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A Star-Spangled 4th of July Broadway Playlist

Category Broadway

|by Mark Robinson |


Celebrate Independence Day with these patriotic show tunes

Independence Day is almost here, and it is impossible to let the celebration of our country’s birth pass by without putting together a Broadway playlist that celebrates the event. From musicals that are actually about America’s declaration of independence from Great Britain and musicals that thematically support what our country stands for, to shows that simply evoke the spirit of Americana, we hope you’ll enjoy collection of patriotic show tunes curated for your 4th of July listening pleasure.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Christopher Jackson perform a number from ‘Hamilton’ (Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Christopher Jackson perform a number from ‘Hamilton’ (Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

“You’re a Grand Old Flag” from George Washington, Jr. (1906)

Composer, lyricist, playwright, performer, director and producer George M. Cohan is best remembered for penning many a showtune that celebrates the spirit of America. One of hist most enduring is the patriotic “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” written for the 1906 Broadway musical George Washington, Jr. This song has become such an important part of the American Songbook, it is easy to forget that it started out in a theatrical piece.

“Take Care of this House” from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue 

For America’s Bicentennial, Coca-Cola sponsored the Leonard Bernstein/Alan Jay Lerner musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to commemorate two-hundred years as a country. The piece used the White House and its inhabitants from 1792 to 1902 to tell America’s story, giving us a glimpse into the lives of presidents such as Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. Though the show was a flop, the score continues to be regarded as rich and lovely, with “Take Care of this House” a moving standout. 

“76 Trombones” from The Music Man 

The 1957 Broadway musical The Music Man, written by Meredith Wilson, is just dripping with Americana. The musical is set in and around the 4th of July in the year 1912 as a flim-flam salesman tries to sell musical instruments and marching band uniforms to the denizens of a small Iowa town. Willson wrote some glorious pastiche numbers that evoked the time period beautifully, including the John Phillip Sousa-inspired march “76 Trombones,” a mainstay of the marching band set.

“The Egg” from 1776

If any Broadway musical ever captured the moments leading up to American Independence, composer Sherman Edwards and bookwriter Peter Stone’s 1776 takes us to that daunting time and place. As congress first hears aloud the reading of the Declaration of Independence, the uncertainty of it being ratified weighs on the minds of its author Thomas Jefferson and his committee cohorts John Adams and Ben Franklin. “The Egg” captures their hopes and fears as they wait inside the “congressional incubator” waiting for the future of American to unfold.

“Love Is Sweeping the Country” from Of Thee I Sing 

The first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama was the 1931 satire of American politics, Of Thee I Sing. With a score by George Gershwin (music) and Ira Gershwin (lyrics), and a book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, the musical follows the altruistic presidential campaign of John P. Wintergreen and his Vice Presidential candidate, the completely forgettable Alexander Throttlebottom. Wintergreen is running on the platform of “love,” and the ditty Love is Sweeping the Country” sums up his breezy outlook.

“The Parade” from Take Me Along! 

Another musical set during the 4th of July is 1959’s Take Me Along!, based on the comedy Ah, Wilderness by Eugene O’Neill. Theatrical producer David Merrick was in search of a property that he hoped would mimic the success of The Music Man, and so he insisted that composer-lyricist Bob Merrill create a score that evoked that same nostalgia. Merrill came up with the agreeable “The Parade” that opened the show with patriotic gusto.

“Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor” from Miss Liberty 

Irving Berlin, like George M. Cohan, had a real knack for conjuring songs that spoke to the average American and made their hearts beat with an undaunted patriotism. One of his lesser-known scores was for the 1949 Broadway musical Miss Liberty, which told the story of the creation of what would come to be known as “The Statue of Liberty.” Berlin drew from Emma Lazarus’s sonnet “The New Colossus” (found at the base of the statue) to write Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor.”

“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” from Hamilton 

We cannot leave the smash hit Hamilton off this list. Indeed, the musical is as patriotic as 1776, while digging even deeper and pointing out the flaws in the system that left many minorities out of the collective story that is America. Lin-Manuel Miranda devised a score that included hip hop, pop, soul, rap, R&B and traditional showtunes. Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” is an arresting conclusion for the musical, a study in how history is shaped and shared.

“America” from West Side Story

“Puerto Rico is in America” is a lyric that stands out in the song “America” from West Side Story, reminding us that who we are as a country extends far past any borders we want to accept or understand. “America” with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is an electrified and passionate debate over what makes our country great. 

“Ragtime” from Ragtime 

One of the things that makes America great is that melting pot of the myriad cultures, races, religions and individuals that came together over the years to construct it. It hasn’t been an easy road, with uncertainty, fear and differences to overcome. No other showtune quite captures all of this better than the title song from the musical Ragtime. Lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty expertly intertwined dozens of characters and a variety of musical sounds in one song, demonstrating the diversity of America in the process.

Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals, The Disney Song Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia of Television Theme Songs. He maintains a theater and entertainment blog at markrobinsonwrites.com.

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