This post was originally published August 11, 2015 as part of THE GREEN ROOM on www.newmusicaltheatre.com.
TOP 10 CONTEMPORARY MT SONGS ABOUT NEW YORK CITY
When I think of musical theatre, I think of New York City. Broadway, Times Square, Central Park, the Upper West Side – there are enough sightseeing opportunities in New York to last a lifetime. But it’s not just the gorgeous views, unique architecture, and incredible public transportation that keep people here; it’s the feeling you get when you’re fighting through rush hour crowds in Times Square or standing alone in Central Park in the fall. New York City makes everybody feel something. Here are 10 songs about just a few of those sensations.
10. “Spring Cleaning” – Miller and Tysen
Okay, this one is actually a total cheat song. It doesn’t even mention the city! But it’s one of my favorite songs to sing: a great character song that has a mix of both belting and gentler singing. A while ago when I was doing a research project, Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen were kind enough to share a great story about how they created the song and it’s the ultimate New York City story:
“Spring Cleaning” was written one afternoon when I (Nathan) was house sitting for a friend with a to-die-for apartment near Washington Square Park. Chris came over to take advantage of the Steinway Grand Piano in their living room and we set out to write a song. The living room had large windows that looked down on a shared courtyard, as well as directly into the back windows of neighboring apartments. Taking in the view, we spotted her: a stunning young woman, dressed to the nines, feverishly cleaning her apartment. She was really going at it. We couldn’t stop watching. At one point she contorted her body to slip out the bottom of a window and clean the outside of the glass—with a squeegee. Who puts on a cocktail dress to clean? Who EVER wipes the outside pane of glass? Who owns a squeegee? Dreaming up answers to these questions led us to “Spring Cleaning.”
Helene Yorke sings “Spring Cleaning” by Miller and Tysen with Justin Paul at the piano!
9. “Another Saturday Night in New York” – Salzman and Cunningham
This group number is the opening song of the Salzman and Cunningham musical I Love You Because. It sets the scene for the musical (which is based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) and also gives you that hustle and bustle feel of a crowded day in the city. It’s catchy, it’s cute, and gives you a look at the city through lovestruck Austin’s eyes. My favorite part is, of course, the stereotypical “angry New Yorker” moment around 1:12.
The original off-Broadway cast of I Love You Because sings “Another Saturday Night in New York” by Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham
8. “Hundred Story City” – Adam Gwon
Adam Gwon might be the master of writing songs about New York City. You’ll see him a few more times on this list but let’s start with this lesser-known gem from Ordinary Days. It is a love song but it’s also a testament to how lonely someone can feel in a crowded city. Jason laments, “Oh I don’t care if there’s a hundred million people/I just want to be with one.” Gwon’s music, as we’ll see in some other songs on this list, manages to hit on universal human emotions. This song touches on everyone’s desire to have someone they can trust beyond anything else.
Sam Hartley sings “Hundred Story City” by Adam Gwon
7. “New York Nights” – Drew Gasparini
All of us have that moment at some point in our lives when we realize we’ve been trying too hard to accomplish things that don’t matter. With this fun duet, Drew Gasparini pinpoints that moment when you realize you’ve got to make a change in your life. “Funny how much we work/Not funny how much it hurts/Well maybe it’s time to start a revolution.” The song also celebrates the creativity that can be found in a New York night, whether you’re out with friends or at a bar or working your heart out. You just have to give creativity a chance and “everything we make will turn to gold!”
Jennifer Haining and Troy Iwata sing “New York Nights” by Drew Gasparini
6. “Calm” – Adam Gwon
This is, hands down, my favorite contemporary patter song. It’s similar to Sondheim’s “Not Getting Married Today” in that I would never, ever attempt to perform it. Those who do, and conquer it, have all my respect. The song is filled with all sorts of fun pop culture references and it’s a wordy maze that completely captures the chaos of NYC life. However, it also reminds the listener that that chaos is what drew us all to NYC and that without it, this wouldn’t be the city we all love. There’s no place like New York City and that’s why we call it home.
Kate Wetherhead sings “Calm” by Adam Gwon
5. “Only The Strong Survive” – Nikko Benson
This is another patter song, and it’s a bit of a marathon. It follows the very busy life of an ordinary woman pushing herself through the day because if everyone else can make it, so can she. My favorite concern that crosses her mind is whether or not she should skip yoga. “Even though they say ‘if you’re tired take a breather’/if the teacher doesn’t need one/I don’t need a breather either!” It’s the must-succeed attitude that plagues any competitive personality out there and Nikko has captured it perfectly in this song. It’s got hilarious lyrics that everyone can relate to and a great variety of tempos, moods, and chances to make it your own.
Elizabeth Stanley sings “Only the Strong Survive” by Nikko Benson
4. “Broadway, Here I Come” – Joe Iconis
Although this song was made famous on Smash, it was actually written long before the show. Though it’s a bit dark when you actually dissect the lyrics, the song’s music and lyrics are both beautifully written. Rather than romanticizing what it’s like to pursue your dream, the song is a more realistic view of how it feels to reach for your dream and not know whether you’ll succeed. Sometimes the process feels out of control and all you can do is hope that things turn out for the best. “Even though I fear it, I’m playing all my cards” is my favorite lyric. When you truly want something, you just have to throw yourself whole-heartedly into it and not look back.
Carrie Manolakos sings “Broadway, Here I Come” by Joe Iconis
3. “New York, Do You Care?” – Carner and Gregor
It’s a question we all ask ourselves when we’re having a bad day: does anybody even care about me? In this song, Carner and Gregor have absolutely captured the sensation of being one tiny person in a city of millions. But this song is also a reminder that even on our bad days, we are not alone. All of us have asked these questions, which means that in some way, all of us can relate to each other. All of us have it in us to fight for our dreams and if you can achieve in New York City, you can make it anywhere. “Through it all I cannot help but love you” is the sentiment that keeps us in New York City through every trial it throws in our faces.
Danielle Wade sings “New York, Do You Care?” by Sam Carner and Derek Gregor
2. “I’ll Be Here” – Adam Gwon
Everyone knows this song and if you don’t, you should. It is a heartbreaking homage to 9/11. Just listening to the beginning of the song, you brush it off as another cute love story. But by the end, every time, no matter who is singing it, it brings me to tears. New York City changes every day but nothing changed it so much as the horrible events of September 2001. With it, however, the tragedy brought to light hundreds of stories of humanity and out of that, Adam Gwon created art. This song is undeniably one of the most beautiful in the contemporary musical theatre canon.
Lisa Brescia sings “I’ll Be Here” by Adam Gwon
1. “Manhattan Bridge” – Salzman and Cunningham
I have to thank NewMusicalTheatre.com for bringing this song to me. I found it last year while looking for a story song in a musical theatre seminar and it is one of my absolute favorite songs to sing. Sometimes we forget to appreciate the little things in life but our city is a paradise of museums, parks, architecture, and people. Remembering to take a deep breath and just look around once in awhile can be a freeing experience. This song is a love song to the city itself and also makes us ask what happens to us when we lose our sense of wonder. Take a moment to listen and just close your eyes. It’ll take less than three minutes of your day. Just press play and relax.
Rachel Potter sings “Manhattan Bridge” by Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham