With the 14th of February fast approaching, we cross our fingers and hope Cupid’s arrow will find its way to our hearts. Amour is in the air, and what better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to delve into some of Broadway’s most romantic shows? Whether they are plucking at your heartstrings or tearing your beating heart from your chest, romantic musicals have always been a favorite genre of the theatergoing audience. Let’s look at some of the most loved among them, and listen along with our Spotify playlist listed below.
She Loves Me
Amalia Balash and Georg Nowack may appear to hate each other when they begin working together at Maraczek’s perfumery, but their history as anonymous pen pals in a lonely-hearts club indicates otherwise. The two have already fallen in love by mail, but it will take them some time to do so face-to-face. Thank goodness that we have Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s glorious score to help nudge them along. With songs such as “Vanilla Ice Cream” and the title song, is it any surprise that these two stubborn singles fall in love by Christmas Eve? We adore romance born out of conflict, and She Loves Me is a generous dose of that.
Stream the 2016 Broadway production on BroadwayHD.
A Little Night Music
Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s A Little Night Music might, at first glance, seems like a sex farce with people romping around Cupid’s grove at a Scandinavian estate at the height of summer. Taking a deeper look at the musical, it is an examination of various forms of romance: young and stupid, practical, wedded, sexually driven, missed opportunities of the foolish, and, finally, mature. In A Little Night Music, several couples are mismatched and misguided, but throughout the magical night of “perpetual sunset,” they sort themselves out and find themselves in their respective true loves’ arms by morning. The melancholic but poetic song of unrequited love “Send in the Clowns” reminds us how time and love are both fleeting, so make the most of your opportunities.
La Cage aux Folles
There was a time, not that long ago, where two gay men (or women) could not publicly profess their love for fear of ridicule. Since La Cage aux Folles first debuted as a film in 1979 and was then turned into a Broadway musical in 1983, that has changed in many parts of the world (and gotten worse in others). La Cage aux Folles is the story of two men, Georges and Albin, sharing a life together, raising and child, and running a nightclub. They prove that a family is what you make it to be: the ones you hold dear. They may well be one of Broadway’s most darling couples, coming together in a most original way to welcome their son’s fiancée and her parents into the family. Georges and Albin’s love is perhaps best demonstrated in the affectionate Jerry Herman ditty “Song on the Sand,” a simple love ballad sung from one heart to another.
Would you trade away your entire world to be with the one you love? When Tommy Albright, an American visiting Scotland, stumbles upon the small village of Brigadoon, he falls in love with a bonnie lass named Fiona. Unfortunately, the town appears for only one day each century and then fades into the highland mist. Tommy must decide whether or not he loves Fiona enough to give up everyone and everything he knows for a chance to spend his life with her. Lerner and Loewe’s score for Brigadoon makes an excellent case for love, with songs like “Almost Like Being in Love,” “The Heather on the Hill,” and “Waiting for My Dearie.” Short of death, this is the ultimate sacrifice Tommy can make. Aren’t we all suckers for a grand romantic gesture?
One of Broadway’s greatest valentines is playing at the Shubert Theatre right now. Hello, Dolly! brims with romance, possibly because the show’s namesake is a matchmaker who makes it her policy to broker love for all who need it (whether they know it or not). She shoots Cupid’s arrow with humor and heart, whether it be aimed at the hay-and-feed clerk, Cornelius Hackl, who is singing “It Only Takes a Moment”; at the widowed hat-shop owner, Irene Molly; at shop assistant Barnaby Tucker, who’s learning to dance and then sweeping ribbon clerk Minnie Fay off her feet; or at Dolly herself, giving loving monologues to her late husband, Ephraim, asking for his blessing to marry Horace Vandergelder, the cranky half-a-millionaire. Hello, Dolly! has romance everywhere you turn, and Jerry Herman’s score is a jubilant celebration of all its possibilities.
The Secret Garden
How about a romance that is so strong it carries well into the afterlife? In the musical The Secret Garden, Archibald Craven mourns the loss of his wife, Lily, who died in childbirth. His grief is so profound that years go by and he still hasn’t moved on. He speaks to her ghost, longing for the days when she was at his side. His woeful cry can be heard in the song “Lily’s Eyes,” one of the most haunting songs from the Lucy Simon/Marsha Norman score. Ultimately, Archibald and Lily share a gut-wrenching goodbye with “How Could I Ever Know?” and Archie finally coming to terms with her death and Lily’s ghost coaxing him to embrace life.
Once on This Island
Unrequited love is another brand of romance that we seek out in our musicals. Whether it is Freddie Eynsford Hill desperately trying to woo Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, or poor, ignored Eponine relegated forever to the friend zone in Les Misérables, we identify with those who love passionately but never win the objects of their affection. No musical conveys this more tragically than the Lynn Ahrens–Stephen Flaherty musical Once on This Island. Set in the Caribbean, the story follows Ti Moune, a poor island girl who is in love with Daniel, a boy from across the island who is of a different social class. She goes on a daring and dangerous adventure to find him, aided by the gods of the island. When she finally arrives to profess her love, she finds Daniel preparing to marry another woman. How can her unrequited love still yield a beautiful outcome?
The Phantom of the Opera
There is a reason that The Phantom of the Opera has run for 30 years, and romance is a big part of its longevity. Yes, the Andrew Lloyd Webber score has worked itself into our hearts. Yes, the Harold Prince staging is both clever and full of pageantry. Yes, the physical production is one of opulence and illusion. Would we, however, keep going back if there weren’t that central story, that love triangle between a dashing aristocrat, a young opera ingénue, and a mysterious music teacher/opera ghost? These three characters are central to the Gaston Leroux novel on which the musical is based, and telling their tale through music heightens their anguish while making their love palpable. Is there anything more soaring and romantic than Christine and Raoul professing their love in “All I Ask of You”? And is there anything more achingly tragic than the Phantom’s reprise of the song atop the opera house? We all love a tragic romance, and The Phantom of the Opera does that (arguably) better than any other musical.
Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals and maintains a theater and entertainment blog at markrobinsonwrites.com.