From Sondheim to Lloyd Webber, 10 Songs About Not Being in Love

Lists   From Sondheim to Lloyd Webber, 10 Songs About Not Being in Love
 
Feeling down with love? Check out this list of essential Broadway duets that are not love songs.
Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim

For many people, the very idea of Broadway musicals brings to mind soaring love songs: "Tonight" from West Side Story," "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" from Porgy And Bess and "All I Ask Of You" from The Phantom of The Opera are just a few examples. The influential Oscar Hammerstein said that characters in musicals break out into song when words alone can no longer express the power of their emotions. In this respect, the aforementioned romantic duets are perhaps the epitome of musical theatre. But what about when a song must accomplish the opposite of that, when what the characters wish to express is precisely that they are not in love? On this particular subject, Hammerstein was himself a master, writing lyrics for a host of "not-in-love" duets with both Richard Rodgers and Jerome Kern. In fact, this type of musical number has become a tradition unto itself over the years.

10. "Getting Married Today" from Company
This is something of a cheat for the category as it's a trio for the characters Amy, Paul and Jenny (not to mention the chorus that comes in near the end), but I think I can squeak it by since Jenny is singing Sondheim's version of a garden-variety wedding song. Even later in the lyric, when it reflects Amy's dilemma ("Bless this bride, totally insane, slipping down the drain…"), Jenny still remains on her own distinct melody line. The song is a luminous gem in Company's brilliant score, as it offers a clear distinction between hysterical "cold feet" and leading character Robert's very real fear of intimacy/marriage.


9. "I Wish I Were in Love Again" from Babes In Arms
Years before his major collaborations with Oscar Hammerstein, Richard Rodgers had written some not-in-love songs, with lyrics by Lorenz Hart. Among the timeless standards written for 1937's Babes in Arms ("Where or When"; "My Funny Valentine"; "The Lady Is a Tramp"; "Johnny One Note"), a particular crowd pleaser is "I Wish I Were In Love Again." This zesty duet extolls all the horrible things about relationships in order to to express a longing to be in one!


8. "It Would Have Been Wonderful" from A Little Night Music
Stephen Sondheim was Oscar Hammerstein's mentee, so it stands to reason that over the course of his decades-long career, he too wrote a handful of not-in-love songs. Of course, Sondheim being Sondheim, these have tended to turn the genre on its head. In 1973's A Little Night Music, both Fredrik and Carl-Magnus are indeed in love with Desiree Armfeldt, but they wish they were not. "It Would Have Been Wonderful" is a valentine to the version of Desiree they could have turned down.


7. "She'd be Far Better Off With You" from Aspects of Love
Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Charles Hart's 1990 Broadway chamber musical, Aspects of Love, has been said to draw inspiration from A Little Night Music. This is certainly evident in the duet for Alex and George, "She'd be Far Better Off With You." Both men are deeply in love with Rose Vibert, but the temperamental actress has complicated their lives and they wish to pawn her off on the other one.


6. "We Do Not Belong Together" from Sunday In The Park With George
Another Sondheim spin on the I-am-not-in-love-with-you song is this you-are-not-in-love-with-me song from Sunday In The Park With George. Just as in Act Two, Dot tells modern-day George he has to move on creatively, in Act One, she tells Georges Seurat that she herself must move on romantically because he is not available for her in the way she needs.


5. "I'll Know" from Guys and Dolls
In Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows's 1950 mega-smash Guys and Dolls, Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown are as mismatched as a couple can be. He's a hard-living gambler and she's a pious temperance missionary. Their immediate chemistry is undeniable, but in "I'll Know" they try to do just that: deny it. The lush, romantic melody renders such attempts futile.


4. "They Say It's Wonderful" from Annie Get Your Gun
Irving Berlin and Dorothy Fields' popular 1946 Ethel Merman vehicle, Annie Get Your Gun, told the tale of the great love between sharpshooters Annie Oakley and Frank Butler. Oakley, a strong, independent woman ahead of her time was a far cry from the type of girl Butler had his sights set on ("as soft and pink as a nursery"). Accordingly, he starts out somewhat resistant to the pull of their mutual attraction and "They Say It's Wonderful" musicalizes the tentative beginnings of their getting together — all hypothetical, never admitting to experiencing the feelings themselves.

 


3. "This Can't Be Love" from The Boys from Syracuse
Another Rodgers and Hart not-in-love song, "This Can't Be Love" from The Boys from Syracuse, is sort of a callback to the pair's previous "I Wish I Were In Love Again" in that it deals with the unpleasant side effects of love. In this case, however, the characters posit their lack of such consequences as evidence they are not in love. The audience knows better.


2. "Make Believe" Show Boat
Oscar Hammerstein wrote his first not-in-love song with composer Jerome Kern for the groundbreaking 1927 musical Show Boat. "Make Believe" offers future lovers Gaylord Ravenal and Magnolia Hawks daring to sing of love for each other under the guise of a suggested game of pretend. As the prototypical not-in-love song, the attempt is in vain; the two are unable to contain their bourgeoning feelings.


1. After his years of collaboration with different composers, Oscar Hammerstein spent almost 20 years writing with Richard Rodgers, and their landmark musicals have essentially defined the genre for millions of people. Several of them feature not-in-love songs. In Oklahoma!, "People Will Say We're In Love" Curly and Laurey tell each other what not to do in a way that suggests it's their deepest desire. In Carousel, Billy and Julie express their sentiments all on the condition of "If I Loved You." "Don't Marry Me" from Flower Drum Song takes an enjoyably blunt approach. Blunter still is the hilarious Rodgers and Hammerstein parody, "I Couldn't Keer Less About You," from Joanne Bogart and Eric Rockwell's 2003 satirical The Musical of Musicals.

"People Will Say We're In Love" from Oklahoma

 
"If I Loved You" from Carousel


"Don't Marry Me" from Flower Drum Song


"I Couldn't Keer Less About You" from The Musical of Musicals

 

(Ben Rimalower is the author and star of the critically acclaimed solo plays Patti Issues and Bad with Money. Read Playbill's coverage of the show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)

Today’s Most Popular News: