Hot enough for ya? It was such a long, cold winter and it seemed like summer would never come, but here it is in full force. (For Playbill readers in the southern hemisphere, save this piece for January and button up.) One of the best ways to enjoy the weather — and sometimes to cope with it — is to listen to music with a corresponding feeling, or even better, songs that are about the season. Of course, no song can go deep into the human experience better than a showtune.
Click through to read my selections for the Top Ten Summer Showtunes.
One of my favorite things to do in New York in the summer is take long walks at night. It's less hot and humid, and the streets are less crowded. Charles Strouse's jazzy, introspective melody for "Blame It On The Summer Night" is a perfect match for starlit strolls. The operatic lilt in the song as originated on Broadway by soprano Teresa Stratas (and on the original cast album by Julia Migenes) gives the piece the extra emotional tug to carry the story and Stephen Schwartz's dramatic lyrics.
Frank Loesser's 1960 flop Greenwillow is rarely discussed these days, and when it's mentioned at all, people tend to reference it being the only time Anthony Perkins starred in a Broadway musical or the dynamic song "Never Will I Marry," which has been recorded by a number of singers including Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Nancy Wilson and Linda Ronstadt. As a Frank Loesser musical, Greenwillow has many worthy songs including "Summertime Love," a catchy, breezy, rhythmic ballad about what happens after the season's romance ends. Perkins' original recording is affecting, but an absolute must-listen is Rosemary Clooney's uptempo rendition from her 1960 album "A Touch Of Tabasco."
Slightly less of a showtune than the rest of this list, "The Girls of Summer" is an incidental song Stephen Sondheim contributed to N. Richard Nash's 1956 Broadway play, Girls of Summer. I'm including it because it's a Sondheim song and therefore noteworthy, and it was also featured in the Sondheim revue Marry Me A Little. Also, "The Girls of Summer" has a very unique vibe, sort of moody, jazzy and bitchy — perfect for listening to on the beach while you judge other people.
No summer showtune playlist would be complete without this rousing ditty from Carousel. If its old-school charm doesn't please your ear's appetite, you can always go for the comedy gold of Leslie Uggam's legendary lyric mangling on the lawn of the Capitol.
Part of the problem with summer is that you wait so long for it to come, but then you don't spend the entire three months on the beach with a cold drink. Unless you're a kid on break from school, there are long stretches where you have to live your life and deal with its complications. This is captured perfectly in the witty character song Jason Robert Brown wrote for the Cathy in The Last Five Years. Her attempt to manage her career in summer stock with her troubled relationship is hilarious and adorable.
"Ribbons Down My Back" is the quintessential old school lady-looking-for-love song. Even if the ribbons you wear are only figurative, we can all relate to that feeling of wanting someone to come along when the weather gets hot.
"Summer Nights" may be the most famous showtune of its era after the staggering international success of the 1978 film "Grease." Also due to the tune's easy navigability, memorable lyrics and fun group sing-along style, "Summer Nights" is easily among the most popular karaoke numbers in the world. The song looks back lovingly at summer, but during the summer, you can sing along to celebrate what's still happening!
"Summertime and the livin' is easy." You can't get much more evocative than that. This world-famous standard is immediately known by its first, languid notes and is an excellent calling card for unique American opera that is Porgy and Bess. Music of this caliber works in many forms, so there is a version of "Summertime" to suit any style of summer party.
Have you been outside? It is "too darn hot!" Cole Porter nailed it with these three simple words. Sometimes the heat just takes it out of you and you don't want to do anything. Porter provides a fun list of all things you would do if only it were cooler. Of course the song is kind of a lie, because with its sexy rhythm, you may just find yourself willing to overlook the temperature.
In 1925, Rodgers and Hart had their first Broadway hit with Garrick Gaieties, which introduced the standard, "Manhattan." It's 89 years later and there's still no better song about summer or New York City — or especially summer in New York City. Rodgers's melody is romantically dreamy, yet has a pace to it, like a walk through town, and Hart's lyrics are a brilliantly rhymed paean to the pleasures of city life. A bonafide treasure of the Great American Songbook, there have been hundreds of recordings, but the best has to be Ella Fitzgerald's for "Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers and Hart Song Book."
(Ben Rimalower is the author and original star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues,andnbsp;currently on a worldwide tour. Read more about the solo show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)