STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: 100 Greatest Broadway Musical 'Episodes'

Special Features   STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: 100 Greatest Broadway Musical 'Episodes'
Did you see that recent issue of TV Guide listing "The 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time"? Mary Tyler Moore's "Chuckles Bites the Dust" finished first, while Lucy's "Vitameatavegamin" was second. And so it went, all the way down to an episode of "Friends" that involved Rachel's finally realizing that Ross has loved her for years.

Did you see that recent issue of TV Guide listing "The 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time"? Mary Tyler Moore's "Chuckles Bites the Dust" finished first, while Lucy's "Vitameatavegamin" was second. And so it went, all the way down to an episode of "Friends" that involved Rachel's finally realizing that Ross has loved her for years.

"Our favorites may not be the same as yours," said the editors. "We're plunging into one of the wildest watercooler debates ever waged."

All right, everybody into the pool with my personal list of the 100 Greatest Broadway Musical Episodes.

It says here in this book (Webster) that an episode is "an incident, scene, etc. within a narrative." So I defined an episode in a musical as a song, a scene, or even a line of dialogue.

I restricted my list to Broadway. No off-Broadway, London, out-of-town closings, or "Kazablan" in Israel. I tried, though, to go back in time, before 1961, when I began attending Broadway musicals. Some performances came alive through original cast albums, and/or through the Stanley Green and David Ewen books I've read over the years, many times over. So it's not a scientific study. TV Guide used polled 14 TV watchers. Ya got me, baby, ya got me, who just sat down one Saturday night, and on the back (and front) of a Business Reply Mail Card, listed what immediately came to mind. (I'd save the numbing job of numbering them for later.) Stream of-consciousness got me to 78 before I started checking the reference books. For a while there, whittling down to 100 seemed impossible.

So, when you survey my survey, call it hell, call it heaven -- It's a probable 12-to-7 that we're going to disagree on one, some, many, almost all of these. Sue me, sue me, shoot bullets through me. And let me know what I missed. I'm even rather looking forward to swatting my forehead in anguish for not remembering one of your 100 Greatest Broadway Musical Episodes.

1. "Soliloquy" (Carousel) -- Every emotion a new father can have is right here, set to a stirring melody that turns tender on a dime.

2. "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" (The King and I) -- Tuptim shows she learns every lesson that Mrs. Anna taught her; Jerome Robbins taught us about extraordinary musical staging.

3. "Who's That Woman?" (Follies) -- Both aged and young dancers show their big number.

4. Olive Stanton stands up and sings. (The Cradle Will Rock) -- The show had been closed by the government, but quickly moved to an abandoned theater for that night's show. But as federal employees, they couldn't appear on stage. So they decided to sit in the audience, and stand when it was their turn to perform. Stanton had the first song -- and the courage to get up and sing it in defiance of the authorities.

5. "Rose's Turn" (Gypsy) -- Musical theater's most significant and entertaining breakdown.

6. "Do Re Mi" (The Sound of Music) -- Don't dismiss it. How would you have musicalized a teacher teaching kids how to sing? Rodgers and Hammerstein sure knew how.

7. "All I Need Now Is the Girl" (Gypsy) -- Louise is so smitten with Tulsa that she can't help join the number. How happy we are that she's finally getting some appreciation. How devastated we'll be in the scene that follows. Which brings us to:

8. "Everything's Coming Up Roses" (Gypsy) -- You can't keep a good woman down. Or Rose, either.

9. "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" (Show Boat) -- Sure, it's one of Broadway's best toe-tapping melodies. But when Queenie says that she'd never heard anyone who wasn't black sing that song, we've just been telegraphed some important information about Julie.

10. June 28 through July 4 (1776) -- Just as you're thinking that there IS no United States of America, and they're breaking the news to us in as palatable a way as possible -- i.e., through a musical -- the book makes the impossible suddenly possible.

11. "Hello, Dolly" (Hello, Dolly!) -- If you watch the movie of (the highly recommended) "The Matchmaker," you'll see Dolly walk in on Horace in the restaurant with no fanfare whatsoever. Look what Jerry Herman and Gower Champion did with that non-moment.

12. "Old-Fashioned Wedding" (Annie, Get Your Gun, 1966) -- As good as the original show must have been, here was the ultimate cherry on the sundae. Five encores at the performance I attended.

13. "I'm Goin' Back" (Bells Are Ringing) -- The ultimate 11 o'clock number. And to think they didn't have it when they went out of town!

14. "The Rain in Spain" (My Fair Lady) -- By George, I think Eliza's got it, but look what we got, too.

15. Act One Finale (The Music Man) -- Up till now, Marian has been saddened that her little brother Winthrop won't respond to anything, and furious that Harold Hill is bamboozling the town. But when the kid goers crazy over his new cornet -- courtesy of Mr. Hill -- she just has to love the con-man for that.

16. "Dance at the Gym" (West Side Story) -- Jets and Sharks pitted against each other, not to mention the cops and the glad hand running the dance. In the midst of it all, Maria and Tony meet and transcend what's happening.

17. "I'm Flying" (Peter Pan) -- Thinking lovely thoughts gets the Darling kids on their way to Neverland, with you-know-who leading the way.

18. "Old Man River" (Show Boat) -- At last, a black man is written with dignity, with a stirring anthem to convey it.

19. "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" (Oklahoma!) -- There's a bright golden way of opening a musical.

20. "Beautiful Girls" (Follies) -- Each in her style a Delilah reborn most poignantly.

21. "I'm an Ordinary Man" (My Fair Lady) -- Oh, no, he's not.

22. "Tomorrow" (Annie) -- Say what you will, but in addition to its being an excellent song, Annie and Sandy bond.

23. "Comedy Tonight" (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) -- The number that changed a flop into a hit.

24. "Adelaide's Lament" (Guys and Dolls) -- The ultimate comedy song, not only because of its great jokes, but also because it makes us feel bad for the poor chanteuse.

25. "Laurey Makes up Her Mind" (Oklahoma!) -- The protoype for the many dream ballets to come.

26. "Once in Love with Amy" (Where's Charley?) -- Thanks to producer Cy Feuer's young son Bobby -- who learned the song at home and then felt right at home in singing it during Ray Bolger's performance -- a sing-along tradition was born.

27. "We'll Take a Glass Together" (Grand Hotel) -- Broadway's best paean to money made a star of Michael Jeter, who could negotiate a bar better than many an Olympian.

28. "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" (Porgy and Bess) -- You've heard of beautiful music transcending characters? You've heard this, then.

29. "Miss Marmelstein" (I Can Get I for You Wholesale) -- A star is probably born.

30. "I'm the Greatest Star" (Funny Girl) -- The greatest star is undoubtedly born.

31. "Mame" (Mame) -- Not just because it's a fabulous production number, but also because it ends with Patrick's showing how brave he'll be about losing her aunt, with her showing that she'll still be there for him. And she always is.

32. The Bench Scene (Carousel) -- Both music, lyrics, and dialogue wonderfully mesh as Julie and Billy skirt around a very important issue. 33. "Intermission!" (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) -- Pseudolus' death-defying first act ending.

34. "Wilkommen" (Cabaret) -- What a welcome into a show that is the missing link between the conventional and the concept musical.

35. "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid" (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) -- A vaudeville turn extraordinaire, with those two encores doubling and tripling the fun.

36. "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" (Guys and Dolls) -- Whether your Nicely Nicely is conventionally rotund or slim as Walter Bobbie, the number always works.

37. "When a Shopper Says" (The Rothschilds) -- When Meyer Rothschild instructs his son about the way to handle customers, the kid begins singing, which we interpret as a musical comedy convention -- until his father chides him with "Nathan, listen!"

38. "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair" (South Pacific) -- It was Rodgers and Hammerstein's song, yeah, but it was Mary Martin's idea that made for a different kind of hair-raising moment.

39. "On a Sunday by the Sea" (High Button Shoes) -- The Mack Sennett ballet sure looked good in Jerome Robbins' Broadway, so imagine what it was originally.

40. "Who Wouldn't Dance with You?" (Grand Hotel) -- Especially when the Baron asks Flaemmchen to do something nice and dance with ol' Kringelein, showing that both of them are very nice people.

41. "Brotherhood of Man" (How to Succeed. . .) -- I'm speaking of the original production, in which Finch and Wally Womper joined arms, shuffled forward, then backward. Even in the movie, it works.

42. "Quintet" (West Side Story) -- All the characters point us -- nay, shove us -- towards their destinies.

43. "Ya Got Trouble" (The Music Man) -- The All-American version of Henry Higgins' speak-sing, with much more freedom.

44. "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" (On Your Toes) -- They needed a ballet to fit into the plot, and Richard Rodgers stretched his considerable ability to come up with a stirring one.

45. "And I'm Telling You, I Am Not Going" (Dreamgirls) -- The ultimate case of denial.

46. "Brush up Your Shakespeare" (Kiss Me, Kate) -- Okay, Cole Porter couldn't fit in Timon of Athens or Titus Andronicus, but look at what he did get in there.

47. "I'm Still Here" (Follies) -- When the show was in Boston, I heard that Sondheim was replacing the delicious "Can That Boy Fox-Trot?" and was appalled. How could he do better than that? Needless to say, he could. Serves me right for doubting him.

48. "A Little Girl from Little Rock" (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) -- Carol Channing shows she knows what Lorelei Lee is all about.

49. "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love" (Finian's Rainbow) -- Broadway's most tongue-twisting ode to romance.

50. "Sadie Hawkins Ballet" (Li'l Abner) -- A run that helped the show run and run.

51. Scene Changes (Me and Juliet) -- Listen, I didn't see them, but the way Ethan Mordden describes them in his brilliant "Rodgers & Hammerstein" book, they really must have been something.

52. "People" (Funny Girl) -- Never has a more beautiful song been delivered by a more brilliant star -- while sitting on a stoop, yet.

53. "The Garden of Eden Ballet" (Can-Can) -- Gwen Verdon stops the show and starts her brilliant career.

54. "A Weekend in the Country" (A Little Night Music) -- "And be hopelessly shattered by Saturday night" is just one of the lyrical gems that moves us from the city to the orchards and the hay.

55. "Bosom Buddies" (Mame) -- The best musical theater catfight.

56. "On the Twentieth Century" (On the Twentieth Century) -- All the excitement of getting on a major train ride, complete with tap dancing porters.

57. "Wilkes-Barre, PA" (Tovarich) -- Would you have believed that Vivien Leigh could do the Charleston? This number sure showed she could.

58. "Getting Married Today" (Company) -- Nice, isn't it, that it's a woman, not a man, who's scared of commitment, while it's the guy who can't wait to get hitched?

59. Paul's Monologue (A Chorus Line) -- One of the few times that the music stopped in the show turned out to be a show-stopper, too.

60. "A Little Priest" (Sweeney Todd) -- Just when the show threatened to be too much of an opera, out came the entertainment and wit we associate with Broadway.

61. "Big Spender" (Sweet Charity) -- The best non dance dance number.

62. "What elephant?" (Jumbo) -- Jimmy Durante does his best at stonewalling the fact that he's accompanying a pachyderm.

63. "Look, I made a hat. Where there never was a hat." (Sunday in the Park with George) -- An artist mocks the creative process -- for a moment, until the artist in him is overwhelmed by artistic possibilities. And speaking of hats:

64. "Does Anyone Still Wear a Hat?" (Company) -- One of the most quoted lines in Broadway history -- especially around Easter Bonnet Competition Time.

65. "It's a Simple Little System" (Bells Are Ringing) -- The composers' names, we list 'em, with the racetracks of the land -- brilliantly topped by a Messianic "What is Handel? Hialeah! Hialeah!"

66. "She's a Nut" (On the Twentieth Century) -- A very good production number delivers some very bad news. The image of Imogene Coca on the front of the train is indelible.

67. "If I Were a Rich Man" (Fiddler on the Roof) -- Getting into the heart and soul of a dairyman who has quite a bit of both.

68. Sweeney sings "Joanna" (Sweeney Todd) -- He cuts their throats while singing a beautiful ballad. Who would have thought of that but Mr. Sondheim?

69. "76 Trombones" (The Music Man) -- No wonder the opening night audience just had to clap in unison.

70. "Apology?" (Kean) -- London's greatest actor uses Shakespeare's words -- not his own -- to get himself off the hook.

71. "Deep Down Inside" (Little Me) -- Not only a great production, but one that contains one of Broadway's cleverest lyrics: "No man is a true pariah, deep down inside; no man is a true Uriah Heep down inside." Wow!

72. "Someone in a Tree" (Pacific Overtures) -- The musical theater's Rashomon, set to a fetching Stephen Sondheim melody.

73. "Hey, Look Me Over" (Wildcat) -- Could Lucy star in a musical? One fabulous number immediately answered the question.

74. The Happy Crowd at Motel and Tzeitl's House (Fiddler) -- You see them from the rear, and assume they're billing and cooing over the couple's new baby. No -- it's that new technological wizard, a sewing machine, that has their attention.

75. "Rock Island" (The Music Man) -- An opening number without a note of music -- but oh, what an abundance of rhythm.

76. "The Saga of Jenny" (Lady in the Dark) -- Gertrude Lawrence steals the show from the perfomer who just stole the show with (see below):

77. "Tchaikowsky" (Lady in the Dark) -- Danny Kaye delivers a rush of Russian composers in a rash of seconds.

78. "So Long, Dearie" (Hello, Dolly!) -- All the assets of a vaudeville turn mixed with an eleven o'clock number.

79. "No Time at All" (Pippin) -- If "Once in Love with Amy" isn't the musical theater's best sing-along, this one sure was -- complete with a bouncing ball and a jaunty message.

80. "One Hand, One Heart" (West Side Story) -- Tony and Maria are as close as they'll get to a real wedding.

81. "Famous Feet" (A Day in Hollywood) -- You only saw them from the knees down, but you knew they were Sonja Henie, Judy Garland, Mickey and Minnie.

82. "Hooray for Our Favorite Son" (The Will Rogers Follies) -- Tommy Tune devises a slap-hands-happy number of great dexterity.

83. "The two most glorious words in the English Language." (42nd Street) -- They are, of course, musical comedy, and Jerry Orbach's delivery of this line should have been on the original cast album. That it was omitted was one of recording's 100 biggest mistakes.

84. "Tevye's Dream" (Fiddler on the Roof) -- What a father will do to please a daughter. What Jerome Robbins would do to please an audience.

85. Charity Hides in the Closet (Sweet Charity) -- While her one-night stand reunites with his true love, she needs a smoke. But in a closet? On the other hand, what if she lights up, unzips a large clear-plastic garment bag, blows the smoke in there, then zips it up, prior to her next drag? It works -- in more ways than one.

86. "Magic to Do" (Pippin) -- As it began, all Fosse showed us was his cast's hands; as it ended, we showed him and them ours.

87. "I Ain't Down Yet" (The Unsinkable Molly Brown) -- All of Molly's ambitions come through a helluvan opening number.

88. "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" (Hello, Dolly!) -- Traveling from Yonkers to New York has never been more exhilarating or colorful.

89. "Barcelona" (Company) -- Barely a song, but certainly a smart observation on how a man doesn't want to be alone, until he finds he won't be.

90. Between engagements in two different cities, the Dreams change costumes. (Dreamgirls) -- And they do it in so few seconds that the audience just had to go "Ooooh!"

91. "Night Letter" (Two Gentlemen of Verona) -- Going postal, Broadway style.

92. Ben Franklin envisons American independence (Ben Franklin in Paris) -- Robert Preston touchingly and humorously delivers a monologue on what he believes America can be.

93. "Girl, You're a Woman" (Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) -- Here's where we get on Miss Mona's side, and suspend our judgments on prostitution.

94. "Our Time" (Merrily We Roll Along) -- An anthem to hope and dreams is all the more poignant when you've already seen what follows it.

95. "Applause" (Applause) -- Five years before we got "A Chorus Line," here was the plight of gypsies, told with a little homage to Broadway's most famous moments.

96. "The Phantom of the Opera" (The Phantom of the Opera) -- The musical equivalent of visiting the Batcave.

97. "Happy to Make Your Acquaintance" (The Most Happy Fella) -- Tony and Rosabella en route to resolving their differences, in a most happy way.

98. Josh Gives in to Adulthood (Big) -- He's been scared of his sudden adulthood, but now, with everything going well -- and with co worker Susan kissing him -- he just has to cross the line into manhood (even if it does mean standing up his best friend and not going to that Knicks game).

99. The Onstage Musicians (No Strings) -- And rumor has it that Joe Layton went to this out of desperation, because Diahann Carroll wasn't having an easy time with movement.

100. The Nude Scene (Hair) -- Well, let's face it -- it started a trend that's still with us.

Peter Filichia is the New Jersey drama critic for the Star-Ledger.

You can e-mail him at

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