Bye Bye Birdie Broadway

New Year, New Musical Playlist!

As we draw the stage curtain on 2020, we look forward to the new promise of 2021. It is a time for new beginnings, fresh starts, and reflective considerations.

It is also time for a new addition to Theatre Haus’ playlist collection.

So as 2020 disappears from our rearview mirror, let’s turn up the car stereo as we begin our road trip into 2021. Pack your sunscreen, phone and new year’s resolution – we’re off to enjoy the new year in style!

“Circle of Life” – ‘The Lion King’

What better way to start this playlist than one of Disney’s best-ever opening numbers?

As with lots of things in life, when one thing comes to an end, another begins. So is the “circle of life.” This powerful message resonates not only through the classic 1994 film ‘The Lion King’, but also its acclaimed musical adaptation (which is now the third-longest running Broadway show in history).

The song signifies the birth of protagonist Simba, the future king of Africa’s pride lands. As animals throughout the savannah come to celebrate his presentation, they reflect upon the power of life’s cycle – a continuous ring of new beginnings.

“Circle of Life” is often regarded as a pinnacle anthem of modern musical theatre; however, its legacy is far-reaching and affecting. It reminds listeners that life is a series of ups and downs, and it is nothing to be ashamed or scared of. “Circle of Life” is a triumphant anthem for all with a powerful message and an even catchier rhythm (it moves us all, after all). 

“It Roars” – ‘Mean Girls’

Another adaptation of a beloved film, ‘Mean Girls’ examines the plight of Cady Heron as she strives to become friends with the popular girls, The Plastics, at her new high school. In her opening number, “It Roars”, Cady embraces the opportunity to attend an American high school – something new for her. The lyrics showcase her boundless excitement at this new chapter in her life.

Cady’s predicament is a common one. The concept of being the new kid is something many listeners will empathise with. As nerve-wracking as such a situation can be, “It Roars” focuses more upon the associated excitement and anticipation. You cannot help but want the best for Cady throughout the song as her energy is all-consuming. And loud. Just like a lion

“A Lot of Livin’ to Do” – ‘Bye Bye Birdie’

Even 61 years since its premiere, ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ remains a somewhat relatable musical for youth. It examines the extent of celebrity and pop culture upon the community. In the age of such acts as Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, and Justin Bieber (to name but a few), celebrity fanfare is abundant throughout society.

Loosely inspired by the sensationalism of Elvis Presley in the mid-1950s, ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ tells the story of Conrad Birdie, a rock ’n’ roll singer who is to be drafted in the United States Army. In an effort to capitalise upon his fame before his deployment, Birdie’s songwriter Albert Peterson organises for the musician to play one last gig. Birdie in turn takes time to celebrate his last night of freedom with many of his young fans, citing that he still has “a lot of livin’ to do.”

“A Lot of Livin’ to Do” is a lyrical farewell of sorts to the past. Birdie emphasises that he is ready to explore the next chapter of his life. In embracing this sentiment, he effectively views the imminent change as a positive thing. As such, “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” is an excellent song to play when preparing to shimmy and shake into a new life chapter.

Bye Bye Birdie Broadway
Nolan Gerard Funk and company in the 2009 Broadway revival of ‘Bye Bye Birdie’. Photography Joan Marcus.

“Think of Me” – ‘The Phantom of the Opera’

Occasionally a song can be effective more for its placement within a show rather than its content. Although “Think of Me” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s seminal ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ is undeniably a beautiful melody, it is not the first that comes to mind when considering songs about new beginnings.

It is its placement within Phantom’s plot that makes it a fine contender for this playlist. Serving as Christine Daae’s premiere number for the Paris Opera, the soft ballad signifies a turning point in the young soprano’s life. It is through this song that she assumes a principal role for the opera company, as well as her reintroduction to her childhood friend (and future love interest), Raoul. 

“Think of Me” remains a beloved classic from ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ – even 35 years after the musical’s premiere. It is sure to stick in many people’s memories long after listening.

“Ever After” – ‘Into the Woods’

Every ending is a new beginning. It is an idea that we are introduced to as children through folktales and stories. It opens up our curiosity to know what happens after “happily ever after”. Enter Stephen Sondheim with ‘Into the Woods’.

At the end of Act I, each of the characters reflect upon how happy their lives will be now that they have reached their “ever after”. However, none are aware that their stories are only just beginning. With a threatening beanstalk growing in the background, more adventures await each of them – to take them beyond ever after.

If you ever find yourself curious about what is to come next at the end of one life chapter, consider giving “Ever After” a listen. The song, and ‘Into the Woods’ as a whole, prove that there is much more to discover beyond living happily ever after.

“Popular” – ‘Wicked’

Since its Broadway debut in 2003, ‘Wicked’ has become a… *ahem* popular show for young and old alike. Telling the untold backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, and her blossoming friendship with Glinda the Good Witch, ‘Wicked’ has mounted an unprecedented following. One of the show’s most beloved songs is, rather unsurprisingly, “Popular”.

Glinda and Elphaba have finally become friends after months of mutual loathing. In aiming to support her new friend’s social standing, Glinda endeavours to teach Elphaba how to become admired. It is a turning point for both young women – for Glinda, a chance to do something kind and selfless for another person;  for Elphaba, to find the social acceptance she has always longed for.

The start of a new friendship is special. It offers individuals a chance to craft a unified story together. In many respects “Popular” is an ode to friendships, both those already forged and new. It is the perfect song to sing with your bestie in the car. Or at karaoke. Or wherever, really. No matter where, the choice to sing along will always be “popu-ler… lar”.

Wicked - Matt Ward Entertainment
Matt Ward Entertainment’s 2019 production of ‘Wicked’.

“I’d Give My Life For You” – ‘Miss Saigon’

Life is filled with a series of beginnings and endings: birth, romance, death. All have a starting and ending point. Never is this made as explicitly clear than in the Act I finale song “I’d Give My Life For You” from ‘Miss Saigon’.

Composer Claude-Michel Schönberg’s seminal classic ‘Miss Saigon’ retells the equally famous opera ‘Madame Butterfly’ with a modernised twist, transporting the doomed romance between an American soldier and Vietnamese woman from pre-WWI to the end of the Vietnam War. Although Chris and Kim’s romance is at the heart of the musical, it is also not at the forefront. It instead focuses upon the consequences of their love affair, both together and apart. Most notably, this analysis is personified through Tam, their three-year-old son.

On a crossing from Saigon to Bangkok, Kim reflects upon the sadness of her life after her and Chris’ parting. However, she recognises that it was the best thing to happen to her also as it afforded her her son. While watching him play onboard the Vietnamese boat, Kim laments that she would give her life for her son if it meant he would receive a better life. She chooses to leave her homeland for this endeavour and is literally sailing into the unknown. Kim’s love for her son is paramount. It reinforces the importance of starting again for the benefit of a loved one – a concept that will likely touch even the most hardened heart.

“School Song” – ‘Matilda the Musical’

The first day of school is a memory many children and parents hold dear to their hearts. Images of laughing children, crayon drawings, and packed lunches come flooding to mind. However, it can also be an intimidating occasion. Just ask Matilda Wormwood…

Matilda’s first day at Trunchum Hall begins with a serenade from other pupils warning her of the upcoming perils, particularly in Phys. Ed. “School Song’s” masterful lyricism is courtesy of musical comedian Tim Minchin. Using the alphabet as a musical backbone of sorts, he crafts a song filled with a quick wit and clever wordplay. In drawing inspiration from the alphabet, one of the earliest educational concepts taught, Minchin relays memories of one’s first day at school with all its mixed emotions.

The audience, like Matilda, is thrown into a feeling of uncertainty. This is a new experience for her, one for which she has been looking forward to. But the prospect of it being not what she envisioned is excellently conveyed throughout “School Song”. At least until the bell rings, anyway.

“Listen” – ‘Dreamgirls’

In some circumstances, starting afresh means reclaiming who you used to be. It could be as simple as getting back into a beloved old hobby (like knitting or swimming), or something more large-scale like ending a bad relationship. In the case of Deena Jones from the acclaimed 1981 musical ‘Dreamgirls’, she went for the latter.

“Listen”, the musical’s antepenultimate song is sung by a newly rejuvenated Deena to her manager-turned-husband Curtis Taylor Jr. After his indiscretions come to light, Deena realises how harmful his presence has become to both her personal and professional life (as well as her fellow Dreams members). She proclaims that he is undeserving and selfish. She understands that she will be better without him and thus sends him on his way, with some harsh truths and reality checks.

“Listen” has garnered popularity within the theatre community not only for its powerhouse lyrics and melody but for its message of female empowerment. Even 40 years after its premiere, “Listen” (and ‘Dreamgirls’ as a whole) reiterates the importance of self-belief and -preservation. Next time you need to “follow your own voice”, give “Listen” a good, hard listen.

Syesha Mercado, Moya Angela and Adrienne Warren in the 2010 Ahmanson Theater production of ‘Dreamgirls’. Photography Joan Marcus.

“Make Them Hear You” – ‘Ragtime’

New beginnings often come hand-in-hand with a new perspective. For the characters in the 1998 musical ‘Ragtime’, this is very much the case. Instead of fighting with weapons, Coalhouse Walter Jr. stresses the strength of words. This message is delivered throughout the second act’s profound melody, “Let Them Hear You”.

The old adage goes that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. ‘Ragtime’, and “Let Them Hear You”, endeavour to engage its characters and audience in the power of non-violent retaliation. The musical asserts that by adopting a peaceful, conversation-driven attitude to disputes, all parties have a chance to convey their opinion. It also allows for a new chapter of history to be written.

“Let Them Hear You” is equal parts profound and motivational. It is the perfect track to sing loudly when you are preparing for your next big monologue… you want people to hear you, after all. 

“Welcome to the ‘60s” – ‘Hairspray’

Sometimes facing a new beginning can be scary. There may be a need to offer support to someone to help them make the step into the new chapter. In moments like these, “Welcome to the ‘60s” is a perfect anthem.

After finding fame on the Corny Collins’ Show, Tracy Turnblad wants to bring her reclusive mother Edna out into the real world. Due to her own low self-esteem, Edna has hidden in her home for years. Tracy’s encouragement draws her out of her isolation, as she explains that times are changing and being different is a quality, not a hindrance. In many ways, “Welcome to the ‘60s” exemplifies the themes of ‘Hairspray’ to a tee – embracing yourself and not being afraid to show who you really are.

For anyone starting afresh and wanting to show themselves unequivocally, “Welcome to the ‘60s” is an excellent song to pump you up. Grab your favourite outfit and your best friend (or mother) and be prepared to shimmy your way into the 1960s… uh, 2020s.

“Proud of Your Boy” – ‘Aladdin’

Sometimes our aim for a new beginning is derived from wanting to make a loved one proud, just as much as oneself. This plot device has been used in many pieces of media, but one of its more poignant examples comes from the song “Proud of Your Boy” from the stage musical ‘Aladdin’.

Originally written for Disney’s 1993 film ‘Aladdin’ by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, “Proud of Your Boy” ended up on the cutting room floor. With a widely speculated belief that it slowed down the film’s pace, the song was omitted from the theatrical release. After its inclusion on various Disney compilation albums, as well as the aforementioned Broadway musical, the song found deserving popularity amongst the theatre and animation communities. It now stands as a powerful moment within the musical, whereby Aladdin wishes to make his deceased mother proud of him by becoming more than just a humble street rat.

Finding the inner strength to challenge yourself can be difficult. But as Aladdin displays throughout “Proud of Your Boy”, it can also be powerful. When you next need to find the motivation to push yourself further, think about those you are hoping to make proud – parents, family, friends, work colleagues, pets (and, of course, yourself).

Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ and “Proud of Your Boy”.

“It’s My Life” – ‘& Juliet’

“O Romeo, Romeo. Wherefore art thou Romeo?”

Not here? Oh well.

Musicals based on the retelling (or loose retelling) of classic works of literature and historical events have become popular over the past decade. From ‘Hamilton’ to ‘Six’, from ‘Hadestown’ to ‘Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812’, altered musicals have garnered considerable recognition within the theatre-going public.

One addition to this group gaining traction is the West End’s 2019 jukebox musical ‘& Juliet’ (based, unsurprisingly, on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet). Conceived as a ‘what if’ narrative, the musical hypothesises how the romantic tragedy would end if Juliet had not died. Backed by some modern pop classics and hilarious interludes from Anne Hathaway and the Bard himself, ‘& Juliet’ turns the tragic tale into an uplifting romantic comedy.

Act I’s finale song “It’s My Life” (by Bon Jovi) propels the story forward by bringing Romeo back from the dead to reclaim his lost Capulet sweetheart. The pounding, emphatic melody arouses a sense of excitement in both the characters and the audience. A new story is being (metaphorically) rewritten on stage. Romeo has been given a new lease on life and plans on getting his girl – one way or another.

“Livin’ It Up on Top” – ‘Hadestown’

‘Hadestown’ is being received as a modern classic of musical theatre. This is particularly fitting considering its source material is a classic Greek myth. Retelling the intertwined stories of Hades and Persephone, and Orpheus and Eurydice, respectively, ‘Hadestown’ is filled with symbolic references to new beginnings. One of its most joyous comes in the form of “Livin’ It Up on Top” – an ode to summertime (in the real world).

Persephone holds an agreement with her husband Hades that she can spend six months of the year (summertime) in the human world (“up top”) before returning to Hadestown (the underworld) for the remaining six months. The summertime offers Persephone a chance to be free, no longer shackled to the stiffs of Hadestown. Each visit “up top” allows her to start afresh – an interesting metaphor for the changing seasons.

Of course, each summertime vacation must come to an end and Persephone’s inevitable return to Hadestown. Knowing this only makes her more determined to enjoy her time “livin’ it up”. Beginnings may be fleeting, but with the right attitude, they can be a lot of fun, too – just ask Persephone,

“My Shot” – ‘Hamilton’

Let’s round out this playlist with a song that needs little to no introduction. Considered a staple by many ‘Hamilton’-aficionados, “My Shot” is Alexander Hamilton’s first real shining moment in his eponymous musical. Proving himself to be a talented wordsmith with a patriotic ambition, Hamilton establishes his desire to reach his full potential throughout “My Shot”.

“My Shot” has a legion of devoted fans who consider it an anthem for determination. With its fast-paced lyrics, infectious rhythm, and considered delivery, “My Shot” succeeds in inspiring motivation in all who listen to it.

As we move further into 2021, the prospect of a new beginning may be a daunting one. But it also is filled with promise and opportunities. If you are ever in the need of a little extra motivation to face a new challenge, take a note (pun intended) out of Hamilton’s songbook and don’t “throw away your shot!”

The production of ‘Hamilton’ on Broadway, starring Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Which musical numbers have you been singing over the new year? Let us know in the comments section below!

Alternatively, listen to our New Year, New Musical Playlist on Spotify!

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