The Romantic Sound of Broadway's Golden Age

Friday, February 11, 2011 - 12:35 PM

Hey, musical theater fans! I know, I know -- WQXR is a classical music station. But this morning I had the sound of Broadway on my mind, and I came into the office singing a song from a classic piece of American musical theater: Brigadoon, the 1947 Lerner and Lowe show about the enchanted Scottish village that appears every hundred years for only one day.

The song I was singing, "Come to me, Bend to me," is really for Charlie, one of the guys in the show. He sings it to Jean as he tries to lure her out of the house on her wedding day. Knowing full well that it's bad luck to see the groom on your wedding day, Jean will have nothing to do with it. I've always wanted to be able to sing that song because it's so beautiful. And it’s romantic. And it’s almost Valentine’s Day. So there!

When I stop to think about it, there are probably hundreds of wonderful, romantic moments in musical theater. And most of those moments date from the golden age of Broadway. Carousel (1945), Kismet (1953), The King and I (1951), West Side Story (1957), Fiorello! (1959), South Pacific (1949), The Sound of Music (1959) and My Fair Lady (1956) are just a few shows with romantic plots that come to mind. And what about The Fantasticks? It hit the Great White Way in 1960 and it’s still running, right? I think you could even see it on Valentine's Day here in New York if you wanted to. What a timeless love story that is! When Luisa and Matt finally figure out that their love is meant to be and they sing "They Were You," that very simple song goes straight to your heart.

So, even though we're supposed to be talking about classical music on this blog, I just know that you’ll have some great ideas here. When you have a minute or two, please tell me: what are your favorite romantic moments in American musical theater?

And, pardon me if I’m sounding too old fashioned here, if you want to reach beyond the Golden Age and think about A Little Night Music (1973), The Phantom of the Opera (1988) or more recent musicals, that's ok, too.  

And Happy Valentine’s Day to you!

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Comments [29]

Paul Baretsky from South Orange, NJ

Two moments in musical theatre stay burned in my memory. When Cable and Liat are alone and he sings "Younger than Springtime" in SOUTH PACIFIC. The other is in MOST HAPPY FELLA when Tony, an older man, realizes that the younger 'Rosabella' truly loves him and he sings the monumental My Heart is so Full of You. If either of these don't bring tears, then nothing will.

Mar. 03 2011 04:03 PM
Kevin Brofsky from New York

The entire "bench scene" in which "If I Loved You" in Carousel is sung tells us almost everything there is to tell about two people falling in love, in spite of being all wrong for eachother. We know this, they don't. Its simplicity and beauty is overwhelming.

Feb. 24 2011 09:48 PM

G.T.B. - You are correct! The Fantasticks opened Off-Broadway in 1960.

Thank you for taking the time to write.

Midge

Feb. 23 2011 03:50 PM
G.T.B. True from New York State

You write: "And what about The Fantasticks? It hit the Great White Way in 1960 and it’s still running, right?"

Not exactly. From various sources, one reads: "The Great White Way is a nickname for a section of Broadway in the Midtown section of ... New York City, specifically the portion that encompasses the Theatre District, between 42nd and 53rd Streets."

But: "The Fantasticks premiered at the Sullivan Street Playhouse, a small off-Broadway theater in New York City's Greenwich Village, on May 3, 1960 ..."

It closed in 2002. It was revived four years later. At The Snapple.

Greenwich Village does not encompass The Great White Way.

Feb. 23 2011 12:31 PM
Phyllis Sharpe from Teaneck, NJ

I agree. South Pacific has beautiful love songs.
But what moves me most is an oldie, "Student Prince". At the finale the Prince sings "Deep in my Heart I'll Always Dream of You" as he leaves the woman of his student years to become the Prince and marry the woman chosen for him.

Feb. 21 2011 07:09 PM
Mike Keenan from NYC

"There's nothin' like a dame"
That says it all.

Feb. 16 2011 05:39 PM
ellen diamond from New York City

The summer of '57 before leaving for college, I had a mind-numbing job proofreading lists of names. My co-worker, a fun-loving Midwestern girl, had a party after work and we drank too much, not so common back then. Lying on the floor of her Riverside Drive apt at dusk with river breezes flowing, I heard Kismet for the first time. Not a bad way to take in this lush, lovely music!

Feb. 15 2011 01:08 PM
James Klosty from Millbrook, NY

Wright and Forrest were perhaps not the greatest talents ever to write for Broadway but Kismet, the adaption of Borodin's music which they pieced together for Alfred Drake was hardly as Nicolas Slonimsky claimed "The stench that this iniquitous travesty raised in the nostrils of decent music lovers moved them to an outcry of protest". In fact as an adaptation it is quite brilliant, perhaps the most beautiful score ever to grace the boards, and one of the most heart stopping moments is what the authors forged from the slow movement of the 2nd String quartet beginning as a quartet for the four principal characters and then morphing into the long ecstatic soprano solo "this is my beloved". I love it.

Feb. 15 2011 12:45 PM
ellen diamond from Manhattan

My first B'way musical was a revision of Victor Herbert's "The Red Mill." I was 5. I remember the thrill of walking to our seats as a huge red wheel was turning on stage, making a loud swishing sound. I was in heaven. In 1949, my family received free tickets in the mail for South Pacific. There was a short-lived scam where people would rob your house while you were seeing the show that ended when people began exchanging their tix for another date, which is what we did. I think I remember every moment and song, but the last gesture, when Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin reach for each other's hand under the table as they sit with the children was astonishing to a 9-yr old and by far the most romantic moment in musical theatre, I believe.

Feb. 15 2011 12:45 PM
Wally from Manhattan

"This Nearly Was Mine" from South Pacific is my favorite heartbreakingly beautiful song from Broadway musicals. I've seen Ezio Pinza, Brian Stokes Mitchell & Paulo Szot play Emile DeBecque
and they all stopped the show with this song. And the uplifting part is even though he's singing about a lost love, at the end of the show he gets her.

Feb. 15 2011 12:39 PM
Patrick from Pound Ridge, NY

Agree with all the above, especially Brigadoon, which I first saw as a 7th grader (13 years old) and was struck by its blatant love story and those great songs; however, let me add the tough guy love song,"Maria" from West Side Story! Similar to the context of 'Some Enchanted Evening', with the instantaneous, lightning bolt of love at first sight, it is its package of the street tough 'micks vs spics' that gives it its romantic power. Of course, it is Leonard Bernstein, coaxing the young Stephen Sondheim, to get the most out of Shakespeare's genius and bending into America's unique art form, that makes this into a true piece of Classical Music and an eternal love song. Midge! Thanks for the inquiry!!!!

Feb. 14 2011 09:22 PM
Susan from Washington Heights

I was brought up on musical theater and adore it to my core. the many songs mentioned are truly beautiful, and although they are the classic older musical, I must also mention a Stephen Sonheim one, from "Merrily we roll Along", called "Not a Day Goes by".......that really stirs the visceral cavity with passion and desire .........

Feb. 14 2011 08:49 PM
Jerry Cherry from NYC

"If ever I would Leave You" It wouldn't be on Valentines Day. No never at all.

Feb. 14 2011 06:49 PM
Michael Koslow

"My Funny Valentine" Rodgers and Hart, from Babes in Arms. Simply Exquisite.

Feb. 14 2011 05:53 PM
Michael Koslow from New York

All of the above and more, but since it's Valentine's Day, how can one neglect to mention "My Funny Valentine" by Rodgers & Hart from Babes in Arms. The ingenue is actually singing it to a character named Valentine, but it's timeless and romantic, but filed with humorous irony, and utterly exquisite.

Feb. 14 2011 05:51 PM
Guy Suabedissen

As I brainstormed love scenes and songs I realized the ones that appealed to me all have a twist. The couples in Oklahoma! and Carousel are denying their love in "People Will Say We're In Love" and "If I Loved You." "I Have Dreamed" in South Pacific is overshadowed by their forbidden love. The kids in Fantasticks' "Soon It's Gonna Rain" have been tricked into love. My favorite, that always brings a lump in my throat, perhaps because it's so real, is in Fiddler on the Roof when Tevya asks Gola "Do You Love Me?"

Feb. 14 2011 05:40 PM
Kevin Rooney from Chicago

The first Broadway love song that came to mind is South Pacific's Some Enchanted Evening. Set in the warmth of the south pacific, at eventide with a rich, deep male voice to float the message - how can that be beat?

Feb. 14 2011 05:24 PM
Cindy Legorreta from Union Square

This one wasn't exactly from the golden days, but it was indeed a precious moment in theatre- going for me. A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, which actually debuted in previews on Valentine's Day back in 1973. I was working back then, for an ad agency and had the great good fortune to wind up with a ticket for that evening's performance. If I close my eyes right now, so many years later...I can still see Glynis Johns, in a red dress, sitting on a white canopy bed, whispering the lyrics to Send in The Clowns, while an enraptured Len Cariou looks lovingly at Desiree, his old love, the character Miss Johns played in the show. The audience members were spellbound. You could have heard a pin drop. Better yet - none of us could imagine at the time the long life and, classic status that exquisite song would attain. It was just one of those moment in theatre that combined the best of it all: heartbreak, pathos, beauty, sublime musicality...and romance. Goodness, was it almost forty years ago? And the shimmer for me, has not diminished one bit!!!

Feb. 14 2011 04:59 PM
Jerry Cherry from New York City

My Favorite musical theater piece is Camelot. I watched it 10 times over a few day period when my girlfriend at the time played Guenevere. All though we broke up 4 years ago, every note from that musical reminds me of her. "Lusty Month of May." Happy Valentines day.

Feb. 14 2011 04:53 PM
Dick Baldwin from Bronxville

There's "Rose Marie" from ROSE MARIE, and on the distaff side, "Bill" from SHOW BOAT, but I think for Valentine's Day and pure romance I'd have to pick "Speak Low When You Speak Love" from ONE TOUCH OF VENUS.

Feb. 14 2011 04:51 PM
Cathy from Washington DC

I agree with others that South Pacific is wonderfully romantic!

I particularly love Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. It is a uniquely American love story. Two songs some to mind: "My Man's Gone Now" and "Bess, You Is My Woman Now."

Feb. 14 2011 04:49 PM
Dan C from Spain

Too many to name! Some that stand out would have to be: "If I Loved You" from Carousel - so beautiful you want to be in the moment, and you get sucked further in as the song gains momentum. Was I the only ten-year-old who shivered during "One Hand, One Heart" from WSS? "On the Street Where You Live" was already listed, so I'll end by mentioning the heart-wrenching ending of South Pacific when de Becque climbs back up the hill and finishes the lyrics of "Dites-Moi" for Nellie followed by the hand grasp in the last moments -haunting!

Feb. 14 2011 04:46 PM
Sharron Eisenthal from New York City

Classical music has been the soundtrack of my life from my youngest years - the Saturday afternoon MET broadcast was a weekly event in my childhood home. But growing up in the 60's and wanting to join the counterculture, like the rest of my cohort, I agreed to a date with a guy who took me to a "Meatloaf" or "Mountain" or some such group. I sat through the first number, excused myself, and spent the rest of the evening in the lobby waiting for my date to escort me back home. Remember that the decade of the 60's brought us many changes - not the least of which was a breakdown of manners!
I'm married to my second, classical-music-loving husband and have never looked back! My musical appetite always ranged wide, but alas, never encompassed that ear-splitting rock and heavy metal music most of my cohort came to love. If the essence of romance is imaginative depth, I know of no more engaging expression of that notion than what we mean by "classical music."

Feb. 12 2011 10:59 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane from BOONTON, NJ

LOVE SONGS IN BROADWAY MUSICALS that are unquestionably seductive listening are: Think of me [Phantom], People will say we're in love [Oklahoma], Bewitched [Pal Joey], Hello, Young Lovers [The King and I], Falling in love with love [The Boys from Syracuse], I love you [Song of Norway], I'll be seeing you [Right this way], So in love [Kiss me Kate], Lucky in love [Good News], My funny Valentine [Babes in Arms], Paris loves lovers [Silk Stockings], Some enchanted evening [South Pacific], Bushel and a Peck [Guys and Dolls], All I ask of you [Phantom], Come rain or come shine [St. Louis Woman], I've grown accustomed to her face [My Fair Lady], On the street where you live [My Fair Lady], There's a small hotel [On your toes],We kiss in a shadow [The King and I]] and dozens more. Midge, you are so right there is romance in all the music formats, vocal and instrumental.

Feb. 11 2011 08:19 PM
Howard Miller from New York

How about a blend of classical and Broadway music? Kismet, adapted by Robert Wright and George Forrest from the music of Borodin, offers up some lovely romantic gems, including "Stranger in Paradise" and "And This Is My Beloved."

Feb. 11 2011 04:52 PM
Barbara Charton from Brooklyn, NY

Rodgers and Hammerstein really got it right. I just melt at "Younger than springtime" from South Pacific. It fits anyone, anytime.

Feb. 11 2011 04:47 PM
Joan from Manhattan

For me, Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific wins hands down for a romantic Broadway song. I was delighted that Lincoln Center brought it back!

Feb. 11 2011 04:44 PM
Michael Meltzer

I'm not a big ballet or Broadway show fan, but when NYC Opera did Brigadoon, the "Come to Me, Bend to Me" choreography by Agnes de Mille was one of the most moving things I've ever seen.
Brigadoon is head-and-shoulders above its genre, City Opera made a great choice.

Feb. 11 2011 02:41 PM
Tervia Metzner

With regard to romantic music, during the 50's as a teen I frequented Broadway musicals with my friends. Rodgers & Hammerstein were my favorite composers who wrote beautiful romantic songs. Among all of them was a very gentle song called "Twin Soliloques" from South Pacific, one of my favorites. Another favorite, this one from Phantom of the Opera, is Music of the Night, which is not only romantic, but very seductive.

Feb. 11 2011 02:28 PM

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