My Top Five Lyricists Of Musical Theatre in My Lifetime

Patrick Connolly

In no particular order:

Stephen Sondheim 
Best song: “Move On” from Sunday in the Park With George

Reason: “Move On” is a glorious representation of Sondheim’s work as a whole. It’s amazing how Sondheim combines simplicity (instrumentals) and complexity (songwriting) within his work, which results in an emotionally stimulating experience. With “Move On”, the beauty of the instrumentals shoots straight for the heart, but the lyrics are the real meat of the song. They are constantly thought-provoking throughout, with my favorite line being “stop worrying if your vision is new; let others make that decision, they usually do”. Far too often, we are handed a work of art, and we attempt to label it either “predictable” or “groundbreaking”. This song presents a relevant truth: with a powerfully unique perspective on the world, we are given more to understand about ourselves and each other.  Sondheim’s genius shines through.
Lynn Ahrens 
Best Song: “Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime 

Reason: The most under appreciated lyricist on this list has several songs she has written that are genuine spellbinders (I’m even in one right now where she wrote the lyrics! It rhymes with Meussical!), and sure enough, there are spellbinders abound in an amazing musical like “Ragtime”. “Our Children”, much like Ahrens herself, is as under appreciated as you can get; just the simplicity alone strikes a chord for parents who have taken care of children for years. And don’t get me started on “Your Daddy’s Son”, which plays out like an emotional roller coaster, starting off as a quiet lullaby, leading to a heartbreaking display of grief, until it arrives at the calm after the storm. But “Make Them Hear You” takes the cake as Ahrens’ VERY best song; even when taking out of context, it presents a universal message about the importance of standing for what’s right, and not being ashamed to do so. Even if It only lasts two minutes long, when it’s over, you may very well feel inspired to go out and change the world for what it could be. Simply incredible.    
Lin Manuel Miranda 
Best Song: “96,000” from In The Heights 

Reason: I’m a sucker for amazing musical numbers in the middle of an act. I’m also a sucker for Lin Manuel Miranda’s glorious songwriting. When you put the two together, you get “96,000”, and the result is flat-out mesmerizing. There are about five to six references made under the course of twenty seconds (my personal favorite is a reference to “Mr. Frodo of the Shire”); think about it, most comedies filled with pop culture references would make a reference, breathe for a few minutes, and then make another reference, and so forth. Nope. FIVE TO SIX REFERENCES are created under the course of twenty seconds, and ALL OF THEM are hilarious. This song is a masterclass of how to reference pop culture while advancing the characters’ desires and personalities. The rest of the song? What else could I say that hasn’t been said? It kills me that I never saw this performed on a Broadway stage, but when I DID see it performed in a production a couple of years ago, it gave me legitimate goosebumps. Someday, I will kiss the feet of Mr. Manuel Miranda. Someday. 
Perhaps a trip to see Hamilton? I heard they have $10 front row lottery tickets.

 David Lindsay-Abaire
Best song: “Who I’d Be” from Shrek the Musical 

Reason:  I’m gonna praise the bejesus out of “Who I’d Be” from Shrek the Musical, an under appreciated gem of musical theater. I’ve performed this song on numerous occasions: I used this for a musical audition, I performed this at a talent show, and I performed this at an open mic night. There’s a reason for this: right now, during this time of my life, I connect with the song’s message greatly. I love how the song says that we could accomplish many things, and all we need are a couple of great support systems. Maybe not exactly like Donkey or Fiona, but you get the jist. Also, from start to finish, this song is beautifully, BEAUTIFULLY written. I mean, c’mon, what other songs have lyrics such as “smelling like a herring?” It’s a gem of musical theater songwriting that seems to hide all alone. It needs a pal. Is my calendar open? 
Brian Yorkey 
Best song: “Always Starting Over” from If/Then 

Reason: I could have gone the easy wrote, and wrote something about Next to Normal, but given that I’ve already gushed and gushed about it recently on this blog, I’ve decided to something different. And folks, I don’t think I could have picked a better alternative.
I haven’t seen If/Then yet, and after hearing this song, I feel like I already made a mistake. I mean, just LOOK at these lyrics:
“All that has happened is happening now
All that might happen is here somehow 
All of the choices that made me me 
All of the accidents yet to be
All that’s ahead
And all that’s behind
It’s all in the moment
I’ve made up my mind
And open my heart
And start
And start”

I think the lyrics already express what I would have written. God bless Brian Yorkey and his exceptional songwriting skills.

Leave your comments as to who you think are the best lyricists in musical theater!