"Sing For Me, My Meadowlark": Broadway's Best Pop Power Ballads

News   "Sing For Me, My Meadowlark": Broadway's Best Pop Power Ballads Playbill.com correspondent Ben Rimalower offers a collection of the essential power ballads from Broadway musicals.

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"Power ballad" is a beautiful term. It takes a sweet, lovely thing and infuses it with oomph and drive. In pop music, there are probably more power ballads than plain old ballads as slow, reflective songs are harder to sell to the masses. In theatre music, power ballads have become popular because they offer the emotional wallop of a ballad without slowing down the action. In fact many power ballads can pack a tremendous energy and bring the audience together in eager applause.

Click through to read my selections for the Top 13 Power Ballads from Broadway Shows.

Mandy Gonzalez
Mandy Gonzalez Photo by Joan Marcus

13. "Everything I Know" from In The Heights

"Everything I Know" from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes's 2008 Broadway hit In The Heights, would almost be better labeled a ballad than a power ballad were it not for the steadily pulsing vamp that underscores the song's lilting melody and the dramatic tonal shift at the end, particularly in the great, underused Mandy Gonzalez's strong and steady original rendition. (Surely Mandy's exemplary leading lady performance in In The Heights alone — not to mention stellar work as a replacement Elphaba and belting out "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" in the notorious flop opera Dance Of The Vampires — calls for some more high-profile roles.) The insightful introspective lyrics and music of "Everything I Know" round out the dynamic hip-hop material and beg both for more Broadway shows from Lin-Manuel Miranda as well as more diversity of musical styles in theatre.

Kate Monster
Kate Monster

12. "There's A Fine, Fine Line" from Avenue Q

Easily one of the best — and certainly the most generationally relevant — musical of the last 20 years, Avenue Q has taken a tour of the full complement of "avenues" in its journey from development at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center to Off-Broadway's not-for-profit Vineyard Theatre (in a co-production with The New Group) to a triumphant six-year run at the Golden Theater on Broadway to its current commercial Off-Broadway run at New World Stages. While its most distinguishing aspects are most likely the hilarious (and powerful) songs offering social commentary, Kate Monster's rueful "he's just not that into you" power ballad is simply irresistible.

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11. "Back To Before" from Ragtime

Perhaps the most important female solo in the last 20 years or so, "Back To Before" is almost too old fashioned a showtune to be considered a power ballad, but that's the dichotomy of the song — old fashioned and yet looking decidedly forward. Even stylistically, the character of Mother, who has sung in a soprano voice for most of the show (at least when played definitively by Broadway originator Marin Mazzie in her career-defining role), surprises us with a thrilling belt in the this powerful showstopper.

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10. "The Story Goes On" from Baby

Speaking of career-defining showstoppers, Liz Callaway offered perhaps the epitome of that compound term in her Tony-nominated turn as Lizzie in 1984's David Shire-Richard Maltby, Jr.-Sybille Pearson musical, Baby. The show offered a host of catchy, clever and collectible songs, but Callaway's seamless, nearly breathless rendition of the timeless "The Story Goes On" earned her the Tony nomination as well as an indelible place in Broadway history.

Caissie Levy in the current Broadway production
Caissie Levy in the current Broadway production Photo by Matthew Murphy

9. "I Dreamed A Dream" from Les Misérables

The greatest song from arguably the greatest (at least in the physical sense of the word) musical of the last 30 years, "I Dreamed A Dream" has touched hundreds of millions of people time and time again from Patti LuPone's original London rendition to Randy Graff on Broadway, scores of actresses on tour and around the world, Neil Diamond's pop version, Susan Boyle's watershed recording and Anne Hathaway's heartbroken performance in the film. Musically, "I Dreamed A Dream" isn't exactly a power ballad, but the gusto it elicits from performers pushes it into the category.

Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley
Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley

8. "I Will Never Leave You" from Side Show

Those of us lucky enough to see the original Broadway production of Henry Krieger and Bill Russell's 1997 musical, Side Show, are 1) excited for the Broadway revival starting previews Oct. 28; 2) forever changed by Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner's unforgettable original performance; and 3) obsessed with the show's two big power ballad duets, "Who Will Love Me As I Am?" and "I Will Never Leave You."

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7. "Unusual Way" from Nine

Within Maury Yeston's all together ravishing score for Nine, the stunning "Unusual Way" is almost indescribably beautiful. This haunting melody with piercing lyrics never fails to touch the heartstrings. My personal favorite rendition, Elaine Paige's version on the London concert recording starring Jonathan Pryce, reveals the song's power ballad strength as she daringly belts out the bridge in full voice.

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6. "I Still Believe" from Miss Saigon

It's worth noting that songs originated on Broadway by Liz Callaway appear twice on this list. A great injustice of musical theatre is that her original version of the duet, "I Still Believe," was never preserved, as the Broadway production of Miss Saigon was not recorded. More importantly, though the existing London cast recording captured the stunning debut of mega-talent Lea Salonga, whose voice as is seamless as Callaway's and whose strength, range and heart in the leading role of Kim galvanize the entire album. Salonga is stellar in all her material, but as far as power ballads go, "I Still Believe" takes the cake.

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5. "Meadowlark" from The Baker's Wife

Another original artist to appear on this list is Patti LuPone, with her signature renditions of both "I Dreamed A Dream" and my personal favorite song, "Meadowlark." Indeed, it seems I'm always screaming for "Meadowlark," whether in this column or at the end of a Patti LuPone concert. "Meadowlark" is a song I never tire of hearing. It's such a virtuosic feat to sing that there is enormous pleasure in just hearing the mountain climbed, much as in the case with arias in opera.

Nikki M. James in the current Broadway production
Nikki M. James in the current Broadway production Photo by Michael Le Poer Trench

4. "On My Own" from Les Misérables

"On My Own" from Les Misérables is such an essential power ballad and so perfectly pop, it's kind of amazing to me that the song never had a major impact on the Billboard charts. (Perhaps its potential was diminished for having the same title as the Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald #1 hit, which came out about the same time Les Misérables was opening in London and New York?) Nevertheless, "On My Own" is an anthem for people unlucky in love everywhere for all time.

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3. "Home" from The Wiz

The great American modern fairy tale "The Wizard of Oz" has been reincarnated in many variations. The one that cries out most for a revival is the 1974 Broadway hit, The Wiz, telling the story (transposed to modern Harlem) through Motown-style music. The stunning 11 o'clock number, "Home," gives musical life to the original phrase, "someplace there isn't any trouble" and can be thought of as a tear-down-the-house bookend to "Over The Rainbow."

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2. "Someone Else's Story" from Chess

The Broadway production of Chess may not have been the hit that the London production was, but it did offer something the London version lacked in the new song, "Someone Else's Story," maybe the best theatre song in the entire score. Indeed, "Someone Else's Story" is in a class by itself as an actable pop-style song that tells a moving story with beginning, middle and end. It's doubtful anyone could ever touch Judy Kuhn's perfectly sung original recording, but I always hold out hope some pop singer will try — and give this worthy tune a chance at the charts.

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1. "And I Am Telling You" from Dreamgirls

What is there to say that hasn't been said? Jennifer Holliday. 1982 Tony Awards.

(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.)

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