Tunesday: Broadway’s best and brightest

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As the Tony Awards approach, we at The Daily Californian wonder what musical antics James Corden has up his sleeve and whether Lin-Manuel Miranda will perform a rap as his acceptance speech. But when you’ve been listening to the “Hamilton” soundtrack on repeat since September and you’re waiting for the rest of the musical nominees’ soundtracks to be released, it’s hard to get into the awards-season mood. (“Shuffle Along,” where are you?) Still, we can take a look back at some of the best numbers to grace the Great White Way before the big night on June 12.

“Shipoopi” — “The Music Man” (Barbara Cook, The Buffalo Bills)

“Shipoopi” is as silly and absurd as it gets. In the real world, “shipoopi” means nothing. You won’t find it an a dictionary, although die-hard theater nuts might petition Merriam-Webster to give it a chance. A “shipoopi” is the original play-hard-to-get expert “The girl is hard to get / But you can win her yet.” Composer and lyricist Meredith Willson deliberately sought out a nonexistent word to put into “The Music Man”’s stubborn community of River City, Iowa. The song gathers the ladies and gentlemen of River City for “a sociable,” and the group’s musical request is “Shipoopi.” It’s their party go-to, apparently, like a turn-of-the-century “Hey Ya!” With its bouncy tune and almost call-and-response chorus, it’s no surprise. The nutty number even inspired a nearly shot-for-shot “Family Guy” parody it’s Peter Griffin’s victory dance influencing a new generation of nonsense-lovers.

“Sal Tlay Ka Siti” — “The Book of Mormon” (Nikki M. James)

Taken for face value, this solo number can be brushed over as a mere comedic venture, with its exaggerated mispronunciations and talk of friendly warlords and flies biting your eyeballs. Really, it’s the most important song in “The Book of Mormon,” and it reaches the core of the show’s message: The world isn’t the idyllic community religion wants it to be, but we can make it one, no matter who or what we believe in.

In “Sal Tlay Ka Siti,” Nabalungi aka Neutrogena, aka Neosporin, aka Nala in the show dreams of a world in which “life won’t be so shitty,” with Nikki M. James’ Tony award-winning vocals yearning for the paradise that the Mormon missionaries claim their faith was founded on in Salt Lake City. The opening of the song almost sounds like the start of a lullaby or fairytale. We then learn that escaping from Uganda by any means actually is a fairytale for Nabalungi.

The song’s a tearjerker; you just have to let it be one.

“What Would I Do?” — “Falsettos” (Michael Rupert, Stephen Bogardus, Chip Zien)

Soon to be revived with an all-star cast, “Falsettos” first appeared on Broadway in 1992 presumably a response to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.The show’s finale ”What Would I Do?” begins with Marvin (Michael Rupert) reflecting on his life, how he left his wife for a relationship with Whizzer (Stephen Bogardus), who is on his deathbed.

Yes, sometimes composer and lyricist William Finn can resort to cliched lyrics and unimaginative musical arrangements in other songs, but this duet is profound. Marvin ponders the inexplicability of falling in love, asking “Who would I blame life on?” The song in turn makes its listeners question their own paths: Do we not attach friends’ and lovers’ influences to our successes and failures?

Not only does the song question love and life, but Finn places the characters in a cultural context, questioning the terrifying mystery of Whizzer’s illness. The song ends with Mendel (Chip Zien) addressing the audience, only inducing more heartbreak and more ominous piano: “Lovers come and lovers go / Lovers live and die fortissimo / This is where we take a stand / Welcome to Falsettoland.” The sadnesses on Broadway are just all brilliant as the delights.

“Gimme Gimme” — “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (Sutton Foster)

Sutton Foster’s a sweet, sunshiney, twinkling star of Broadway. Already a living legend, she won a Tony for playing Millie in the stage iteration of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” a role for which she understudied then was cast in a last minute decision. What a game-changer. “Gimme Gimme,” if overused, has become a go-to audition song for aspiring musical stars. Basically people want to be as good as Sutton Foster, but with her beautifully impassioned vocals in this tune, it’s an impossible task.

Millie’s a small-town girl who came to New York to marry rich, but is now pondering a “green glass love,” not an emerald one as she’d hoped. The song’s quiet at first, with soft strings scoring her confusion. It then speeds up and builds into pure jubilation and need, drums and trumpets sharing Millie’s excitement. The powerhouse number cemented Foster’s status as a force of nature and, along the way, turned us all into fools who shout “gimme, gimme that thing called love” at the top of our lungs when no one’s around.

“The Club” — “In the Heights” (Original Broadway Cast)

Remember when Alexander Hamilton was off pop culture’s radar and Lin-Manuel Miranda was the guy who brought Washington Heights down to Midtown? Two musicals into his Broadway career, Miranda has singlehandedly changed the landscape of theater and the way we tell stories. It all began with 2008’s “In the Heights.”

In “The Club,” a jumpy Usnavi (Miranda) and the pretty Vanessa, played by Karen Olivo, go on a date. Rather than being a site for letting loose with salsa dancing and drinks, the club becomes a place of tension for the pair and their friends Nina (Mandy Gonzalez) and Benny (Christopher Jackson, now playing George Washington in “Hamilton”). Jealousy mounts and an accidental fight breaks out, turning the night out into a disaster. In true “West Side Story” fashion, Miranda transforms a lighthearted dance scene into one of love-induced friction. The only regret when listening is that you can’t see the accompanying swaying and twirling on the dance floor.

 

Contact Danielle Gutierrez at [email protected].