On this Saturday, I am giving myself over to the cultural sensation of our time. so I reach back to the little diversion I once cooked up (or co-opted, anyway) for a weekly bit of relief at the end of the working week. Five for Friday entailed a music list of five entries — usually songs — under a theme and an invitation to others to chime in with their own selections. As I did in the most recent instances one of these quintets was excavated from the archive, I created a YouTube playlist that includes my five selections and all of those offered up by others (often more cunning and inventive than me) in the comments. This particular exercise took place over ten years ago. Bear that in mind when listening through. If I repeated it today, I’ve no doubt my extended crew of collaborators would have stocked the list mightily with Hamilton songs.
Five Great Songs From Musicals
1. “Roxie” from Chicago. I’ll ‘fess up right now that my exposure to musicals on the stage is limited to some college productions, so even though we’re talking about a song that’s been famously performed by Broadway babies like Gwen Verdon and Ann Reinking, it’s Renee Zellweger I hear in my mind’s ear when I think of this song. Despite the fact the Renee seems to engender a lot of animosity from some, I think she’s a spot-on perfect Roxie Hart and the neediness, aggression, rickety showmanship and bravado of the character all come through in her performance of this song. To me, the songs in a musical need to be sung well, but they need be acted well, too, and that’s beautifully accomplished here. And there’s no way I’m going to pass up the opportunity to quote the line I never get tired of: “And Sophie Tucker’ll shit I know/To see her named get billed below/Roxie Hart.”
2. “Wig in a Box,” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I find the film thrilling for its daring and the terrifically bold performance of John Cameron Mitchell in the lead role. As much as I like all of the songs, the designated showstopper is indeed the one that wowed me the most upon initial viewing and still the one that will make me stop everything to listen to it if the CD is spinning in our household. The slight, sly vocal gymnastics Mitchell employs through this song are wonderful.
3. “A Penny for Your Thoughts” from “Red, White and Blaine” in Waiting for Guffman. Just as “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” in A Mighty Wind manages to preserve the comic, mocking tone while still standing apart as a sweet little song in its own right, this simple duet between Corky (Christopher Guest) and Libby Mae (Parker Posey) always disarms me with its genuine charm. “A penny for your thoughts/A dime for your dreams/Would a bright, shiny quarter/Buy a peek at your schemes.”
4. “I’ll Never Tell” from the “Once More, with Feeling” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the middle of Buffy‘s run, it was a given that episodes that credited series creator Joss Whedon behind the keyboard and the camera were episodes that were going to be infused with a different sort of creativity, even brilliance. This is last of those episodes, wherein well-established sci-fi/comic-book geek Whedon revealed himself to be, above all else, a musicals geek. The beauty of Buffy was that anytime you wanted to try something different, you just had to have a demon show up in town with powers that suited your needs. If you wanted to have an episode with no dialogue, just bring in a demon who steal people’s voices. If you want a musical episode with your characters singing and dancing…
In particular, Whedon’s love for Sondheim’s wordy playfulness pops up in many of the songs, including this one, a duet between Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Anya (Emma Caulfield) in which the engaged couple reveal their hidden fears about their pending marriage in song. It’s also the place where Whedon lets his deconstructionist tendencies flow most freely. For example, one character interrupts the other mid lyric and is chastised with “This is my verse, hello!” And how do you not like a song that includes the line “She eats these skeezy cheese that I can’t describe.” My god, I wrote a lot on that one song. The sad thing is, I could write a lot more. I’d best keep the next one short.
5. “Singin’ in the Rain” from Singin’ in the Rain. Maybe the single greatest movie scene ever.