ABOUT THE SONGS
by Shannon Gaffney
In this defining moment of Matilda, the students rise up against Ms. Trunchbull, who has abused
her power as headmistress and treated them cruelly.
The students reclaim the word “revolting” – up until this point, it has been a term that the
headmistress has used to demean them, but now they have used it as the signification of their
rebellion. They overthrow a social order, and they shatter the concept that people in power need
to be respected at any cost.
Anyone Can Whistle, first performed in 1964, “offers a message about the importance of the
individual in a conformist society—while taking pot shots at government, religion, science and
anything else in the way.” Although the show was decidedly unsuccessful on Broadway – it only
ran for nine performances – many of the songs remain standards in cabaret productions,
particularly “Everybody Says Don’t.”
The story of Adam and Eve is often contextualized as an act of betrayal. Eve, especially, is
blamed for being the first to eat the apple and coaxing Adam to follow her lead, thus creating the
curse of childbirth pain. But Children of Eden reframes Eve’s decision and the consequences that
follow. Before the serpent even offers her the apple, she expresses her desire to see beyond the
garden. She acknowledges that a “lifetime of leisure” does sound nice – but it is the risks we take
for more that truly make life worthwhile.
Another re-imagining of the Adam and Eve story, this song from Bock and Harnick’s The Apple
Tree comes from a different perspective: the serpent. He coaxes Eve to take the fruit, promising
her education and love from Adam. Again, here, rebellion is framed as a path to a better life,
with greater knowledge and greater love – even if the serpent knows the obstacles that lie ahead
In the 1968 Funny Girl film, Fanny Brice says, “When something is right for me, I do it, and this
is right for me.” That is the theme of her anthem, “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Although the song
is performed in reference to her love of Nick Arnstein and her commitment to a relationship with
him despite the judgement of her friends, it is also a testament to the fire that enables her to
become the “greatest star,” while staying true to herself. It is also significant that Fanny Brice
was a Jewish woman, and her portrayal by Barbra Streisand serves as a “one that ultimately
became a symbol of ethnic pride for an entire generation of Jewish Americans and beyond.”
I Was Here
As We Stumble Along:
The Drowsy Chaperone tells the story of a man who finds solace in a 1920’s Broadway musical. Despite all of the twists and turns in his life, Broadway musicals are always there to welcome him home. “As We Stumble Along” is sung by the titular character, The Drowsy Chaperone herself, as she summarizes the premise – that we are all human, and we all need live in the moment and appreciate the little joys.
I Hate Men
Kiss Me Kate tells the story of actors and tumultuous ex- lovers Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi. The Shakespeare classic it is based on, The Taming of the Shrew, has been adapted numerous times. In each of these adaptations, the concept of “hating men” – or, more accurately, acknowledging the inequalities between men and women – is addressed. This is a testament to how these inequities continue to exist.
“Surabaya Johnny” is the result of a collaboration between Kurt Weill and Berolt Brecht. It was originally conceived for the purposes of the musical, “Happy End,” but it has been performed in many contexts. One famous version was sung by Lotte Lenya in German, Bette Middler delivered her own rendition, and it has even been used as a mode of drag performance. The song tells of a person who still loves the man who wronged them, teetering between love and anger and sadness.
Simple Joys of Maidenhood
In this noteworthy number of Camelot, Guinevere grapples with the inner struggle between her desire for a “fairy tale” ending and the pressure to grow into her responsibility as queen. The juxtaposition between her claim of “simple joys” and the violent imagery she creates in frustration indicate her desire to rebel from expectations.
Brother Can You Spare a Dime
This piece has been referred to as the “anthem of the Great Depression.” In it, the speaker expresses his disillusionment with the “American Dream” of hard work reaping adequate rewards. When it was first released, Republicans outragedly deemed it “anti-capitalist propaganda.” Despite the controversy it inspired, its commentary remains relevant, and as composer Jay Gorney intended, “make[s] people think.”
The Night That Goldman Spoke
What does it mean to leave a legacy? The New York Times referred to Ahrens’ and Flattery’s The
Glorious Ones as “a valentine to the actor’s life,” and this song is no exception. It explores what
actors give up – and what they gain – to maintain their resilience as they pursue their passion.
Emma Goldman was a Jewish radical feminist and anarchist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. She was arrested multiple times, known for her controversial views regarding atheism, marriage, birth control, and government. In fact, in the story of Ragtime, she is arrested after the performance of this piece.
The Flag Song
This piece was actually cut from Sondheim and Weidman’s Assassins, a show that enters the minds of nine attempted murder perpetrators of political figures. The song emphasizes the “American dream” that many of these assassins feel disillusioned with. The context that the song would have played, should it have stayed in the show, is unknown – but it may represent the state of the assassins before they faced the hardships that inspired their plots: hopeful about their government and the unity of their country.
West Side Story, a Romeo and Juliet retelling, tells of the violent rivalry between Puerto Rican and American gangs in the 1950s. The love of Maria and Tony proves to be no match for the racial tensions and inequalities between the gangs. As Maria says in the 1961 film version, “It’s not us. It’s everything around us.” Despite this, Tony promises Maria that hope remains.
This is Not Over
Parade tells the tragic true story of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory superintendent who was wrongfully accused of murder and sentenced to death. Before his sentencing, Frank faced horrifying anti-Semitism, met with mobs who demanded his murder and newspapers that slandered him as a “a Jew Sodomite.” In this piece, Frank has just found out that the Governor has chosen to review his case. Despite the dire circumstances, and the eventual resolution, Frank chooses resilience and hope, continuing to fight and imagining a better life for him and his wife.
The women’s suffrage Movement was a nearly 100-year fight for the right of women to vote. In this piece, Mrs. Banks of Mary Poppins expresses her excitement over the progress made for women, as the passage of the 19th Amendment grew closer.
While this was certainly a cause worth celebrating, it is also important to note that the women’s suffrage movement did not fight for all women. The right of black women to vote was not protected until many years later, through the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
You Oughta Know
Alanis Morisette recorded “You Oughta Know,” an anthem of a lover scorned, in one take. Although the song is rumored to be about actor Dave Coulier, Morisette has never confirmed or denied the statements. In fact, she claims that six different men have tried to take credit as her inspiration, declaring, “'I wouldn't be clamoring to take credit for being the person who inspired that song! But I guess they don't care?” This speaks to the universality of the piece. We may never know who it is about – but the feelings are palpable regardless.
The Day After That
Kiss of the Spiderwoman tells the story of prisoner Molina, a homosexual man who was accused of corrupting a minor. Through hallucination and fantasy, Molina attempts to escape his tortured life. He forms an unlikely friendship with Valentin, a fellow prisoner who tells him of his beloved girlfriend. In this piece, Valentin expresses how hope has informed his resilience, even as the future remains unknown.
Grey Gardens tells the true story of Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale or “Little Edie.” In 1975, Albert and David Maysles memorialized the mother-daughter pair’s dilapidated, flea and garbage invested residence, which had begun its life as a beautiful East Hampton Estate. “Revolutionary Costume” introduces Little Edie, now in her mid-fifties, standing steadfast in her convictions, despite her dysfunctional relationship with her mother, her lonely, reclusive lifestyle, and the damage of unfulfilled dreams.
It’s important to note that South Pacific’s portrayal of racism and characters of color is not without criticism – the show centers white characters, depicts racial stereotypes, and focuses on personal evolution of anti-racism, rather than systemic. While the song’s intention is a hopeful one, it also serves as a reminder of how much work we still need to do, even today, to reach racial equality.
You’ll Be Back
Revolution can inspire backlash. After the Boston Tea Party, King George III attempted to reign in the so-called disobedient colonists by enacting punishments for their disloyalty, including the “Intolerable Acts.” He remained steadfast in his refusal to surrender the colonies, drawing out the Revolutionary War for nearly eight years.
Sally Bowles sings “Cabaret” as the Nazis rise to power in Berlin. She coaxes the audience to forget their troubles and see life as a party and a show, but the words come from a place of deep inner torment and loss. “Sitting alone in your room” allows for true contemplation – which often serve as inspiration for revolution and rebellion, and the showy world of the cabaret allows escapism to take the place of that coherence. In this way, she finds a sort of resilience – sometimes, the only way to survive immense pain is to escape it.
What I Did For Love
In A Chorus Line, this song serves as a love letter to the performing arts. When one dancer, Paul,
sustains an injury and can no longer continue his career, the other performers are asked what
they would do if they needed to stop dancing. They express that “love is never gone” – that the
identity of “performer” would remain resilient for them, even if the physical act was no longer
This is Elphaba’s defining moment in Wicked, where she truly becomes the “Wicked Witch of the West.” After discovering that her government is being run by a fraud who is implementing discriminatory, cruel practices, she abandons her allegiance to him and stands firm in what is right and just. This retelling of The Wizard of Oz shows that there is always more than meets the eye – and revolution requires rebellion.
I’m Still Here
Carol Burnett described “I’m Still Here” as a song about “a survivor...a person who’s been through it all, seen it all.” The piece serves the musical Follies, which is “about the past, revisited, embraced, rejected, relived, denied,” according to Ted Chapin’s memoir. In other words, it describes the pinnacle of resilience.
Do You Hear the People Sing?
Many believe that Les Misérables takes place during the French Revolution in 1789 – but in fact,
it occurs much later, in 1832. An epidemic of cholera had wreaked havoc, resulting in economic
ruin, and the gap between the wealthy and the poor had become immense. When General Jean
Maximilien Lamarque, a French general and friend of the poor, lost his life to the epidemic, his
funeral emerged into a mass protest against King Louis-Philippe.
The events that sparked the 1832 June Rebellion bare an eerie similarity to a cultural climate of
Americans in present-day life. Mass tragedy due to illness, economic disparity, and grief are a
combination that spark revolution and force people to re-think their values and convictions. In
Les Misérables – and often, in real life – this revolution asks people to embrace their humanity.