Musical theatre is home to core emotions. There are five of them, but there was not always five. From middle school to the first half of my first year college, there was four core emotions. In elementary school, there was less than four core emotions.
What are the five core emotions? They are excitement, joy, love, sad, and heartbreak. The other emotions that exist in musicals sprout from those emotions. Some core emotions combine together such as heartbreak and love and sad. Love is part of joy. Love- that is confusing- that can either be joy or heartbreaking- it depends on the scenario.
The core emotions are extremely important. Those are emotions that exist in a musical theatre song. There are more than five emotions in musical theatre. Without the five core emotions, the rest of the emotions may not exist. Emotions like loneliness and anger sprout from heartbreak, love and sadness. I never knew I was blind to heartbreak growing up until Les Mis entered my life. There is a difference between songs being sad and songs being heartbreaking.
The core musical theatre emotions are the main root that a musical theatre song is. The other emotions in a song come from the main emotion. Do you understand what I mean. The core emotions are excitement, love, joy, sad, and heartbreak. Excitement is the emotion that always shows up in dance and spectacle. Joy shows up in happy scenes, bittersweet scenes, and whether or not if you are having a positive experience.
To continue on yesterday’s heartbreaking love songs, today I thought I would talk about ALL heartbreaking songs. I was 100% blind to heartbreak before my first year of college, but I did know about the emotion of sad. So at least I knew about sad- one of the emotions part of heartbreak. Heartbreak is basically a more devastating form of sad. What are the other emotions associated with heartbreak? The ones I have found are anger, guilt, and loneliness among others. Heartbreak can hit you like a pile of breaks and can reduce you to tears. So now here is a list of the heartbreaking musical theatre songs.
I’m Not That Girl
On My Own
I Dreamed a Dream
Come to Me
Empty Chairs at Empty Tables
Drink With Me
A Little Fall of Rain
Bring Him Home
All I Ask Of You (Reprise)
Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again
If I Can’t Love Her
If I Can’t Love Her (Reprise)
Letter From the Refuge
This Nearly Was Mine
As Long As He Needs Me
These heartbreaking songs come from a number of musicals- Wicked, Newsies, Les Mis, Lion King, West Side Story, Beauty and the Beast, Rent, and Cats. Some of these songs are more devastating than others. Some of them hit me harder than others. Some hit me like a pile of bricks, and some don’t. Some of them make me tear up while others don’t. Heartbreak is one of the most beautiful emotions in musical theatre and one of the strongest.
If a musical theatre song is both a love and sad song, it will ALWAYS be heartbreaking. That is always the truth- that’s for sure. These songs can be ironic or non-ironic. Those songs fall under unrequited love songs, breakup songs, or if the plot is a tragic love story. What are examples of these songs? Below I will list some of those songs.
I’m Not That Girl/ I’m Not That Girl (Reprise)
On My Own
As Long As He Needs Me
This Nearly Was Mine
If I Can’t Love Her/ If I Can’t Love Her (Reprise)
All I Ask Of You (Reprise)
I’m Not That Girl was the FIRST heartbreaking love song I was emotionally connected to, but was sad in the beginning. I never called I’m Not That Girl a sad love song- I never combined emotions together- I called it sad. On My Own, just like I’m Not That Girl, began as a sad song, but after a year I realized it was heartbreaking- On My Own was key to realizing I’m Not That Girl was heartbreaking. As a matter of fact, On My Own made me realize all sad love songs were heartbreaking. The heartbreaking love songs have a combination of emotions- they can be home to sad, anger, and loneliness: it depends on the song and the actor and actress who is playing the character. Some of those heartbreaking love songs are much more heartbreaking than others: for instance, On My Own is more heartbreaking than I’m Not That Girl.
It sounds crazy how some of them are ironic- that means the love situation improves in the end or you don’t expect the character to sing it. I’m Not That Girl is the best example- after all the unrequited love shifts from Elphaba to Glinda, which is why the song is sung twice. In addition, the spell gets broken in Beauty and the Beast, which makes If I Can’t Love Her/ If I Can’t Love Her (Reprise), and Evermore ironic. The same situation happens with This Nearly Was Mine because Nellie goes back to Emelie in the end.
Non ironic- that means the situation NEVER improves in the end. That would mean that character might have unrequited love the entire time. In Les Mis, Eponine has unrequited love for Marius till the end of her journey in Les Mis- she does have a tragic ending, but at the same time, her fate is touching and moving and is home to joy. Eponine’s fate is death, but she gets to die in the arms of Marius after getting shot- that is where the joy comes from. So On My Own is not ironic at all. So the heartbreaking love songs are both ironic and non-ironic.
The heartbreaking love songs are some of the most beautiful songs in musical theatre. They are fragile, vulnerable, and some of them are home to innocence. It just depends on the character and how much they love the person they are in love with at that point in the story.
Finally, I will be talking about the songs. Musical songs are incredible and capable of so much. One thing I definitely want in the songs are the positive and negative emotions.
The positive emotions naturally feel good. They also are the strongest. Excitement, love, and joy are the main positive emotions. They happen in two ways: through the musical itself and the experience. Excitement is that kind of emotion that likes to happen during dance numbers and tends to start the show due to the overture. They just naturally work in a musical. Love is a very common musical emotion because in just about every musical, there is always romance and it is a beautiful emotion. So love feels good and is a very beautiful emotion, which is also part of the negative emotions. These emotions in some situations are easier to notice than the negative emotions.
But what about the negative emotions in the songs? Those are much harder to describe why I want them. Those two main emotions are sad and heartbreak, but love is in this category as well. They are going to hurt in a musical, but at the same time, they give a positive response. Musicals that happen to have sad or heartbreaking songs that are strong enough tend to be the complex musicals. In addition, those that have those songs that are strong enough tend to be the most realistic and it tends to show up in musicals. Love is part of the batch as well due to breakups and unrequited love situations. Heartbreaking and sad songs tend to be these beautiful songs. They can make you cry and can be so powerful that they can give you goosebumps. Of course, these emotions are going to hurt, but when you fall in love with those type of songs, you slowly fall in love with the emotions and is connected to the emotion connection you end up feeling. I began to understand the negative emotions starting in middle school and now as a college student, they truly matured and are more capable than ever before and are more wonderful to feel. Still it is quite hard to describe why I love feeling the negative emotions in the first place.
Why do You Want the Positive and Negative emotions in the Songs in Musicals?
Today will be another list. I wrote musical songs posts before, but I don’t think I ever wrote a list of ensemble songs. The ensemble songs tend to be where the dance is, but sometimes those songs don’t have dance in them at all.
The word sympathy reminds me of musicals. A musical has the advantage of song to make you feel for the characters. They want you to feel empathy for the characters, but sometimes all you can feel sympathy for them especially if you are feeling for a character you don’t like.
The emotions the actors are played to the audience makes the audience feel what the character is feeling. In my eyes, I feel like the characters personally know everyone in the audience and are comfortable with sharing their emotions to the audience even if they are not willing to share it to the other characters.
Some musical emotions are hard to feel and are tough. You don’t want the characters to go through what they are going through at times, but you still learn to care about them and they end up living in you. The negative emotions are the best example of feeling sympathy and eventually empathy for them. I don’t mind feeling the negative emotions especially if I fall in love with the sad and heartbreaking songs and fall in love with the character and plot because you feel like you are ingrained into the plot and when that happens, you end up having a positive experience.
What makes the songs make you feel for the characters? Well, for starters, songs are usually more powerful than words alone. Sometimes a musical’s use of crescendos makes a song feel strong and powerful, which is a very unique thing to see. The crescendo makes you see just how strong a character is and that can make you feel the emotions the song is trying to convey. There are key changes when it comes to a crescendo. Songs like “On My Own”, “One Day More”, “Defying Gravity” among others have a use of crescendos and crescendos help with emotions a lot. It lifts the song and makes a song even more powerful.
I feel like the melody shows the nature of the emotions. A slow and quiet song is how you end up feeling love and the sad or heartbreaking songs fit under that category as well. “I’m Not That Girl” is an unrequited love song, but because the melody stays consistent throughout, it shows that Elphaba’s love for Fiyero is not that strong at that point in the story. But with the case of “On My Own”, which is another unrequited love song, the melody which has this whole introduction shows just dark and empty Eponine’s life is and when that sudden key changes after “all I see is him and me forever and forever”, the melody slowly builds up over time sells how just strong and deep Eponine’s love for Marius is. So melody does play a part in the emotion of the song. The exciting songs have the pattern of starting and suddenly speeds up and that gives you the wow factor that an exciting is supposed to have.
What is your opinion about feeling sympathy and empathy in musicals? Do you like the use of crescendos in musicals? Why you think songs bring out the emotions in the characters better than words alone?