Mark and Jay’s Favorite Songs and Musical Influences

Commentary by Mark Chimsky

“Camelot” was on our minds during the writing of many of the songs, because both this classic and our musical revolve around a love triangle.  Also, the love song “If Ever I Would Leave You” was often a touchstone, for the genius of its composition and the way Robert Goulet sang it.  In fact, Jay coined the term “units of Goulet” as a way to quantify the powerhouse baritone singing we needed for particular songs. (This video is no longer available.)

The commanding voice of Patti Lupone as Eva Peron inspiring her people in “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” (from “Evita” by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber) was another number that I thought of while writing a number of versions of songs for Sveta as she rallies the people of Leningrad.  Of course, the idealistic Sveta is the exact opposite of the shrewdly opportunistic “Evita,” but the way Andrew Lloyd Weber built a song to reflect how one character can sway a whole crowd was fascinating.  No matter what you think of Eva Peron, Patti Lupone’s ability to mesmerize an audience in this number is spectacular! 

I read the script to “Fiddler on the Roof” (by Dale Wasserman, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, music by Jerry Bock) frequently during the writing of “The Road of Life.”  One can learn so much about the construction and architecture of a successful musical from the book and score of both “Fiddler” and “Man of La Mancha,” two of a handful of the greatest musicals ever written.  I include “Tradition” because it’s everything that an opening number should be.  As its director, Jerome Robbins, emphasized, an opening to a musical must not only establish the setting and tone of a musical in the first five minutes, it must also tell the audience what the major theme of the show will be.  We hope we have succeeded on all these points with our opening number, “Beyond All the Thunder.”  Our audiences will let us know!

Our character of Seroza in “The Road of Life” is a deeply spiritual man, and Jay and I love the prayerful quality of the exquisite “Bring Him Home,” as sung by Colm Wilkinson in the original “Les Miz.”

“Man of La Mancha” by Dales Wasserman, Joe Darion, and Mitch Leigh is simply a classic.  Enough said.  You’ll have a sense of the magic by watching this rare clip from the original production starring the incomparable Richard Kiley as Cervantes/Don Quixote and Joan Diener as his “Dulcinea.”

An ensemble number doesn’t get much better than this – here’s the BBC Proms’ presentation of “Sunday” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George” – a ravishing number that is what musical theater is all about!

What can I say?  I love “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked” by Stephen Schwartz.  The song not only advances the plot and helps define character but is thrilling theater. (This video is no longer available.)

Stephen Schwartz’s 1976 musical, “The Baker’s Wife” has always been one of my personal favorites.  In the song, “Meadowlark,” the character’s transformation and sense of resolve are beautifully portrayed.  Hear Liz Callaway hit this wonderful song out of the ballpark!

“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen (sung here by k.d. lang) is a song I love for reasons beyond my own explaining – it’s a dark anthem that soars.  It inspires me even when the lyrics I’m writing are very different from its themes.

“Make Our Garden Grow” from “Candide (lyrics by Richard Wilbur, music by Leonard Bernstein) starts out as a simple, wise (and wry) love song about the human condition that gains transcendent power and becomes a gorgeous and triumphant statement of hope.  Here is a performance of the song by Paul Groves, Kristin Chenoweth and the New York Philharmonic!

I listened to Audra McDonald’s CD, “Go Back Home,” the entire time I worked on the first draft of “The Road of Life” – her songs include reflections of the spirit, a majestic anthem (“Some Days), and show tunes (Kander and Ebb’s beautiful “First You Dream,” Comden, Green, and Styne’s poignant “Make Someone Happy” and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s haunting “Edelweiss”).  Whatever lyric I was writing, I somehow found inspiration from the songs on this amazing CD. “Some Days” lyrics by James Baldwin, sung by Audra McDonald. (This video is no longer available.)

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