Almost every Broadway fan has a favorite lyric. Sometimes it's a clever rhyme or impressive wordplay. Sometimes it's an evocative image created by a series of descriptors. Sometimes, choruses are adopted as philosophies and mantras. Sometimes, it's just a darn funny joke. And sometimes, it changes daily.
And all those favorite lyrics only stand out if they work in sync with the music. A crescendo that makes the emotion of the words soar higher. A patter that accentuates an internal rhyme. A button or a pause that gives room for laugh when a joke lands.
This season's Tony nominees for Best Original Score—Flying Over Sunset, Mr. Saturday Night, Paradise Square, SIX the Musical, and A Strange Loop—all have music and lyrics that work in perfect tandem, each creating a memorable and lauded score.
To celebrate those nominated scores, Playbill asked the companies of those five musicals about their favorite lyrics from the shows. Read on below as the casts and creative team answer "What's your favorite lyric and why?"
Flying Over Sunset
Lyrics by Michael Korie, Music by Tom Kitt
Carmen Cusack, Cast: Clare Boothe Luce
"Not brown and not hazel, they're right in between,
Through dark sable lashes, those flashes of green.
I've never quite noticed before,
Like gleams in a forest I'm drawn to explore."
There are so many moments I can think of but one that really sticks with me is a line that Harry Hadden-Paton sings in “Wondrous” when he starts to see color again. He is marveling at his wife's eyes describing them in detail while on his trip. This line always gets me.
Michael Korie just blew me away with how he could slice through in a lyric all the color and magic happening onstage. He could take us right into her eyes with such vivid imagery. Such love and romance in that moment.
Harry Hadden-Paton, Cast: Aldous Huxley
When Aldous is struck by the floor of the Rexall drugstore…
“It’s linoleum I should have guessed!
It looks like real wood but it’s linseed oil, pressed..”
It is packed with character and tells us so much about Huxley; his intellect, his passion and his enjoyment of discovery. Lyrics like this, and a score that complements them, make an actor’s job easy…
Robert Sella, Cast: Gerald Heard
It is almost impossible to choose one moment, one melody, or one lyric from Flying Over Sunset; the piece is so exquisitely written and composed, and it was my great pleasure to sing some of it and listen to all of it eight times a week. But one piece of the title song holds a special place in my memory: As Clare Booth Luce (brilliantly played by Carmen Cusack) is experiencing her first trip on LSD in the garden of her Connecticut estate, she reels back in her mind to an earlier time in California when she felt desirable, and busy, and powerful. At one point she sings one of my very favorite lyrics:
"Gleaming in the distance, I can suddenly behold--
So much more immense than I've been told--
The Pacific in the sunset; bright with gold!"
In this phrase, the warmth and specificity of Michael Korie's lyric, the soulfulness and depth of Tom Kitt's melody, and the gorgeous complexity of Michael Starobin's orchestrations all come together in a moment of thrilling beauty. I could feel the rush of the wind and see the shimmering water. Amazing! I got to stand on stage every night and watch Carmen wonderfully bring this role to life, and this is one moment I'll always remember. It took my breath away every time.
Nehal Joshi, Cast: Dr. Harris/Father
“As twilight turns the sky to indigo and violet
With fragrant nightshades in flower
Shadows of unease
Silhouette the trees
This is the melancholy hour.”
Michele Ragusa, Cast: Austin/Handmaiden
"I was schooled to be mother's best revenge.
My success is thanks to her design.
But her driving force swelt me up, of course.
I lived the life she chose for me - what's left now, is mine."
This lyric always hit home for me because my mother lived her life through me. She had dreams she was never able to pursue.
"How do you get through life bereft of faith?
After you pray the seventh day, who listens on the eighth?
Does prayer dissolve in ether, and vanish in the void?
How do you bear your burdens with belief itself destroyed?"
This lyric was special to me as, I feel, it’s the absolute epitome of the genius that is Michael Korie. I mean…..not only the weight of the meaning but the artistry of his phrasing and rhyming.
Laura Shoop, Cast: Maria Huxley
“Then it’s time for us to follow, as a Catalina swallow goes Flying Over Sunset.”
This lyric was cut from the show but made its way to the recording. I always told Michael Korie that I missed my Catalina swallow, he knows I love that lyric most of all.
Atticus Ware, Cast: Archie Leach
"As twilight turns the sky to indigo and violet, with fragrant nightshades in flower."
It's such a vivid description that creates a calming scene. It's beautiful.
Michael Korie, Lyricist
One of my favorite lyrics in the score of Flying Over Sunset, thanks to Tom Kitt's glorious musical setting of it, occurs in the song "Sapphire Dragonfly," where Clare Boothe Luce is high on LSD for the first time in her garden in Connecticut. She spies a beautiful dragonfly, its colors heightened by the drug, and then is horrified to witness it being eaten by a bird in front of her eyes.
It reminds her of her beautiful young daughter, taken before her time in a car accident, and it makes Clare question her faith in God. She sings to the ghost of her daughter:
"You were the world to me,
So young and beautiful.
I need a drug to see you now,
No thanks to Him.
What kind of deity
Creates a miracle,
Then for the hell of it
Destroys it on a whim?"
Tom Kitt, Composer
"Each of us is incomplete, til our paths converge
Everyone in life we meet, mixes in the merge."
This lyric really speaks to me in how it suggests that for our lives to be truly full, we must be open to the people around us and all the beautiful energy they bring us. There is so much we can do by ourselves in today’s world, but nothing compares to the joys, rewards, and lessons that come from human interaction and shared experience.
Mr. Saturday Night
Lyrics by Amanda Green, Music by Jason Robert Brown
Ellenore Scott, Choreographer
“I’m gonna be so f****** good.“
It is the end of “Unbelievable” in Act One and it is just such a funny, but confident line that sometimes I think we all want to just reiterate to ourselves—that we are f****** good.
For a more clean lyric, I love “Maybe it starts with me.” As someone who goes to therapy it is such a realization to understand your perspective on the world starts with yourself and I think it is told stunningly through Shoshana‘s performance as Susan in the show.
Mylinda Hull, Cast: Principal Player
That at my age every bell’s not rung yet.
Lady Luck gives me a kiss, with tongue yet!”
Amanda Green has an amazing ability to combine delicious wordplay with meaningful storytelling. And flat out funny! What a gift to sing and listen to these lyrics every night! I love listening to Billy Crystal sing this lyric at the end of Act One. The combination of the rhyme and the joy make me giggle every time:
Randy Graff, Cast: Elaine Young
"My wonderful pain in the ass"
Amanda Green has done such a marvelous job with the lyrics to Mr. Saturday Night, it's hard to pick just one. But the lyric that has recently stood out for me is "my wonderful pain in the ass" which is the title of the beautiful duet Billy and I do in the second act, about the ups and downs of a long marriage between two older people. A student of mine who is single and in his early twenties, came to see the show and told me "I want a pain in the ass." I thought that was so sweet. He got what the song was about even at the age of 22.
Jordan Gelber, Cast: Principal Player
"Wanna commit career kamikaze?
Act like that f-ed up old Ashkenazi"
[That lyric] is always fun to sing at the audience. I'm simply amazed that Amanda Green was able to rhyme Ashkenazi in a song so well. Being an Ashkenazi Jew, it has a special place in my heart. And it's damn funny.
Brian Gonzales, Cast: Principal Player
"Wanna commit career kamikaze?
Act like that f**%#d up old Ashkenazi!"
I admire that anyone was able to get those two words into a song, and have them work perfectly with the moment.
Lowell Ganz, Bookwriter
“One who isn’t a cheat or a stealer. Or gay or my boss or my dealer.”
In “There’s a Chance,“ Susan sings about the kind of guy she might meet going forward. I know her whole past life in two seconds.
Jason Robert Brown, Composer
“Unbelievable that at my age all my bells ain’t rung yet.
Unbelievable! Lady Luck gives me a kiss - with tongue yet!”
Getting a good joke into a lyric is insanely difficult because you actually have to do two jokes at once; not only do you have to have a funny idea with phrasing that fits in the right number of syllables, but the rhyme at the end has to be funny too or the joke won’t land. It’s like throwing a basketball while you’re kicking a soccer ball and getting them both into the net. Amanda Green pulls off this impossible feat in virtually every song of Mr. Saturday Night, but my favorite is in the finale to Act One, “Unbelievable,” when Buddy Young finds out he has an opportunity to restart his career and maybe even his life.
A lyric that can get a laugh every night is a miraculous thing, and I hear that miracle go by seven times a week at the Nederlander Theater.
John Rando, Director
Take a lap on the open track.
Life can still come through with a shocker.
Even when you're an alte cocker.
I was dead! But now look who's back!
Don't you leave while the band's still playing.
Ride it out,
Who knows which way the wind will blow?
Take the nickel tour,
Who can say for sure
They're sure how their life will go? Stick around...
Cause you never know!
So this is my choice. It’s tough to decide of course when you have someone as talented and funny as Amanda Green writing the lyrics. But I like these, well because there just aren’t that many musicals where you can find a rhyme for “Alte Cocker.” Also, I like the nod to old folks hanging in there and sticking around and to the surprises that life can bring at any age
Amanda Green, Lyricist
A lyric that has particular resonance with me is sung by Susan, Buddy Young's grown daughter, played to perfection by Shoshana Bean. Susan has had a difficult relationship with her father her whole life and a difficult time making her way in the world.
At the end of the play, the two reconcile and after he leaves she sings this opening of the final song "Stick Around." It resonates with me because at times in my life, I've had moments of despair and self-doubt, felt I missed the boat, worried I was somehow, fundamentally, lacking. The song, with Jason's gorgeous music, says life is worth living, and it's always too soon to give up hope.
"So you write the guy off
Sure the family is through
And there's no happy endings
For people like you
Never know what the day will bring you
Though you sometimes may wonder why
Life's a trip
People change who you least expected
You were strangers, now you're connected
Hey who knows? Maybe pigs can fly
It may all go to hell tomorrow
Hold your ground
You have more than you think to show
And he said out loud
That I made him proud
Who's to say how close we could grow?
So stick around,
Cause you never know."
"Wanna commit career kamikaze?
Act like that fucked-up old Ashkenazi!"
Cause I made Billy Crystal laugh when he read it.
Lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare, Music by Jason Howland
Kennedy Caughell, Cast: Ensemble
"We were safer separated, but love left us no choice."
That's the essential message we are trying to convey in this piece. There is one thing that unites us beyond our differences, and that is love.
Chloe Davis, Cast: Nova/Ensemble
"We were better separated, but love gave us no choice.”
This is the foundation and essence of humanity. The celebration of differences, cultures, races, languages, traditions, and similarities, but the center of our existence is love. We exist because of love.
Bernard Dotson, Cast: Ensemble
"Every day we have everything to lose, we fight tooth and nail to live the life we choose!"
As a 61-year-old Black Gay Man in America, I have come to know that discrimination and racism is very real in this country. I have traveled extensively across Europe and Asia, and never have experienced what the minorities have had to deal with to survive.”
Sean Jenness, Cast: Ensemble
"Look at what we have created
We gave ourselves a voice
We were safer separated
But love left us no choice"
I used this line from “Let It Burn” in my opening night cards I gave to my cast mates. I like it because it's meaningful on several levels. We all left the safety of our Covid bubbles to come together to create this show and it would have been safer to stay home. But we love this life and we took the chance. I think you're gonna find a lot of people choose this lyric, honestly! We all talk about it!!
Joshua Keith, Cast: Ensemble
“We Gave OURSELVES A Voice!!”
Chilina Kennedy, Cat: Annie Lewis
“We safer separated but love left us no choice.”
Kayla Pecchioni, Cast: Blessed/Ensemble
“Oh God, when you made us you shattered the mold.”
We say this line in a moment of prayer. I love it because not only does the line create beautiful imagery, but it so accurately describes this unique community in the Five Points that we get to live in each night.
Erica Spyres, Cast: Amelia Tiggens/Ensemble
“I know that our spirit is bigger than this place.”
It reminds me that we are all more than what we do or where we are.
Lael Van Keuren, Cast: Ensemble
“Oh God when you made us,
You shattered the mold
Inside there’s a spirit
That can’t be controlled!"
One of my favorite moments to sing each night!! Almost the entire company is onstage, and our voices continue to swell until it’s a complete cacophony of beautiful harmonies and music. Lyrically, it is the essence of Paradise Square.
Alan Wiggins, Cast: Ensemble
“Inside this little building is a rare and special lot”
“Look at what we have created. We gave ourselves a voice.”
For me, those two lyrics from "Let It Burn" speak directly to the talent, and the inner beauty and strength of everyone who tells our story each night. They are definitely the most meaningful to me.
Hailee Kaleem Wright, Cast: Ensemble
“I think of those that blessed my steps this far” from “Breathe Easy”
SIX the Musical
Lyrics and Music by Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss
Adrianna Hicks, Cast: Catherine of Aragon:
"We're one of a kind, no category..."
[That's] probably my favorite line because to me, it truly highlights the individuality of a person. How when you choose to not compartmentalize yourself, but love yourself, your whole self, then you are free to take your crowning glory. That is what the journey of SIX has been for me; a journey of self love and empowerment.
Abby Mueller, Cast: Jane Seymour
“Jane Seymour, the only one he truly loved (rude!)”
It represents the style of the show: historical accuracy blended with cheeky humor.
Tom Curran, Orchestrations
"And even though you had one son with someone who don’t own a wedding ring"
For me, this changes regularly, but at the moment, [that's] my favourite. I love how this lyric interacts with the rhythm of the drums and percussion—it’s a really satisfying interplay.
Jamie Armitage, Co-director
With my serious hat on it's:
"You say it's a pity 'cause quoting Leviticus
I'll end up kiddy-less all my life."
It combines so much of what I love about Toby & Lucy's writing: it's funny, pithy and nerdy all at the same time.
With my silly hat, it's:
"No one tells me I need a rich man
Doin' my thing in my palace in Richmond."
I grew up down the river from Richmond, and you know what: there aren't enough musical theatre songs about Richmond. Or any for that matter. It's a nice place. Lots of ducks.
Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, Choreographer
“Making my way to the dance floor, some boys make an advance I ignore them, as my jam comes on the lute, looking cute, DAS IST GUT”
Lucy Moss, Co-writer and Co-director
"I look more rad than Lutheranism"
Because it’s the nerdiest pun and one of the very few times the actual stuff I studied in my early modern German visual culture paper at University has been put to any use at all.
A Strange Loop
Lyrics and Music by Michael R. Jackson
L Morgan Lee, Cast: Thought 1
"Live your life and tell your story...truthfully and without fear, despite those who wish you would disappear."
It's the one moment in the show that someone feeds Usher's spirit. There will always be someone with criticism or opposition to your journey. That is about THEM, not you. There is freedom (and connection) in truth.
Rona Siddiqui, Music Director & Music Supervisor
"So nobody cums on my chest
And I wind up sounding repressed
But maybe that's all for the best if I want something deeper
And someone who thinks I'm a keeper"
Where do I begin with this precious pearl of a lyric? First of all, to write a sexually explicit lyric about ejaculating upon one's body, and to send it melodically soaring is peak brazenness. Then you've got the superb rhyme of "chest" with "repressed." So we have a cry for sexual freedom, quickly snuffed out. After all that, we bring it home to the real nugget of truth, which is Usher's longing for actual connection with the last two lines. His yearning to be loved for who he is...and isn't that what we all want? Get the F out of here with that 4 lines of genius, Michael R. Jackson!
Jen Schriever, Lighting Designer
“Change is just an illusion”
Michael has called this show "a meditation on a perception of oneself” and I love the reminder that a huge percentage of relief from internal struggle comes from an internal shift, a change of perspective, and self discovery—which are also all the things that contribute to deeply personal and transformational art making. Personally, I’ll be chasing the transformational art making high of A Strange Loop AND it’s lesson of self perception for the rest of my life.