May Madness: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “I Want” Songs


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May is a mad month. A month of random musings about various topics related to musical theatre. Feel free to share your thoughts on each topic in the comment box below.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “I Want” Songs

The “I Want song” is a song category that gained a huge amount of street cred when it was re-popularised by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman in their movie musicals for Disney. Yet the term is perhaps wider than people generally understand it to be from the way it has been used in The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Bob Fosse, who coined it, meant the term to refer to any song that reveals a characters desires and it’s the variations on the formula that make the songs and the shows they come from unique and interesting. Otherwise, one is just stuck with a formula, a child’s set of building blocks rather than the expert architecture of a virtuoso theatremaker.

So for the sheer sake of making a list, here are some of the Rodgers and Hammerstein contributions to the list, theme and variation:

  • “Out of my Dreams” – Oklahoma!
  • “Mister Snow”, “When the Children Are Asleep” and “The Highest Judge of All” – Carousel
  • “It Might as Well Be Spring” – State Fair
  • “So Far” – Allegro
  • “Twin Soliloquies” and “There is Nothing Like a Dame” – South Pacific
  • “A Puzzlement” and “We Kiss in a Shadow” – The King and I
  • “A Very Special Day” – Me and Juliet
  • “Everybody’s Got a Home But Me” – Pipe Dream
  • “In My Own Little Corner” – Cinderella
  • “Sunday” – Flower Drum Song
  • “The Sound of Music” – The Sound of Music

Any others you’d like to add?

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2 Responses to May Madness: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “I Want” Songs

  1. Brian says:

    I agree with all of those Rodgers and Hammerstein songs (and would add “I Have Dreamed”) except for two:

    • “The Sound of Music”: Apart from the ‘My heart wants to…’ bridge, this song deals with already established themes and objects that are important to Maria. As far as I can tell, she doesn’t wish to gain anything (in this song, anyway) that she doesn’t have already.
    • “A Puzzlement”: Again, the King isn’t expressing a wish to gain anything in this song. It’s much more a lament of a lack of understanding things he should already know.
  2. David Fick says:

    “The Sound of Music” is all about Maria’s wish for fulfillment. There’s a reason she is lamenting the end of her day in the hills. She wants the fulfillment that she thought life in the convent would bring her, but which she has hitherto not found. Just because she isn’t literally spelling it out Ariel-style doesn’t mean that this isn’t what that song is about. I think many people forget this because they tend to overlook the set-up of the number, both in terms of the verse that precedes the song proper and because of the contrast we see in the show between Maria’s free spirit and the confining life in the convent. I think there is certainly enough in the song to warrant it as an “I Want” song. What she wants is the sound of music that she hears in the hills in her life as a constant. The freedom to sing is, after all, one of the things denied to her in the convent – and this of course exists on two levels in the show, the literal and the figurative.

    As for “A Puzzlement”, with the King’s lament at a lack of understanding comes a desire to understand those things: ‘In my head are many facts / Of which I wish I was more certain I was sure!’ This want underpins the entire song.

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