I think it’s such a shame that more people aren’t interested in musical theatre. Sure, it may be cheesy and unrealistic at times, but maybe that’s the point. Characters in musicals burst into spontaneous song and dance because their emotions are too powerful to express through speech alone, and I think that’s beautiful. Theatre has played a huge role in shaping me into the person I am today – a lover of stories, music and quoting lines from media I’ve seen a few times too many. It breaks my heart to think how many people will never be able to relate to a story or a character because they’ve never been exposed to it. So, here are 10 show tunes that I would want every woman (every person, really) to listen to.
- “Me And The Sky” from “Come from Away”
Favorite Lyric: “Suddenly, I’m in the cockpit. Suddenly, I’ve got my wings. Suddenly, all of those pilots protesting me – well, they can get their own drinks.”
This song is sung from the perspective of Beverley Bass, the first female captain of an American Airlines commercial plane in history. Hearing the progression of her journey from flying dead bodies for a mortician to overseeing an all-female crew and teaching men to be pilots through song gives me chills every time. She was also one of 38 pilots who landed their aircrafts in the small town of Gander during the harrowing events of 9/11 as a part of Operation Yellow Ribbon.
- “So Much Better” from “Legally Blonde”
Favorite Lyric: “Maybe she’s what you prefer, but hey, last year I was her. Maybe you will change your mind, but you might look up to find I’ve gone onto better things – better jobs or bigger rings. I don’t have the time to cry, I’m too busy loving my name up on that list!”
There’s nothing like getting a prized internship with a top-tier law firm that helps you get over a man, am I right? After working her butt off to get into Harvard Law School to follow her ex-boyfriend, Elle Woods finds that he has moved on and is in love with someone else more “serious”. The story of “Legally Blonde” is so triumphant – Elle’s character arc is such a powerful one. She goes from constantly relying on her ex’s validation to becoming a woman who is fully confident in her own self-worth.
- “Live Out Loud” from “A Little Princess”
Favorite Lyric: “I want the life they took away from me. If that makes me headstrong, fine! That’s a fault I’m glad is mine. I don’t want to go along with the crowd, don’t want my spirit broken and bowed. Why do I have to hide what I’m feeling inside? I want to live out loud!”
Full disclosure: I have never seen this musical or read this book. However, I adore this song, especially as someone who feels very deeply and doesn’t always feel like they can express it properly. It just goes to show that you can enjoy this song out of the context of the plot. The way the song slowly builds makes my heart soar – it makes me want to run through a field and jump off a cliff into the ocean below. We all have desires that we may feel like we can’t share with the world. Everyone yearns for something, and this is a killer “I want” song.
- “Forget About the Boy” from “Thoroughly Modern Millie”
Favorite Lyric: “Pull the plug – ain’t he the one who pulled the rug? He’s lower than an alley cat, dirty rat, and I flatter.”
If you’re ever frustrated with a guy, look no further than this song. Even though this musical is set almost 100 years ago, some troubles are timeless. Millie Dillmount is trying to get over her love interest, Jimmy, at the start of the second act of the show. The other stenographers she works with are having similar problems in their own love lives. After singing together a while, the exasperated women go into a tap dancing frenzy. If you want to see it for yourself, the 2002 Tony Awards performance is on YouTube.
- “I’m Here” from “The Color Purple”
Favorite Lyric: “I’m gonna take a deep breath. Gonna hold my head up. Gonna put my shoulders back and look you straight in the eye. I’m gonna flirt with somebody when they walk by. I’m gonna sing out…sing out.”
There’s many reasons why Cynthia Erivo won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical as Celie in “The Color Purple”, and this song is one of them. I vividly remember watching the 70th Tony Awards on the TV and sobbing when I heard this for the first time. In my humble opinion, this is one of the most powerful musical theatre solos of the 21st century. This is one of the final songs in the show and the culmination of Celie’s rocky journey throughout the story. She finally, perhaps for the first time in her life, feels true self-love.
- “Take Me or Leave Me” from “Rent”
Favorite Lyric: “Take me for what I am, who I was meant to be. And if you give a damn, take me, baby, or leave me.”
Is this song slightly out of my range? Yes. Is it still on my bucket list to sing karaoke to this in front of a crowd? Maybe. For now, I’ll stick to the car and the shower. But man, this song is everything. Maureen and her partner, Joanne, are in a heated argument – Maureen thinks Joanne is too controlling, Joanne thinks Maureen is too promiscuous and they each declare to the other, “Take me or leave me.” The sass is off the charts, the instrumentation is sharp and it’s always so cathartic to belt this out. For added effect, think about someone who’s wronged you while singing it.
- “I’d Rather Be Me” from “Mean Girls”
Favorite Lyric: “So raise them high, ‘cause playing nice and shy is insulting my I.Q.”
We all could learn a little something from Janis Sarkisian’s (or Ian’s, as it’s spelled in the movie) philosophy on how to approach the politics of high school. Listening to this never fails to fire me up. Although I’m not as bold as she is (and you don’t have to be), I appreciate her message. Rather than dealing with conflict in a passive-aggressive manner, she urges women to be honest and to call out the Regina Georges of the world. There’s nothing wrong with being kind and accommodating, but you also shouldn’t let people walk all over you. And most importantly, the desire to be unapologetically yourself should reign over the desire to be “popular” (whatever that even means).
- “Before It’s Over” from “Dogfight”
Favorite Lyric: “I can’t go write another song I’m too afraid to play, or dream how things could change but only see what’s in my way.”
I firmly believe that I am my own worst enemy. I tend to keep my cards close to my chest when it comes to my desires for the future. If a goal of mine seems too lofty, I try to talk myself out of wanting to accomplish it because I’m afraid that it won’t end up happening. In the show, this number is when Rose has her epiphany that she needs to reject this way of thinking and care less about what others think of her. This song is a fantastic reminder that life is simply too short to live a timid existence.
- “Astonishing” from “Little Women”
Favorite Lyric: “I will blaze until I find my time and place. I will be fearless, surrendering modesty and grace. I will not disappear without a trace. I’ll shout and start a riot – be anything but quiet.”
Christopher Columbus, I want to be Jo March when I grow up. I think we all do, in a way. Even if we’re more shy or soft-spoken, we all have a piece of Jo buried inside ourselves – we all have something that lights a fire within us. “Astonishing”, although one of the most “basic” female musical theatre audition songs, never fails to take me on an emotional rollercoaster. These lyrics beautifully and passionately express what I feel like I never have been able to in my own words. If you want to hear more awesome Jo songs from the show, “The Fire Within Me” and “Better” are awesome as well.
- “The Schuyler Sisters” from “Hamilton”
Favorite Lyric: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, imma compel him to include women in the sequel!”
Last, but not certainly not least, we’re ending this list with a bang. Even though we’ve come so far regarding women’s rights since the 18th century, we still have some work to do. “Hamilton” was groundbreaking when it first opened to audiences on Broadway in 2015. If you had told me 10 years ago that you thought a rap musical about one of the American founding fathers would be a smash hit, I would’ve laughed in your face. “The Schuyler Sisters” is an awesome feminist anthem, and if you haven’t watched “Hamilton” yet, head over to Disney+ ASAP.
These women’s stories have left an indelible mark on me and audiences around the world in some way, shape or form. To everyone who read and listened to the songs on this list, I thank you – especially those who aren’t really into theatre (kudos to you for trying something new!). It’s not for everyone, but I hope at least one of these songs struck a chord with you.