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
There’s nothing quite like seeing a legendary show tune performed live in a great Broadway musical, but you can always satisfy your craving for emotion-filled performance by cranking up a cast recording or binge-watching clips on YouTube. But which are the very best Broadway songs—the ones that endure through the years because they not only stick in our heads but also capture some essense of the genre?
It’s nearly impossible to create 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. Many of these come from the best Broadway musicals the Great White Way has ever known; to narrow the field a bit, we've limited ourselves to a single song per show. (And sorry, jukebox musicals and movie adaptations: Only songs written for the stage are eigible.)
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 new 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 tunes that are sure to stir your heart.
RECOMMENDED: Full listing of Broadway musicals