Broadway is full of stories about all kinds of intense relationships -- between lovers, friends, family, society. These are 15 of the Broadway songs I find are most powerful.
1. "At The Ballet," A Chorus Line
Standout Lyrics: "I was pretty, I was happy, at the ballet."
Context: Three women tell stories of how horrible their family life was as children, and how their dance studios turned into their homes.
2. "Breathe," In the Heights
Standout Lyrics: "Hey guys, it's me! The biggest disappointment you know!"
Context: Nina has just returned home from her first year at Stanford, but she hasn't told anyone that she dropped out after missing classes for work, trying to pay her bills. She was one of the first people in her neighborhood to go to college, and she's worried about disappointing everyone she knows, especially her parents.
3. "Climb Every Mountain," The Sound of Music
Standout Lyrics: "Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, till you find your dream."
Context: Ex-nun Maria has returned to the abbey after feeling she has failed in her job as a nanny. Here, Mother Superior encourages her to return to the Von Trapp house and find her own life. It's really applicable to any time you feel like giving up. Mother Superior loves you and wants you to succeed.
Listen Here: Climb Every Mountain
4. "Defying Gravity," Wicked
Standout Lyrics: "I'm through accepting limits, 'cause someone says they're so. Some things I cannot change, but till I try I'll never know!"
Context: Elphaba has been convicted of being truly wicked. Instead of staying around and letting the people take her down, she decides to flee and take control of her life. One of the best musical middle fingers to society and the limits it places upon us, featuring Idina Menzel's insane voice.
5."Freak Flag," Shrek the Musical
Standout Lyrics: "All the things that make us special are the things that make us strong."
Context: For a musical that seems like the biggest joke of all time, "Shrek" is actually really good. This song is sung by all of the fairytale creatures who have been kicked out of the kingdom. They sing about accepting yourself and letting your freak flag fly. Words to live by, tbh.
6. "Get Out and Stay Out," 9 to 5
Standout Lyrics: "You used me, abused me, you cheated and you lied, so get out and stay out, I'm taking back my life."
Context: At the beginning of the show, Judy had recently been dumped by her cheating husband. Now she's got her own career, she's over him, and she's empowered. She's learned that she doesn't need a man and that she feels more free without one. And in a musical written by Dolly Parton, what would you expect?
7. "Green Finch and Linnet Bird," Sweeney Todd
Standout Lyrics: "My cage has many rooms, damask, and dark. Nothing there sings, not even a lark"
Context: Johanna is an orphaned girl who was taken in by a wealthy judge who never lets her leave the house. She sings to the caged birds because she relates to them, trapped in a cage by someone who just wants to admire their beauty. Did I mention that the judge also wants to marry her? Poor Johanna.
8. "The Guilty Ones," Spring Awakening
Standout Lyrics: "And now our bodies are the guilty ones, our touch will color the hours."
Context: Set in 1800s Germany, "Spring Awakening" is about the sexual awakening of teenagers in a small village. In this song, Wendla and Melchior have just had sex, and they sing about their conflicting feelings after the act.
9. "I Dreamed a Dream," Les Miserables
Standout Lyrics: "But the tigers come at night, with their voices soft as thunder, as they tear your hope apart, as they turn your dream to shame."
Context: After being fired from the job she desperately needs, Fantine sings about how her life has gone from ideal to awful because of a man who impregnated her and left her to be a poor single mother. If I was ranking these songs instead of listing them alphabetically, this would absolutely be at the top.
10. "The I Love You Song," 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Standout Lyrics: "Darling, if you feel my gloom, blame it on me. Blame it on your dad-ily and mam-ily, 'cause depression runs in our family."
Context: Olive is competing in a middle school spelling bee, which neither of her parents could attend -- her mother is in an ashram in India, and her father is always working. In this song, she fantasizes about hearing her parents tell her they love her, because they never do in real life. Yeah, devastating.
11. "Maybe," Next To Normal
Standout Lyrics: "For all those years I prayed that you'd go away for good, half the time afraid that you really would."
Context: Natalie's mother, Diana, has been struggling with several mental illnesses all of Natalie's life, leading to a neglectful, confusing relationship. In this song, Diana explains herself, and Natalie forgives her. This is one of the most devastating musicals to ever grace the Broadway stage.
12. "Proud of Your Boy," Aladdin
Standout Lyrics: "I'll do my best, what else can I do? Since I wasn't born perfect, like dad or you."
Context: A song that was cut from the original Disney film "Proud of Your Boy" features Aladdin singing to the memory of his mother, apologizing for not turning into a son she would've been proud of. Also, Adam Jacobs' voice makes me want to cry on its own.
13. "Santa Fe," Newsies
Standout Lyrics: "Why should you spend your whole life livin' trapped where there ain't no future, even at 17!"
Context: Jack is a poor newsie and one of the leaders of the newsboy strike. This song takes place after a failed protest at which one of his best friends is arrested, and Jack blames himself. Jack just wants to leave the city and go live the small-town life in Santa Fe. Jeremy Jordan also has a voice that makes me want to cry.
14. "There's a Fine, Fine Line," Avenue Q
Standout Lyrics: "I guess if someone doesn't love you back, it isn't such a crime!"
Context: After being in that "what are we?" phase for a while, Kate is fed up with trying to make a romance happen out of her friendship with Princeton. She's stepping away and moving on, instead of waiting for him to figure out what he wants. For one of the goofiest musicals of all time, this song is pretty #relatable.
15. "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again," Phantom of the Opera
Standout Lyrics: "Too many years fighting back tears, why can't the past just die?"
Context: In the midst of a hectic life as an opera singer with a possessive tutor (understatement, yes, I know), Christine mourns the death of her father, who she knows would've made everything she's experiencing somehow easier. To me, this song is more powerful than the song "Phantom of the Opera" because while that one is about the control the Phantom has over Christine, this involves her on her own, and the feelings she has unrelated to him, and is a reminder that her life does not revolve around the Phantom.