Life Style

The best Broadway love songs about the love you feel right now

There’s a special connection between love and musicals, starting with the trope of the “conditional love song.” It’s the one early in the show when characters envision the prospect of love (“If I Loved You” from “Carousel,” “I’ll Know” from “Guys and Dolls”), often asserting their wrongness for each other in a way that shows they’re completely right. That sets up the declarations that come later, after a prejudice, social convention, personality clash or other divide is overcome.

There are classic show tunes that express love of children (“Sunrise, Sunset”), places (“Oklahoma!”), theater itself (“What I Did for Love”). “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from “Sunset Boulevard” is a love song about an actress returning to where she once made movies; “One Last Time” from “Hamilton” is a breakup song between George Washington and his country.

With these many meanings in mind, several Post contributors consider the love show tunes that have stuck with them (avoiding the expected standards like “Somewhere” and “Till There Was You”), with the hope that one or more might speak to you in this moment.

The love for someone who is out of your league but you’re shooting your shot: ‘You’re Sensational’ from ‘High Society’

An ink-stained tabloid reporter is bowled over by a society goddess, and he just goes for it, beginning with an artful neg. “I’ve no proof / if people say you’re more or less aloof.” But before she can bristle, he’s putting it all on the table: “You’re sensational … that’s all.” Cole Porter got lazy with the lyrics midway through (“If some day you’ll let me come to call / we’ll have a ball”?), and maybe that’s why it so rarely gets covered. Or perhaps it’s because only Frank Sinatra in the original film version (later adapted for the stage) could have pulled off this song’s potent blend of romantic praise, sexual gamesmanship and blunt come-on. —Amy Argetsinger

The budding love so good you think it could be online-dating fraud: ‘Make Believe’ from ‘Show Boat’

Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II didn’t know they were writing for the internet age. After all, this number from the seminal 1927 musical is initially sung by heroine Magnolia and the gambler Gaylord Ravenal when they tumble into love at first sight in the 1880s. Expressing the joy of romantic connection, the song also hints — with its let’s-pretend phrasing and roller-coaster vocal lines — that the relationship is precarious. How apt the lyrics are for the era of online anonymity and cyber-courtship. “The cold and brutal fact is / you and I have never met,” Magnolia sings. At least she couldn’t immediately Venmo him any money. —Celia Wren

The love so enticing it makes you lie: ‘If I Could Tell Her’ from ‘Dear Evan Hansen’

By the time this Plain White T’s-inspired song arrives late in Act 1, the titular teen’s well-meaning lie — that he was friends with classmate Connor Murphy before the loner took his own life — is already spiraling. But Evan ramps up the velocity when he professes his love for Connor’s sister, Zoe, by proxy — telling his crush every quirk he adores about her by putting his own words in her late brother’s mouth. It’s a testament to Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s songwriting dexterity that this guitar-plucking duet plays not as devious but sweetly sincere. By gracefully expressing Evan’s longing for Zoe and unpacking her fractured relationship with Connor, the torch song fuses these characters’ parallel quests for connection. —Thomas Floyd

That ‘wait, we’re more than friends’ love: ‘Suddenly, Seymour’ from ‘Little Shop of Horrors’

Ellen Greene delivered one of the all-time great vocal performances in the original version, flipping from a lilt to a tweet to a belt to a full-throated scream. Her character and plant shop owner Seymour are backed up by Ronnette, Chiffon and Crystal, characters named after three of the great girl groups of the 1960s. Like many songs by those groups, this one by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman conceals a darkness behind its boppability: It’s a love song about breaking cycles of abuse and trauma. But unlike a girl group song, this time the good guy wins out over the bad boy. —Shane O’Neill

The love you know will be hard but you still surrender: ‘I’ll Cover You’ from ‘Rent’

Just as the HIV-positive Bohemians Collins and Angel realize they’re in it for the long haul, their duet by Jonathan Larson professes that while “you can’t buy love” at least “you can rent it.” In other words, love ain’t free, which is the realest take there is. Sure, “cover” speaks to the warm protection a lover provides, but I like the flip side just as much. When you cover emotional costs, you take on responsibility, and your partner should chip in, too. That’s love. That take becomes even more urgent for Collins and Angel seeing as how the NYU professor and the drag street performer are both brokety broke broke. When your heart sends a bill, the check is due. Pay up in “a thousand sweet kisses.” —Helena Andrews-Dyer

The love for your life’s calling: ‘Me and the Sky’ from ‘Come From Away’

It’s not often a lyric includes an ode to a company’s paint scheme. “American Airlines had the prettiest planes,” croons Beverley Bass, the real-life pilot of one of 38 planes that diverted to a tiny Newfoundland town on Sept. 11, 2001. This song by Irene Sankoff and David Hein weaves in other aviation-geek details as it tells the story of Bass’s career and lifetime love of flying, as well as the forces that worked against her. It is a true journey: soaring, triumphant and ultimately devastating. Hannah Sampson

The love so intense it takes on mythic proportions: ‘If Ever I Would Leave You’ from ‘Camelot’

The song opens the second act of the 1960 Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical: The handsomest knight, Lancelot, has captured the heart of the queen, Guinevere, and he sings about being bewitched by her all year long. The lyrics are a bit greeting-card icky (“Your face with a luster / that puts gold to shame”? Please.) It’s the melody that works on me in every season, a swooning, symphonic shorthand for moony-eyed constancy and passionate commitment. –Peter Marks

The love of the noncommittal: ‘Marry Me a Little’ from ‘Company’

What better love song to embrace this age of pop-up polyamory than this one from Stephen Sondheim’s treat-filled treatise on single life? A noncommittal wish from birthday bachelor Robert as he struggles to blow out his candles, the number was originally cut, later made the centerpiece and title of a 1981 off-Broadway revue and restored in the ’90s to its proper place at the end of Act I. There have been many great performances of “Marry Me”: Neil Patrick Harris, Raúl Esparza, Adrian Lester and Suzanne Henry in that revue, a forerunner of the recent Broadway gender-swapping revival. She sings with just enough endearingly overblown confidence that you almost believe for a moment that keeping your options open makes perfect sense: “Want me more than others — not exclusively / that’s the way it ought to be.” –Michael Brodeur

The love you’re not sure exists: ‘Do You Love Me?’ from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’

When relationships harden into units — negotiating survival and children and stress — interrogating the basics feels threatening. In this song by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, Tevye, the inquisitive protagonist of “Fiddler on the Roof” whose daughters keep rebelliously marrying for love, asks his wife Golde (whom he met on their wedding day) if she loves him. The song is unlovely and jagged, the melody’s sweetness repeatedly punctured by the squawks of their habitual bickering. Golde — overworked, efficient, snapping occasionally under the strain of supplying the structure of family life against which the rest of the family rebels — has never been asked what she thinks. Or feels. Her surprise when she lets herself finally hear the question is unspeakably moving. –Lili Loofbourow

The self-love that feels elusive: ‘She Used to Be Mine’ from ‘Waitress’

Jenna bakes her feelings into bittersweet confections like “I Hate My Husband Pie” and “Pregnant, Miserable, Self-Pitying Loser Pie.” She’s lost herself in an abusive marriage, and when she performs this poignant ballad penned by Sara Bareilles, it’s relatable to women of so many circumstances that it could be our national anthem. Singing to her unborn child as well as to herself, Jenna laments: “It’s not what I asked for / sometimes life just slips in through a back door / and carves out a person and makes you believe it’s all true / and now I’ve got you.” Which sounds tragic, but there’s hope in her self-awareness, agency in her imperfections and comfort in this one timeless truth about love: When all else fails, there’s pie. —Janice Page

That love where they’re just not that into you, and that’s (maybe) okay: ‘By the Sea’ from ‘Sweeney Todd’

We’ve all pined for someone who’s a lost cause. Hopefully, your crush wasn’t also a murderous barber and you his accomplice in baking people into pies. But a quiet life by the sea does sound nice, doesn’t it? Of all the hopeless romantics Stephen Sondheim set to song, Mrs. Lovett is by far the most deranged yet somehow the most endearing. Her attempt to seduce a stone-faced Sweeney with a sweet and wistful melody is doubly delusional, assuming he could reciprocate and that they could escape a dismal fate after everything they’ve done. Poor things. —Naveen Kumar

The love you try to find in all the wrong ways: ‘The Love of My Life’ from ‘Brigadoon’

Like other musicals of the mid-20th century, Lerner and Loewe’s “Brigadoon” features both a straightforward, earnestly romantic love story and a zany B-plot involving less virtuous, more mischief-prone characters. (See: “Guys and Dolls,” “Kiss Me, Kate,” “Oklahoma!”) In Brigadoon, a magical Scottish highland town that only materializes for one day every 100 years, the resident less-virtuous lady is the boisterous Meg Brockie, notorious for both her eagerness to become a wife and her habit of consummating every potential marriage very prematurely. But here, as Meg recounts all her romantic misadventures to the latest apple of her eye, she exhibits a plucky optimism toward finding love that I find refreshing and, dare I say it, wholesome. —Ashley Fetters Maloy

What kind of love was that, exactly?: ‘Frank Mills’ from ‘Hair’

The 1968 original cast album of “Hair” came my way too late and too soon: It was 1980 and I was 12, drawn to its forbidden fruit of sex, drugs and angry politics. But, late in Act 1, actress Shelley Plimpton sings a sad, short ballad (by Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni and James Rado) about lost love: “I met a boy called Frank Mills, on September 12th right here in front of the Waverly, but unfortunately, I lost his address.” It’s about a girl looking for a misfit boy she’ll never see again. What felt like a million years later, Gen X heartthrob Evan Dando (of the Lemonheads) rerecorded “Frank Mills” in 1992, without changing the pronouns, and the song acquired a new layer of longing: a man looking for a man. Still lost, but for me, right then, completely found. —Hank Stuever

The love of a friend you won’t see much any more: ‘For Good’ from ‘Wicked’

A significant friendship is coming to a close. You can feel it. Maybe one of you is moving. Maybe an irreconcilable difference has emerged. This Stephen Schwartz song — sung at a point of no return for Glinda and Elphaba, who will develop opposing brands as Good and Wicked Witches, respectively — takes the “grow” part of “growing apart” seriously. It has it all. Grief. Gratitude. Acknowledgments of how much they’ve become a part of each other. Slightly passive-aggressive apologies (“I ask forgiveness for the things I’ve done I know you blame me for”). Then there’s that chorus: “Because I knew you I have been changed for good.” That “knew” instead of “know” breaks my heart, every time. —Lili Loofbourow

The love that spans too many boundaries: ‘Underwater’ from ‘Caroline, or Change’

Tony Kushner’s story, set in 1960s Louisiana, centers on Noah, a precocious 8-year-old Jewish boy, and the person he idolizes: Caroline, his family’s stern maid, a Black woman whose Christian God is very Old Testament. The two characters are separated by so much — race, class, religion, generation — and the musical hums with the jocular tension between them, until it reaches a hate-fueled crescendo in Act 2. “Underwater,” by Kusher and Jeanine Tesori, is the metaphysical truce that follows. It runs just over two minutes, contains fewer than 150 words, and doesn’t offer easy reconciliation. But it reconnects Noah and Caroline through their shared condition of sorrow: Noah’s grief over the death of his mother, Caroline’s bitterness over her station in life, in a world changing too fast. Love often springs from joy and abandon, but sometimes it’s rooted in a darker place, which makes its flowering even more beautiful. —Dan Zak

The love that seems doomed but you carry on anyway: ‘Promises’ from ‘Hadestown’

Anaïs Mitchell’s retelling of a Greek myth delivers a love song so far distant from the typical brassy belts and creamy ballads. Orpheus and Eurydice have reconnected after a meet-cute, a rainstorm, a deal with the devil and an insurrection from the damned. Their trials teach them that lasting love is not defined by sweet words, but the willingness to walk with your partner through their hell. The efforts aren’t exactly successful — it is a tragedy, after all — but nonetheless the song depicts something real and resonant for any relationship. —Robert Samuels

That ride-or-die platonic love: ‘I Will Never Leave You’ from ‘Side Show’

Daisy and Violet do everything together, including rise to fame on the vaudeville circuit. Even as Violet is set to marry, the sisters have no choice but to stick together — they’re conjoined twins. The 1997 oddity by Bill Russell and Henry Krieger has proved a two-time Broadway flop, but this duet is a soaring tribute to the kind of love that can withstand any strength test. Daisy and Violet may be bound by necessity, but their devotion to each other reverberates with fierce sincerity. Original stars Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley received a rare shared Tony nomination, and their performance at the ceremony is a classic. —Naveen Kumar

The love that emboldens someone else to love: ‘More I Cannot Wish You’ from ‘Guys and Dolls’

After Sarah Brown falls in love with a gangster and confesses her regret to her uncle, a fellow missionary, he encourages her to overcome her misgivings, singing that there’s nothing he wants more than for her to find “your own true love, this day.” Yes, “velvet” and “mansions” would be nice, but if you find happiness with a man who lives life dice roll to dice roll, savor it. It’s a clear-eyed principle that affirms his own love for a daughter figure, and is informed by a lifetime of wisdom and a spirit of tolerance. —Zachary Pincus-Roth

The love of life: ‘My Favorite Things’ from ‘The Sound of Music’

Is this a love song? Unequivocally, it’s a lullaby about loving stuff, but in a broader sense it’s a little prayer designed to remind us of the abundant good that still exists in this hard world. Sung to console some children through the distress of a thunderstorm, that Richard Rodgers melody does artful somersaults between major and minor keys. And those roses, those mittens, those snowflakes — Oscar Hammerstein knew what he was doing. These things are delicate, fleeting. But if our love for them is strong, it can protect us from the oblivion of our fears. —Chris Richards

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button