songs by Stephen Schwartz. There are so many good songs in Godspell, I think I was just overwhelmed narrowing it down and went for the flasher, beltier "Bless The Lord." Is there any more ravishing folk ballad in Broadway history? Maybe Schwartz's "Chanson" from The Baker's Wife, but that never made it to Broadway — and it did make my list! So please, Schwartzniks everywhere, and Mr. S. himself, accept my humble apologies and this correction.
3. "Sandra Bernhard… I'm Still Here Damn It!"
When I set out to write "On My Own": The Top 10 Solo Shows on Broadway, I somehow forgot about the first one I saw and the artist who essentially inspired my own career writing and performing alone — Sandra Bernhard. Though it slipped my mind in coming up with the list, I will never forget sitting in the back of the balcony at the Booth Theatre in a seat I had to skip dinner to afford, shortly after I moved to New York, and being blown away by Sandra's scorched earth skewering of 1990s pop culture, brilliantly blurring the line between repulsion and attraction, mirroring my own mixed feelings about the trappings of modern life. I've since become an avid fan, flocking to catch her every live performance nearly memorizing her recordings.
2. "Being Alive" from Company
I think to a lot of people, the most shocking omission from any of my pieces here was leaving "Being Alive" off the list for The Top 10 Songs by Stephen Sondheim. I don't want to use the term hate mail, but fans were up in arms. I think my bias in this case was that no matter how many times I see brilliant performers like Raul Esparza, John Barrowman and Neil Patrick Harris sing "Being Alive," I always associate the song with my favorite diva, Patti LuPone, and the first time I heard the song, when she blasted the roof off Carnegie Hall in 1992. Her rendition gives me goosebumps to this day, but I have a hard time categorizing "Being Alive." It's not really a ballad — certainly not the way Patti does it — and it's not a belter's snappy uptempo like "Broadway Baby." So when I was weighing the various Sondheim songs to include on the Top Ten, I had a hard time choosing "Being Alive" over more easily classifiable numbers. They clearly did a better job fulfilling some idea of what a song should be in my mind at the time. What I forgot was that it's a man's song from a musical. "Being Alive" should be looked at like "If I Were A Rich Man" from Fiddler On The Roof or "Soliloquoy" from Carousel, and as such, it clearly makes the cut.
This last and most egregious error is really inexcusable. I neglected to include Elaine Stritch's career — and, arguably — genre-defining rendition of "The Ladies Who Lunch" from Company in From Barbra to Bernadette: Top Ten Signature Songs from Broadway. Maybe it's because Joanne isn't the leading lady of Company, or maybe "Ladies" slipped through the cracks as I considered pop ballads and stampedes like "People" and "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going." Or maybe I'm just a fool. In my mind, Elaine Stritch was the most powerful singing actress of the last 100 years and her stamp is so forever ingrained on Sondheim's knockout "The Ladies Who Lunch" that no one will ever sing it without being forced to reckon with her legacy. There's no excuse for my mistake. I will strive to make amends to very legend of Stritch for the rest of my days. Mea culpa.
(Ben Rimalower is the author and original star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues, currently on a worldwide tour. His new solo play, Bad with Money, performs through Dec. 18 at The Duplex in NYC. Read Playbill's coverage of the show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)