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A Veterans Day Broadway Playlist

Category Broadway

|by Mark Robinson |

Salute our soldiers with this patriotic playlist

Veterans Day, the day Americans set aside to show respect to all of those who served in the United States Armed Forces, will be observed on Monday, November 12, 2018. We honor the bravery, patriotism and the sacrifices these men and women made to ensure the promise of the Red, White and Blue of democracy could be felt the world over. Today, we take a look some of the Broadway musicals that delved into the world of the American soldier at war, and listen to some of the showtunes that ventured to capture their experience.  

Lin-Manuel Miranda leading the original cast of ‘Hamilton’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Lin-Manuel Miranda leading the original cast of ‘Hamilton’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)

On the Town
In the 1944 musical On the Town, three sailors from the Brooklyn Navy Yard are on shore leave for 24 hours and hope to make the most of one full day in New York City. Knowing they are about to be shipped off to war where they could be trading their lives for their country, Gabey, Chip and Ozzie are determined to have an adventure and find love. When the clock winds down and their lark draws to its conclusion, they have achieved what they set out to do. Together, with the ladies they have met, they sing the Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden/Adolph Green standard “Some Other Time,” a song that sums up how hard it is for soldiers and the people they love to part.  

South Pacific
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 musical South Pacific takes place during World War II. Set on and near a Navy installation on a Polynesian island, South Pacific finds us right in the middle of the war, with Seabees, nurses, and officers putting their lives on the line in service to the flag of the United States. One character, a US Marine lieutenant, falls in love with a Tonkinese girl, but feels conflicted about having a relationship with someone of another race. Before putting his life on the line for a mission that will end tragically, Lt. Cable sings the musical’s most emotionally charged song, “Carefully Taught,” which explores how racism is learned and passed on.

During the turbulent 1960s, many young men faced the draft and being sent overseas to fight in the Vietnam War. In the musical Hair, one of these young men, Claude, is conflicted. He is a hippie and opposed to the war, but he wrestles with the expectations of his parents and his country to serve. At a Be-In where many of his fellow hippies are burning their draft cards, Claude sings “Where Do I Go?,” the lead-in to his decision of whether or not to participate. In the end, Claude fights and dies for his country. Much of the Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni and James Rado score addresses the divide our country felt over the war, particularly in the juxtaposition of the ominous “Three-Five-Zero-Zero” against the reflective “What a Piece of Work is Man.” 

Has there ever been a more poignant song about war and the loss of life incurred than “Momma Look Sharp” from the 1969 musical 1776? The American Revolution is well under way, and congress has convened to discuss the possibility of America declaring independence from England. The congressional custodian asks a young courier if he’s seen any fighting in his travels delivering dispatches. The boy relates how his two best friends both died at the Battle of Lexington.

Miss Saigon
Our soldiers have been asked to serve in some of the harshest, most unimaginable conditions that military service can entail. In Miss Saigon, with the Vietnamese capital about to fall to the Viet Cong, U.S. Marine Sergeant Chris Scott finds comfort in the arms of the bar girl Kim. Knowing that the world is falling apart around them, they sing the romantic “The Last Night of the World.” It is only after the city falls and the two are separated that we learn that Kim gave birth to Chris’s child, a fact he learns years later from his friend and fellow soldier John, who works for an aid organization that helps connect Vietnamese children of soldiers with their fathers. “Bui Doi,” or “dust of life,” as it translates, is John’s song, a plea on these kids’ behalf.   

In the musical Allegiance, Japanese-Americans are put in internment camps during World War II. At first, the country is not interested in having them fight, but eventually the draft calls for them as well. Since they are being treated like prisoners, and their rights have been violated, some of those in the camps refuse to fight for a country that treats them as less than human. The song “Resist” by Jay Kuo reflects their anger and defiance. 

White Christmas
The musicals of Irving Berlin were always brimming with Americana and patriotism, so it was no surprise when his score for the 1954 film White Christmas included “What Can You Do With a General?” a tribute to a retired army officer who is beloved by his legions of soldiers. When the old man falls on hard times and his Vermont Inn is poised to close, two of his wartime subordinates put together a show to draw together as many of the boys who served in the general’s regiment to honor him and help boost his business. Of course, the song carried over to the Broadway stage version of White Christmas, commemorating a very special Veterans Day for one particularly beloved veteran.

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

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