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The best Broadway songs of all time

From classics by Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim to Lin-Manuel Miranda, here are the best Broadway songs ever.

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman
&
David Cote
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While there’s nothing quite like seeing a legendary show tune performed live on The Great White Way, you can always satisfy your craving for an emotion-filled performance by cranking up a classic cast recording or binge-watching clips on YouTube. But which ones are the best Broadway songs, the ones that we’ve never been able to get out of our heads? We’re talking the ones that endure throughout the years, being discovered by each new generation through countless high school musicals.

It’s nearly impossible to narrow down such a list of something so subjective, but we’re here to try. With that in mind, we've come up with these 50 Broadway bangers, a mix of classic musical-theater numbers from 1927 through today. Lots of these swept the Tony Awards and come from the best Broadway musicals the world has ever known.

You may not be familiar with all the entries on this list, but trust us — you’ll love them. Maybe they’ll introduce you to a Broadway show to put on your list of must-sees. Maybe you’ll find one to add to your karaoke rotation. Either way, you’ll get an earful of classic, heartfelt tunes that are sure to lift your spirits.

RECOMMENDED: Full listing of Broadway musicals

Best Broadway songs of all time

“Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy (1959)

1. “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy (1959)

Throughout Gypsy, Mama Rose has pushed her children to be stars, even if it meant pushing them away from her. But in the show’s shattering climactic number, she finally takes center stage herself, if only in her mind. Built from fragments of prior songs in Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s classic score, this musical nervous breakdown—created by Sondheim and director Jerome Robbins in an inspired three-hour improvisation—takes Rose apart and reassembles the pieces into a sad and scary portrait of thwarted drive; the strenuous optimism of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” her first-act finale, twists into the unquenchable need of “everything coming up Rose’s.” It’s a feast for actors; no wonder the top leading ladies of their generations, from Ethel Merman and Angela Lansbury through Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone, have yearned to take their turns at it. As often as it’s been wrung out, the song remains inexhaustible.—Adam Feldman

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“Ol’ Man River” from Show Boat (1927)

2. “Ol’ Man River” from Show Boat (1927)

Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat was a prototype for the “integrated” musical that Hammerstein would later popularize with Richard Rodgers, and it also dealt centrally with the question of racial integration. In “Ol’ Man River,” an African-American stevedore named Joe contrasts the travails of poor black workers with the indifference of the Mississippi River: "I get weary and sick of trying / I'm tired of living and scared of dying / But Ol’ Man River, he just keeps rolling along." Sung by a bass—rare for Broadway songs—the song has a rumbling gravity, as Kern’s stately music rises and falls like the swell and recession of water. The effect is at once tragic and soothing: It offers a cosmic perspective on the ups and downs of all the characters connected to the musical’s titular riverboat, tossed on the waves of fortune.—Adam Feldman

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“Finishing The Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George (1984)

3. “Finishing The Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George (1984)

The tune so good Sondheim named his books after it. From seeing Sunday in the Park with George, you know that this moody inner monologue is delivered by the Impressionist painter Georges Seurat as he leaves through his sketchbook and broods on the estrangement of his lover and model, Dot. “Finishing the Hat” is a proud but ultimately pained admission of emotional limits: how the true artist looks at life clinically and formally, missing out on love, perhaps, while seeing so much more. Sondheim expresses George’s obsessive pursuit of pointillist perfection through arpeggiating musical phrases and repeated lyrics: vamping as metaphor for pigmented dots. More than just a portrait of a romantically challenged hero, the song speaks to anyone who’s had trouble connecting or bonding with a lover.—David Cote

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“And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls (1981)

4. “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls (1981)

Even the title is too much. Look how it goes on, awkwardly long, as though refusing to go away. This is the big Broadway song, perhaps the biggest: the one that just won’t quit. Effie White has been rejected by her lover and her Motown-style girl group, but she’s not too proud to beg. The lower she sinks into abjection, she higher she climbs up this mountain of a solo: Henry Krieger’s music pushes her to soul extremes (maximized by original Effie Jennifer Holliday), while Tom Eyen’s lyrics lay her heart out to be trampled. “You’re going to love me,” she insists, and even after she has been left alone onstage, she keeps repeating this futile demand in an aria of denial now sung to no one at all—except, perhaps, to her dressing-room mirror, and to us.—Adam Feldman

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“Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific (1949)

5. “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific (1949)

Good music is onomatopoeia in reverse: sound formed from, and hence transmitting, meaning. That’s certainly the case with this swoony mini-aria, which wraps a pro forma romantic message in a creamy musical envelope; even without Hammerstein’s lyrics, typically delivered by an operatic baritone with a heavy European accent, Rodgers’s tune conjures ephemeral intoxication. And lest this song’s stand-alone hit status and oddly speculative second-person voice (“You may see a stranger”) make us forget: When this love bomb drops in South Pacific’s first scene, it effectively functions as a marriage proposal. Who says no to that?—Rob Weinert-Kendt

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“Cabaret” from Cabaret (1966)

6. “Cabaret” from Cabaret (1966)

The seductively upbeat title song of Cabaret exhorts listeners to loosen up, get down, live a little. It seems like fun, but there’s a catch: Sung late in the show by chanteuse and would-be star Sally Bowles in the waning years of Weimar Germany, John Kander and Fred Ebb's song is weighted with irony and pathos. Celebration (“life is a cabaret, old chum”) slips into nihilism (“it’s only a cabaret, old chum”) as Sally—in a frantic rush of showbiz delusion—commits herself to a blind, headlong hedonism that refuses to take anyone seriously, especially herself, even as the Nazi tide rises to her neck.—Adam Feldman

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“Satisfied” from Hamilton (2015)

7. “Satisfied” from Hamilton (2015)

There are many structurally ingenious songs in the astounding score of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton—picking one was not easy—but “Satisfied” is particularly impressive. Sung by Angelica Schuyler (Renée Elise Goldsberry in the original cast), whose sister marries the title character, it’s a story told in flashback: The lyric is bookended by Angelica toasting the bride and groom on their wedding day, but rewinds to the day she introduced them to each other. Only the audience is privy to Angelica’s inner calculation and regret that she cannot pursue the man she loves. On the show's cast album, produced by QuestLove, the fantastic sound layering and balance of FX versus instruments allow you to dive inside a mind at war with itself. In a musical about ambition, genius and downfall, this song dramatizes with pulse-pounding immediacy a woman throwing away her shot.—David Cote

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“Losing My Mind” from Follies (1971)

8. “Losing My Mind” from Follies (1971)

In Finishing the Hat, Stephen Sondheim modestly describes this trembling torch song as “less an homage to, than a theft of” George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” Even so, it has become one of his best-loved and most concertized tunes. While the melody is definitely reminiscent of Tin Pan Alley pop standards, the lyric is a masterpiece of psychological probing and terse, imagistic writing. In 26 lines of 109 words, Sondheim guides us through a day in the life of Sally Durant, former Follies girl, now middle-aged and unhappily married. Verse by verse, we go from morning to afternoon and evening, each phase a snapshot of depression so deep she’s paralyzed: “Sometimes I stand / In the middle of the floor, / Not going left, / Not going right.” The madness simile in the lyric is drama-queen hyperbole; Sally is romantically deluded, but not clinically insane. Still, for anyone who has suffered obsessive love or self-loathing, the song is unbearably raw. No surprise that generations of fans have lost their head over it.—David Cote

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“Ya Got Trouble” from The Music Man (1957)

9. “Ya Got Trouble” from The Music Man (1957)

Pundits have called this freeform, tongue-twisting sermon a precursor of rap. It was declaimed in The Music Man by con man Harold Hill, a huckster who rolls into an Iowa hick town in 1912 with a scheme to rob it blind. He warns adults that their kids are turning into street-tough “cigarette fiends”—and that only by paying him to form a marching band can morality be saved. In his Tony-winning performance, preserved in the 1962 film, Robert Preston delivered this daredevil piece as nimbly as a racecar champ on a collision course.—James Gavin

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“Some Other Time” from On the Town (1944)

10. “Some Other Time” from On the Town (1944)

After “I’ll Be Seeing You,” the most poignant of World War II goodbye songs might well be “Some Other Time.” It comes from On the Town, a madcap musical about three sailors on 24-hour shore leave in Manhattan. Once the hijinks end, two of the men and their short-term sweethearts look sadly at the clock and sing this ballad, written by Leonard Bernstein and Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Its message is eternal: “When you’re in love, time is precious stuff / Even a lifetime isn’t enough.”—James Gavin

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“A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd (1979)

11. “A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd (1979)

Since we can’t include the entire score of Sweeney Todd, let this first-act finale serve as a synecdoche for Stephen Sondheim’s Grand Guignol masterpiece. Rising out of the harrowing “Epiphany”—in which Sweeney vows to become a serial killer—“A Little Priest” finds his compatriot, Mrs. Lovett, suggesting that they recycle his victims as meat for her struggling pie shop. In a dazzlingly witty comic waltz, they muse about the kinds of people they might cook up (“shepherd’s pie peppered with actual shepherd on top”). But it’s not just a mordant comedy number about cannibalism; it also serves as a character song, with the nattering Lovett set against the fulminating Sweeney, that pushes the plot forward while touching on larger themes: “The history of the world, my sweet / Is who gets eaten and who gets to eat.” Has wickedness ever been quite so delicious? —Adam Feldman

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"Memory" from Cats (1982)

12. "Memory" from Cats (1982)

Much like the blockbuster show it's from, "Memory" is one of those songs that people either love or loathe. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s melody is loosely inspired by various classical sources, and Trevor Nunn's melancholy lyrics draw from T.S. Eliot's poems. There's an undeniable chemistry in the combination, which has helped "Memory" transcend its Broadway roots. You don't need to be a theater queen to know how to belt out the climax: "Touch me / It's so easy to leave me / All alone with the memory / Of my days in the sun." But of course, it probably sounds a lot better when Betty Buckley does it.—Raven Snook

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“There’s No Business Like Show Business” from Annie Get Your Gun (1946)

13. “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from Annie Get Your Gun (1946)

Irving Berlin’s high-stepping paean to entertainment has a cynical undercurrent: “Even with a turkey that you know will fold, you may be stranded out in the cold / Still you wouldn't change it for a sack of gold.” In the context of Annie Get Your Gun, members of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show use the song to get Annie Oakley to join the troupe. (It’s part of a kind of backstage subgenre, like Cole Porter’s “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” and Pinocchio’s “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee.”) The instantly catchy song is reprised three times and has passed into iconic status on stage and screen.—David Cote

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“You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel (1945)

14. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel (1945)

The best of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s secular hymns had a dual purpose in its original setting: as grief counseling for newly widowed Julie Jordan after her husband’s suicide, and as a climactic high school graduation anthem for their daughter. To meet both demands, Hammerstein contributed almost entirely monosyllabic lyrics and Rodgers banked his fire, keeping things folk-simple until the title phrase, for which he unleashed a cloud-bursting chord per syllable. The song’s repurposing has continued: It’s the official club anthem of Liverpool’s football team.—Rob Weinert-Kendt

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“One Day More” from Les Misérables (1987)

15. “One Day More” from Les Misérables (1987)

At once a summary and a cliffhanger, the Act I finale of Les Miz offers a thrilling compression of the musical’s epic narrative. In turn, eight main characters sing melodies we’ve heard throughout the first act (notably as “Who Am I?,” “I Dreamed a Dream” and “Master of the House”); then they sing them all at the same time, in a counterpoint of clashing wills that converges into unison. With powerful force, composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyricists Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer sweep the show into a ball and hurl it out into intermission.—Adam Feldman

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“Big Spender” from Sweet Charity (1966)

16. “Big Spender” from Sweet Charity (1966)

In this steamy come-on, partners-for-hire in an old Times Square dance hall try to squeeze some bucks out of the schlubs in attendance. The bump-and-grind stripper beat came from composer and jazz pianist Cy Coleman; Dorothy Fields provided the comically hard-boiled words of seduction; and Bob Fosse gave the girls their slithery, syncopated moves. “Big Spender” portrays ‘60s New York as a sexed-up fast lane where love is for sale and the naïve—like the show’s lovestruck lead character, Charity Hope Valentine—get clobbered.—James Gavin

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"Don’t Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl (1964)

17. "Don’t Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl (1964)

There's a reason this rousing power ballad is the closing number in both acts of the Fanny Brice biomusical. Thanks to Jule Styne's soaring melody and Bob Merrill's defiant, I'll-do-what-I-want lyrics, it's an iconic female-empowerment anthem—despite the unlucky-in-love comedian’s decision to run off with a gambling cad. Not that anyone could convince her to do otherwise: "Don't Rain on My Parade" is Fanny's YOLO cry as she chases what her heart desires. The 22-year-old Barbra Streisand's breathtaking vocals on the original cast album have inspired many a wannabe stage star, not to mention karaoke queens of all genders.—Raven Snook

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“Aquarius” from Hair (1968)

18. “Aquarius” from Hair (1968)

For a musical purportedly running on hippie flower power and gloopy starshine, it’s striking that Hair's bookends are a pair of bad-ass minor-key blues chorales: this funky, driving opener and the rafter-shaking closer “Let the Sunshine In.” Wafting in like stage fog over a brooding organ and a siren-like wail of guitar feedback, “Aquarius” may proffer dubious astrology and peacenik platitudes (courtesy of lyricists James Rado and Gerome Ragni), but composer Galt MacDermot’s churning, darkly tuneful music both grounds and elevates it.—Rob Weinert-Kendt

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"All That Jazz" from Chicago (1975)

19. "All That Jazz" from Chicago (1975)

Those high-pitched brass bursts! That tuba underscoring! The come-hither, babyish vocals by original star Chita Rivera, and Bebe Neuwirth’s growlier take in the 1996 revival! This sexy yet sinister opening number brilliantly sets the mood for Chicago’s darkly comic satire of the good ol’ American goals of fame and fortune. You can’t see Bob Fosse's legendary choreography on the cast recording, but somehow you can feel it in the bump-and-grind of John Kander's jazzy melody and Fred Ebb's suggestive lyrics, which conjure a sultry picture of an illicit night out on the town.—Raven Snook

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“Summertime” from Porgy and Bess (1935)

20. “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess (1935)

Despite the ear-splitting volume with which most sopranos sing it, this standard is a lullaby, written by George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward for their fabled folk opera about embattled blacks in the 1930s Deep South. “Summertime” is a young mother’s promise to the infant in her arms that “nothin’ can harm you / So hush, little baby, don’t you cry.” Gershwin, a Brooklyn-born Jew, drew upon blues, spirituals and folk to compose a song so lushly melodic that he surprised even himself, and Stephen Sondheim has called Heyward’s words “the best lyrics in the musical theater.”—James Gavin

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“If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof (1964)

21. “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof (1964)

Some theater songs are whole plays in miniature; that this is one of them maybe shouldn’t be surprising, as it’s based on a Sholem Aleichem folk tale that wasn't used for the show’s main plot. As such, it’s less an “I Want” song than an “I Am” song—a wistful introduction not to the things that drive the poor milkman Tevye but to how he sees himself. Amid the affectionate domestic humor of Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics is an insight that the original Tevye, Zero Mostel, insisted the writers keep: This is a man whose ultimate idea of luxury is more time to pray and read the Torah.—Rob Weinert-Kendt

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“Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music (1973)

22. “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music (1973)

Stephen Sondheim has expressed surprise that this rueful ballad has become his best-known song beyond the Broadway world. But the piece has a beautiful balance of emotion and tact; in the brevity of its phrases, and the silence that follows them, lies a wealth of unspoken feeling. Sung by Desiree, an actress, the lyrics are suffused with show-business metaphor—“Making my entrance again with my usual flair, / Sure of my lines, / No one is there”—but “Send in the Clowns” is resolutely unshowy. In the context of A Little Night Music, which teems with wickedly fast and clever verbiage (as in “The Miller’s Son” and “A Weekend in the Country”), the song’s slow, simple, bitter simplicity makes it stand out all the more.—Adam Feldman

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“Lot’s Wife” from Caroline, or Change (2004)

23. “Lot’s Wife” from Caroline, or Change (2004)

This stunning 11-o’clock number would be overwhelming if it all weren’t so clearly and forcefully laid out by librettist Tony Kushner and composer Jeanine Tesori. Caroline, an embittered black maid who has squabbled over pocket change with the young son of the Jewish family she serves, wrenchingly weighs her complicity in her own misery. She tears through shifting meters and styles, presses words through multiple meanings—“Pocket change change me,” a climactic cry of “Flat!” that piles spiritual and musical connotations onto her hot iron—and reaches a kind of truce with her own rage.—Rob Weinert-Kendt

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"Tonight" from West Side Story (1957)

24. "Tonight" from West Side Story (1957)

Even haters can't stop their hearts from melting when they hear this gorgeous, lilting love song, as star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria make like Romeo and Juliet on a tenement fire escape. Leonard Bernstein's classically tinged melody and Stephen Sondheim's poetic lyrics capture the all-encompassing rapture of teen romance. You can't help feeling invigorated (and, perhaps, envious). West Side Story’s complex first-act finale expands the song into a stunning, operatic quintet that allows all of the musical’s protagonists to voice their hopes and impending plans, in a masterful combination of music and dramaturgy.—Raven Snook

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“Adelaide’s Lament” from Guys And Dolls (1950)

25. “Adelaide’s Lament” from Guys And Dolls (1950)

Among Frank Loesser’s many great gifts as a songwriter was his ability—like Dorothy Fields, Sheldon Harnick and Howard Ashman—to craft comic character songs that remain warm, endearing and funny decades later. In “Adelaide’s Lament,” a sneezy showgirl, whose mobster boyfriend won’t commit to marrying her, processes the clinical language of a medical textbook (“psychosomatic symptoms…affecting the upper respiratory tract”) into common talk: “In other words, just from waiting around for that little band of gold / A person can develop a cold.” Her boyfriend’s fear of commitment is literally making her sick.—Adam Feldman

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“I Got Rhythm” from Girl Crazy (1930)

26. “I Got Rhythm” from Girl Crazy (1930)

This frantic, jazz-age cry of glee made Ethel Merman a star. Her bugle voice was all brassy brightness as she belted its cheerful refrain: “I got rhythm / I got music / I got my man / Who could ask for anything more?” The plot of its parent musical, Girl Crazy, is lame—a gaggle of New York entertainers are recruited to perform on an Arizona dude ranch—but George Gershwin felt he’d never written a better song. Its hip chord changes would later be used as the basis for countless bebop tunes. —James Gavin

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“Defying Gravity” from Wicked (2003)

27. “Defying Gravity” from Wicked (2003)

The first great 21st century power ballad on Broadway, Wicked’s Act I finale is almost scientifically engineered to succeed. In just under six minutes, Stephen Schwartz ruptures the friendship between Elphaba and Galinda; gives his green-skinned heroine a personal epiphany in which she owns her otherness; and sends her freaking flying as she sings a crazy series of high notes on stage machinery. We can’t wait for intermission to be over so we can see what happens next to our geektastic antihero. Since the 1970s, Schwartz has been the bard of the wide-eyed aspirational escapist, and “Defying Gravity” is the zenith of that “Corner of the Sky” vibe. Gracefully orchestrated by William David Brohn, arranged by Alex Lacamoire and Stephen Oremus and sung to breathy-brassy perfection by role originator Idina Menzel, this is belty self-empowerment at its finest.—David Cote

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“Glitter And Be Gay” from Candide (1956)

28. “Glitter And Be Gay” from Candide (1956)

This ain’t no song, kids; it’s an aria. Although opera and its ditsy younger sister, operetta, are in the DNA of the Broadway musical, most show-tune vocalizing is more a matter of brass and volume than beautifully shaped notes. In this comic showstopper from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, set to trippingly witty lyrics by Richard Wilbur, a Broadway diva with classical chops gets to strut her coloratura. Bernstein flirts with Mozartean pyrotechnics, particularly in the stratospheric trilling of the “ha ha ha” section. In terms of content, the number’s a campy diva mash-up of lament and ostentation. Our damsel Cunegonde has turned up in Paris, where she lives the bejeweled and sparkling life of a pampered courtesan. The great soprano Barbara Cook originated the role in the prime of her career, but the song has shone brilliantly in the hands of Madeline Kahn and Kristin Chenoweth, too.—David Cote

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“Ring of Keys” from Fun Home (2015)

29. “Ring of Keys” from Fun Home (2015)

A great theater song goes places, but few travel as unexpectedly far and deep as this ebullient epiphany from the musical version of Alison Bechdel’s memoir. The first trip is back in time, as 43-year-old Alison recalls her 10-year-old self admiring a butch lesbian at a diner; but the song’s real journey is the steep inward dive inspired by her shock of recognition. Lisa Kron’s lyric judiciously balances childlike precocity with stereotype-free hindsight, as Jeanine Tesori’s music spins subtly swelling cartwheels underneath, but the genius move is to leave blank space for young Alison to literally think out loud: “I feel…” and “I want...to....” and “I...um…” Into these spaces a whole heart, and a lifetime, can rush.—Rob Weinert-Kendt

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“Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” (a.k.a. “Bewitched”) from Pal Joey (1940)

30. “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” (a.k.a. “Bewitched”) from Pal Joey (1940)

No character on Broadway was ever so glad to be had as Vera Simpson, the married, over-40 socialite in this Rodgers & Hart milestone. Vera loses her head over sexy cad Joey, a two-bit hoofer and wannabe club owner who only excels in the sack. Vera sizes him up in the showstopping “Bewitched,” and decides that it’s a win-win. Lorenz Hart turned sexual obsession into a feast of self-skewering wit, virtuoso rhyming and saucy innuendo. “He’s a laugh but I love it,” sings Vera, “Because the laugh’s on me.”—James Gavin

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“My Ship” from Lady in the Dark (1941)

31. “My Ship” from Lady in the Dark (1941)

Lady in the Dark may be dated—fashion-magazine editor Liza Elliot undergoes Freudian psychoanalysis, illustrated in extended dream sequences—but it ought to be revived on the strength of the score. This dreamy little gem is the final number, and immediately recognizable as a Kurt Weill composition: the wistful, almost mournful opening notes, the jazzy swing, the sweetness shading into menace. Ira Gershwin penned the elegant lyrics, which use vivid nautical imagery to describe a richly stocked vessel that Liza hopes will also convey her “own true love.” Gertrude Lawrence was first to play Liza and her plummy recording is enchanting, but singers such as Sarah Vaughan, Judy Garland and Dawn Upshaw have also piloted this pretty bark.—David Cote

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"Totally Fucked" from Spring Awakening (2006)

32. "Totally Fucked" from Spring Awakening (2006)

In context it's a cri de coeur of adolescent angst, but Duncan Sheik's guitar-heavy groove and Steven Sater's profanity-filled lyrics have an uncanny way of tapping into whatever anger you're feeling and helping you let it out, regardless of your age. The climactic, gloriously harmonized chanting of "blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah" is cathartic no matter what you're going through; I listened to this rock 'n' roll rant on repeat for three days after the 2016 presidential election.—Raven Snook

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“At the Ballet” from A Chorus Line (1975)

33. “At the Ballet” from A Chorus Line (1975)

In the long-running A Chorus Line, dancing is a lifesaver and a reason for being; an audition for a spot in a Broadway ensemble is a chance to feel accepted at last. “At the Ballet” introduces us to three young women who grew up feeling homely, unloved or both; the ballet was an oasis of “graceful men and lovely girls in white,” a place where “everything was beautiful.” Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban’s song has spoken to countless lost souls.—James Gavin

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"Seasons of Love" from Rent (1996)

34. "Seasons of Love" from Rent (1996)

This hauntingly beautiful ballad is delivered directly to the audience at the top of Act II, as a motley crew of artists affected by AIDS steps downstage and out of the story to ask, "How do you measure a year?" The song movingly evokes tragic losses both onstage and off—and especially the unexpected death of Rent creator Jonathan Larson, at age 35, on the morning of the show's first Off Broadway preview. It's impossible to divorce this song from that sad fact, which only makes its message of the importance of love more potent.—Raven Snook

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“The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha (1965)

35. “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha (1965)

The term anthem gets thrown around a lot when describing Broadway songs (present list included). Usually it’s shorthand for any ditty that has a simple but memorable melody and lyrics that inspire. “The Impossible Dream” is a prime example, sung by the deluded but chivalric Don Quixote when asked by peasant hottie Aldonza about this “quest” he keeps referring to. Joe Darion’s crisp, pulsing lyrics are imbued with lofty, knightly ideals (“To right the unrightable wrong / To love pure and chaste from afar”) and Mitch Leigh’s stately, martial music builds to a satisfyingly righteous climax. “Dream” is also one of those songs that work quite well outside its original context. Its underdog-fighting-the-system sentiment is strong enough to cause a lump in your throat, whatever your political stripe.—David Cote

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“Lost in the Stars” from Lost in the Stars (1949)

36. “Lost in the Stars” from Lost in the Stars (1949)

Apartheid South Africa was the grim setting for Kurt Weill’s final musical, with book and lyrics by Pulitzer Prize winner Maxwell Anderson. The title song became a civil-rights anthem, though not a hopeful one. In “Lost in the Stars,” a black priest looks at the shattered lives around him and wonders if “maybe God’s gone away.” Todd Duncan, the original Porgy in Porgy and Bess, introduced this stirring spiritual; since then it’s become an all-purpose cry of abandonment in an unforgiving universe.—James Gavin

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“Another Hundred People” from Company (1970)

37. “Another Hundred People” from Company (1970)

Company is about relationships—those of its hero, Robert, who can’t commit to one woman until his big romantic epiphany in “Being Alive.” And yet Stephen Sondheim’s “Another Hundred People” is a wide-angle song, an observational ode to disconnection and anonymity in the big city: so many bodies, so little connection. In it, people are seen as ants scurrying on and off buses, subways and planes. Is the sentiment dated? Not really. We still live in “a city of strangers,” as the lyric cuttingly observes, and toys such as Tinder and Twitter have not done much to banish isolation. Jonathan Tunick’s colorful orchestration (check out that groovy synth) deepens the pathos and adds hopefulness to what is essentially a meditation on urban anomie.—David Cote

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“Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors (2003)

38. “Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors (2003)

“Lift up your head,” sings nebbishy florist Seymour to his coworker Audrey at the start of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s soaring love duet. “Wipe off your mascara.” They’re imperatives, but he’s not bossing her around like the creeps she’s been drawn to in the past; he’s nurturing her and supporting her, like a gardener, to let her grow. And it works: Audrey begins the song tentatively but ends in an explosive rock belt (immortalized in Ellen Greene’s original 1982 Off Broadway performance)—the sound of love and self-esteem bursting into long-suppressed bloom.—Adam Feldman

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“Something Wonderful” from The King and I (1951)

39. “Something Wonderful” from The King and I (1951)

Open-hearted, earnest Oscar Hammerstein II could be underrated in the indirection department. After all, he gave this strange, and strangely moving, pep-talk anthem to a supporting character, Lady Thiang, at a pivotal point in the impasse between Anna and the King, the show’s quasi-romantic leads. As she lauds her husband-monarch’s fickle, flickering greatness, with a mix of damning faint praise and sincere special pleading, she somehow makes Anna—and us—feel it. It doesn’t hurt that Richard Rodgers rose majestically to the occasion, crafting a monumental, angular musical portrait of the song’s offstage subject.—Rob Weinert-Kendt

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"I Am What I Am" from La Cage Aux Folles (1983)

40. "I Am What I Am" from La Cage Aux Folles (1983)

Arguably the ultimate gay Broadway anthem—helped in part by dance diva Gloria Gaynor's popular cover—"I Am What I Am" was groundbreaking when it debuted: a poignant paean to self-love, self-invention and self-acceptance, performed by a drag-queen character and written by gay composer-lyricist Jerry Herman. It's a celebration of being out, loud and proud, written years before marriage equality and gender-neutral bathrooms became political movements. If the lyrics don't stir your soul, the multiple modulations should do the trick.—Raven Snook

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“Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” from Evita (1979)

41. “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” from Evita (1979)

The common people of 1940s Argentina, the descamisados, have been clamoring for her. But when their new first lady, Eva Perón, appears on the balcony of the Presidential Palace, she temporarily quiets them with a song. Like Shakespeare’s Richard III, Eva makes a great show of not wanting power, the better to solidify it. Therein lies the song’s central tension: Tim Rice’s lyric about humility—cry for me, here, means call my name, not shed tears (which will come later)—is set to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s lushest and grandest music in the show.—Adam Feldman

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"Maybe" from Annie (1977)

42. "Maybe" from Annie (1977)

It’s not an incessantly optimistic earworm like Annie's other big solo hit, "Tomorrow," but that's to its benefit. More emotionally nuanced, "Maybe" dares to let the precocious orphan confront her worst fears; she may be voicing a misty fantasy about her long-lost parents, but its very title implies that she knows it's a pipe dream. Martin Charnin's heart-tugging lyrics are complemented by Charles Strouse's wistful, meandering melody, sure to spark nostalgia in any listener who’s lost something they can't get back.—Raven Snook

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"Hello, Dolly" from Hello, Dolly! (1964)

43. "Hello, Dolly" from Hello, Dolly! (1964)

This is perhaps the greatest star-entrance song ever—even if it does take place midway through Act II. Jerry Herman's title tune is decidedly old-fashioned, in part because the show takes place in 1880s New York and was written in the early 1960s, but also because he's a master at penning Golden Age of Broadway–style hits. Although Carol Channing, with her signature rasp, made the tune famous onstage, it was Louis Armstrong's even raspier version that earned the song international acclaim and a 1965 Grammy Award for Song of the Year.—Raven Snook

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“People Will Say We’re in Love” from Oklahoma! (1943)

44. “People Will Say We’re in Love” from Oklahoma! (1943)

Musical theater’s version of the screwball comedy trope of the Lovers Who Can’t See They’re in Love—the “Of Course I’m Not in Love with You (Yet)” song—has many fine exemplars (Carousel’s “If I Loved You,” Brigadoon’s “Almost Like Being in Love,” Guys and Dolls’s “I’ll Know”). But few are as witty, playfully reciprocal and, yes, sexy as this bit of romantic gamesmanship, which features one of Richard Rodgers’s most felicitously constructed and artfully ornamented tunes. (Listen for the sly inversion of notes on “Don’t throw” and “Don’t start.”)—Rob Weinert-Kendt

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"If He Walked into My Life Today" from Mame (1966)

45. "If He Walked into My Life Today" from Mame (1966)

A powerful showstopper about the challenges of motherhood, sung by a character who never had kids of her own, Mame's tearjerking 11-o'clock number finds the show’s eccentric, bohemian heroine questioning everything she did wrong (and right) in raising her now-grown nephew. Jerry Herman's lush, romantic melody is cleverly contrasted with his introspective lyrics, beautiful articulated by Angela Lansbury, who originated the part on Broadway. Her consummate interpretation of the song and the role may explain why the musical hasn't been mounted on the Main Stem in more than years, though many fans think it's ripe for another go-round.—Raven Snook

“Anything Goes” from Anything Goes (1934)

46. “Anything Goes” from Anything Goes (1934)

Cole Porter wrote more than his share of durable melodies, but his true metier was arguably this kind of brittle, urbane word jazz, a kind of proto-hip-hop in which rhythmic flow and rhyming invention were everything. Though his original lyrics, full of wicked references to scandals and contretemps of his day, have often been censored or substituted with less topical variants, a listen to his demo reveals that it isn’t arrangers or interpreters who’ve made Porter’s standards rock: The high-wire syncopations, feints and sheer brass are all built into the original model.—Rob Weinert-Kendt

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“Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from Avenue Q (2003)

47. “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from Avenue Q (2003)

Comedy songs don’t get a lot of respect in best-of lists. But composer-lyricists Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx took a song about casual racism and whipped it into an up-tempo, feel-good lesson song about accepting your inner bigot. The music, like a lot of Avenue Q, riffs off the kid-friendly sound of Sesame Street, while the lyrics sit perfectly on the bouncy line: “If we all could just admit that we are racist a little bit / And everyone stopped being so P.C. / Maybe we could live in harmony.” Sweetly satirical and genuinely funny, the song pokes fun at African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Jews, Mexicans and oh, yeah, monsters. We’ve come a long way from “You Have to Be Carefully Taught.”—David Cote

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“Whatever Lola Wants” from Damn Yankees (1955)

48. “Whatever Lola Wants” from Damn Yankees (1955)

The national pastime took on a Satanic twist in Damn Yankees, Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’s musical about an older married man who trades his soul for the chance to become the baseball star of his dreams. When he gets cold feet, the devil sends a leggy temptress, Lola (played by Gwen Verdon), to keep him in check. She entices him with this throbbing tango. “Whatever Lola Wants” was torrid stuff for ‘50s Broadway; Verdon’s future husband, choreographer Bob Fosse, turned up the heat by having her writhe around the object of her seduction like the snake in the Garden of Eden.—James Gavin

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“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from My Fair Lady (1956)

49. “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from My Fair Lady (1956)

The first act of Shaw’s Pygmalion ends with Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle indulging in the luxury of a cab ride home to her Drury Lane digs. My Fair Lady’s first scene ends similarly, but not before she imagines—in this jaunty, syncopated minuet, one of many seemingly effortless, ageless gems in Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s score—earthly comforts so modest (heat, chocolate, a chair) that the song would be heartbreaking if not for its warm grin. It’s the “I Want” song of someone with little reason to believe she’ll attain it, and it’s all the sweeter for it.—Rob Weinert-Kendt

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“Ease on Down the Road” from The Wiz (1975)

50. “Ease on Down the Road” from The Wiz (1975)

The Wizard of Oz got a funky overhaul in The Wiz, the all-black Best Musical of 1975. The tune that made it a hit was “Ease on Down the Road,” composer Charlie Smalls’s soul-disco spin on “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.” Throughout the show, Dorothy chants it with the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion while they shuck and jive their way to Oz. As the indignities pile up, this song is their upbeat anthem of endurance and brotherhood.—James Gavin

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