Top 10 Broadway Songs That Are Beautifully Powerful
VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Andy Hammersmith
These Broadway songs are beautifully powerful. For this list, we'll be looking at the songs that uplifted, inspired, and made us believe in the power of Broadway. Our countdown includes "Cats," "Hamilton," "Wicked," and more!
Top 10 Broadway Songs That Are Beautifully Powerful
Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Broadway Songs That Are Beautifully Powerful.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the songs that uplifted, inspired, and made us believe in the power of Broadway. Whether it was a moving solo or an emotional chorus, these Broadway songs held an unexpected beauty and resonance.
If we forgot one of your favorite Broadway songs, let us know in the comments below.
Known by many as the defining song from Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical "Cats," the classic "Memory" tells the tale of a shunned cat yearning to become whole again. Sung by the outsider Grizabella, the song recounts her troubled life after she's lost everything. Vying for the glamor and prestige of her past, Grizabella wishes she could be accepted once more into the Jellicle tribe. Not only does "Memory" stand on its own as an amazing tune, its powerful message helped "Cats" become one of the longest-running shows in the history of Broadway.
#9: “One Day More”
Les Misérables (1980)
As they prepare for the coming revolution, the cast of “Les Misérables” reveals their motivations in one of the musical’s biggest and most impactful numbers. From Jean Valjean to Marius, the characters express their inner feelings as the world crumbles around them. Detailing the courageous convictions of the musical's many roles, the passion and fury of each lyric carries a message of hope in the darkness. Although "I Dreamed a Dream" also tells a heartbreaking and hugely important tale, this track manages to win out for its inclusion of the entire ensemble in all its glory. With "One Day More," the show's greatest aspirations become realized as the complexities of every character come forth in a dazzling chorus.
#8: “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)”
“Man of La Mancha” (1965)
Among the classic shows of 60s Broadway, “Man of La Mancha” repurposes "Don Quixote" with the glorious standard “The Impossible Dream (The Quest).” Combining images of Quixote and interpretations of Miguel de Cervantes' life, this meta-musical uses the song as a theme for the lead character in search of his purpose as he hopes to become a brave, storybook hero. Serving as both a critique of mythic characters and a candid description of a dream, the piece ranks among the most exhilarating statements in musical history. Reaching an audience far beyond the halls of Broadway, "The Impossible Dream" remains a highly acclaimed and covered track about going the extra mile.
Much has been said about the show that revolutionized Broadway forever, with songs like "Satisfied" more than backing up its reputation. Effectively blending traditional singing and rapping, the number charts the complex tale of Angelica and her infatuation with Hamilton. Complicated in its lyrical and musical content, it's impressive that anyone could deliver the tune at all. Along with being an incredible showcase for skilled performers, "Satisfied" brings out the fascinating and nuanced portraits of the characters. With her fierce independence, the oldest Schuyler sister belts her heart out in nothing short of a powerful hymn of regret and illumination.
#6: “Defying Gravity”
The renowned musical “Wicked” concerned the complex origins of Elphaba, also known as the Wicked Witch of the West. As an outcast of Oz, the witch finally asserts herself with the song “Defying Gravity.” After discovering the Wizard's cruel treatment of Oz’s animals, she seeks vengeance against the all-powerful sorcerer and, while she’s shunned by the Ozians, Elphaba’s newfound inner strength propels her to face her challenges head-on. Laying out her renewed mission to save the creatures of Oz, the misunderstood lead makes her case for going above and beyond to fight for what she thinks is right. One of the most famous songs from 21st century Broadway, “Defying Gravity” charted an inspirational course for outsiders finding their own way in life.
#5: “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”
When her manager, Curtis Taylor Jr., tries to leave her, singer Effie White makes this powerful plea for him to stay. In a role originated by Jennifer Holliday, the character's pain pours out of her after being ousted from The Dreams. From lead vocalist to being left behind by her lover, White belts out her entire soul in a beautifully heartbreaking number. Despite all that she went through, the singer musters up the courage to say exactly what she wants and deserves in a sincere way. Considered the defining piece from "Dreamgirls," this ballad doesn't leave anything on the table as Effie spins her turmoil into a glorious anthem.
“West Side Story” (1957)
Adapting Shakespeare to 1950s New York, “West Side Story” focuses on the relationship between two lovers torn apart by gang violence. Leads Tony and Maria reconvene after a fight that led the former to stab the latter’s brother. Feeling lost, the two sing this hopeful song in their darkest hour, finding a glimmer of hope in their complicated love story. Even with the show's tragic outcome, this duet stands out because of the assuredness of Bernstein's score and Sondheim's lyrics. Full of somber and reflective beauty, "Somewhere" brings a hugely emotional and compelling core to its central relationship.
#3: “Seasons of Love”
Even if you don't know "Rent," you likely know its signature piece "Seasons of Love." Jonathan Larson's master work charted the tragic lives of HIV/AIDS victims in New York City, winning several Tony awards and a Pulitzer Prize among other accolades. Despite the serious subject matter, this inviting number touched the lives of countless theater fans since its release. Somehow, the song still manages to bring tears in its poetic reflection of time and love. No matter who you are, it's impossible to deny the track's moving meditation on life and death. With "Seasons of Love," Larson's opus still carries the beautiful spirit of its original run.
#2: “Being Alive”
This celebrated Sondheim number comes from one of his most groundbreaking shows, "Company." As a turning point for the composer's career, the musical avoided a traditional plot to tell a story about city-dwelling characters with real problems. Exploring modern relationships, the track "Being Alive" was an undeniable gem that contributed to the next great step in musical theater. The mark of its power is that it makes any good singer better upon singing it. Performed by the misguided bachelor Robert, the stunning piece finds the character at the point of realizing he shouldn't be alone anymore. With "Being Alive," the composer's artistry reached an even higher bar in a heartfelt appeal to embrace love.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
“Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” “The Sound of Music” (1959)
A Rodgers & Hammerstein Classic Filled with Inspirational Lyrics for Nun Maria
“Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina,” “Evita” (1979)
Eva Peron Gives an Impassioned Plea to Her Countrymen in the Show’s Signature Song
“Not a Day Goes By,” “Merrily We Roll Along” (1981)
One of Sondheim’s Underrated Gems Recalls a Relationship after a Painful Divorce
“Ol’ Man River,” “Show Boat” (1927)
A Timeless & Historical Track from One of the Original Broadway Musical Classics
“You’ll Never Walk Alone (Reprise),” “Carousel” (1945)
This Standard About Social Class Is Incredibly Strong & Moving
“Sunday in the Park with George” (1984)
This song from "Sunday in the Park with George" encapsulates the entire musical, as well as Stephen Sondheim's highest ambitions. In many ways, the show and song represent the peak of the composer's creativity, while also being about creativity itself. Painter George finally finishes his masterpiece, as his subjects join in a glorious chorus describing the serene setting and its many colors. In an ode to imagination, "Sunday" musters up all of the songwriter's deepest insights about the beauty of expression. While the show’s other masterpieces include “Finishing the Hat,” in the end, "Sunday" is one of the most meaningful and powerful songs in Broadway history.