If you love a song from a popular Broadway score, chances are a lot of other people love it, too. You might hear it at a piano bar, at an audition, a cabaret act or floating out of your next-door-neighbor’s shower.
Here’s a look at ten showtunes, ranging from classic to contemporary songs, that have enjoyed widespread popularity.
10. “There’s A Fine, Fine Line” from Avenue Q
Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx gave us one of the best musical theatre ballads of the modern era in their still-running 2003 hit Avenue Q. How odd that one of recent Broadway’s most touchingly human moments in song is delivered by a puppet, Q leading lady, Kate Monster! In a show full of pop culture references and below-the-belt comedy, we are treated to this straightforward lyric about relationships (and very relatable) set to a simple and lovely tune.
9. “Someone Else’s Story” from Chess
While you might be safer obsessing over a song from a short-lived musical, you’re still in danger of having to share your favorite with the world, particularly when the show in question is an international cult hit sensation with music by members of one of the most popular pop groups of all time, i.e. Chess. People can’t seem to resist the switcheroo of the words (“The story is the girl is me”), the soaring melody or the perfect 80s pop vamp.
8. “Fifty Percent” from Ballroom
Another popular song from a less successful show, “Fifty Percent” from Ballroom seemed assured a future on people’s playlists when original star Dorothy Loudon delivered her untouchable rendition on the 1979 Tony Awards. Fans flocked to buy the cast album and sheet music, and now you can’t spend a night on certain blocks in the West Village without hearing the number at least once. Alan and Marilyn Bergman‘s storytelling lyrics (with music by Billy Goldenberg) is absolutely ideal for performers to personalize with their own experience, and audiences follow suit.
7. “Frank Mills” from Hair
Singers everywhere are attracted to the songs from Hair, “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical.” Most of the songs from Hair are extremely rangy and difficult to sing, requiring legitimate vocal chops beyond the realm of the average Sunday crooner. An exception is the sweet “Frank Mills,” a love letter to a wayward boyfriend with enchantingly quirky words.
6. “Home” from The Wiz
At the opposite end of the spectrum from “Frank Mills,” “Home” is extremely difficult to sing, written to showcase a pop gospel R&B diva with a virtuoso voice, and Stephanie Mills’ original recording has never been bettered. That said, bring on all the sorry substitutes. I can’t help myself. Even if you miss the money notes and crack on the intervals, give me a little heart where you can, shout out “Lord” somewhere in between the lines and I’ll love you for trying. Maybe I’m just a textbook friend of Dorothy and a hopeless child of the 70s, but “Home” hits me where I live every single time.
5. “Some People” from Gypsy
This was not the take-home tune from Gypsy. People sang “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” they sang “Together Wherever We Go,” “Let Me Entertain You,” “All I Need Is The Girl.” Hell, they sang, “Have An Egg Roll, Mr. Goldstone” before they sang “Some People.” But Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony-winning living legend Liza May Minnelli started singing “Some People” in her concerts in the 70s and made it one of her standards, speeding it up and giving it that Liza flair that made everybody else take note.
4. “Broadway Baby” from Follies
In a score full of pastiche, “Broadway Baby” is the ultimate throwback. Here, the layer of Stephen Sondheim commentary and context is so subtle, what you get is indistinguishable from an old school barn burner. This could be the ultimate showtune of all time. Fittingly, it gets sung a lot.
3. “Cabaret” from Cabaret
The title song from Cabaret was a hit for Marilyn Maye before the show even opened on Broadway. Countless recordings followed, not to mention Liza Minnelli’s success with the song on film and hundreds of concerts. The net result is that the song has firmly has established itself as a standard of the Great American Songbook. It’s the ultimate meta anthem for the original concept musical, and equally self-referential for pretty much anyone singing it anywhere.
2. “Don’t Rain On My Parade” from Funny Girl
Is there any Broadway musical tirade more forcefully aspirational than “Don’t Rain On My Parade”? This show-stopper is the epitome of musical theatre oomph. Of course, no one can top Barbra Streisand’s landmark original version. They can’t top it, but some people come mighty close to equaling it. Lillias White brought all her own style and substance to “Don’t Rain On My Parade” in the Actors Fund benefit concert of Funny Girl. Patti LuPone sings it in her Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda… act with her inimitable spunk and a final money note that stays with you long after the song has ended. Even Bobby Darin recorded his own swinging version, to which Annette Bening memorably sang along in American Beauty.
1. “Send In The Clowns” from A Little Night Music
This might be Stephen Sondheim’s most beautiful song. He has explained that it was inspired by a single gesture Glynis Johns made in a scene in the show, and perhaps for this reason, it so movingly captures an authentic emotional moment. Judy Collins and Frank Sinatra scored hits with the song. Dozens of other performers have also recorded it, including Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Bassey, Grace Jones, Barbra Streisand, Cher and Plácido Domingo.
(Ben Rimalower is the author and original star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues and Bad with Money. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)