Nobody I know enjoys dating. In fact, everyone I know who is married or in a stable relationship constantly seems to go on about how glad they are that they don’t have to date anymore. Of course, that seems to indicate that bad dates come around more often than good dates. But experience tells us that there are good dates to be had. And so do musicals. So let’s take a look at ten great musical theatre dates – just in time for Valentine’s Day – all of which are available to see in the YouTube playlist at the end of the post.
The bench scene in Carousel is a landmark scene in musical theatre history, owing to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s seamless integration of scene and song. But it’s also a great date, and arguably the high point of Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan’s relationship. While blossoms are falling and stars twinkling, Billy and Julie can’t help but wonder what would happen if they loved one another, having already lost their hearts to one another.
2. South Pacific
South Pacific starts off with a great date. Nellie Forbush is visiting Emile de Becque. She is a naive US Navy nurse and he is a worldly French plantation owner. Having met on the island in the South Pacific where Nellie is stationed, Emile wines and dines the young nurse and in the blink of an eye, she’s gone from being “A Cockeyed Optimist” to understanding just about everything “Some Enchanted Evening” can provide. Of course, they have a whole lot of Nellie’s ingrained racism to work through, but if anything can shift your beliefs that the world isn’t what you thought it was, it’s a war.
3. Guys and Dolls
Sarah Brown doesn’t know what’s waiting in store for her in Havana. On the arm of Sky Masterson, she falls in love for the first time to the sound of some pulsating Latin American rhythms. Loosened up after knocking back a few Dulce de Leches, she even survives a bar brawl and comes up singing about what she would do if she were a bell. The film version jettisons the subsequent lush and heady “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” in favour of a new song by Frank Loesser, “A Woman in Love”, which has its own merits, but would never work in the stage show. This has to be one of the greatest nights out for a couple in the musical theatre canon.
4. The King and I
Rodgers and Hammerstein were great at date nights, it seems. In The King and I, things get going at a ball hosted by the King of Siam for some British visitors who are in dire need of being convinced that his country is not a barbaric one. Mrs Anna Leonowens dances with Sir Edward Ramsay at the ball, which puts the King’s nose out of joint – but only long enough for him to convince her that he needs to learn the polka. Before you can say count to ‘and’, the ballroom is brimming with sexual tension as Mrs Anna confronts her desire for what post-colonialists might term the ‘erotic exotic.’ What a pity it is, then, when the King’s guards arrive with Tuptim just as things are about to get interesting.
5. West Side Story
He’s just met a girl named “Maria”, but that doesn’t stop Tony from calling at her home and climbing up her fire escape for a late-night rendezvous. Maria doesn’t mind, of course, because she’s the Juliet to his Romeo and they don’t know what lies in store for them yet. For now, the giddiness of “Tonight” will suffice. Admit it, you’d also be seduced if there were are ‘suns and moons all over the place’. Like Stephen Sondheim himself, you might not admit that ‘the world is just an address’ (cringe) that was ‘no better than all right’ (cringe) – but at least Leonard Bernstein’s soaring music might distract you from that rather awkward analogy.
Sometimes you have to wait for the kids to disappear so that you can get some quality time in with your lover. So when June and Louise run upstairs to put on their night cream, Rose and Herbie are left behind. First, they fight a little, then they dance a little, music courtesy of Jule Styne. But they are happy to accept – as Rose dictates to Herbie – that “You’ll Never Get Away From Me”, lyrics courtesy of Sondheim. And then they take home all of the silverware.
7. The Fantasticks
“Try to Remember” a time when you didn’t know what love was yet, and you’ll remember a time when you went on a date that your parents expressly forbade you to go on. You probably didn’t sing out a “Metaphor” that was a fantastic parody of operetta and musical theatre love scenes, but you probably do remember how you felt on that night, filled with the anticipation of true love’s kiss and the thrill of forbidden love. That’s what Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones capture in this classic scene from The Fantasticks, which despite being a tiny show manages to give you two dates for the price of one! I’d tell you more about the second, but I have to run to a hideaway with my own love, because “Soon It’s Gonna Rain.”
8. Beauty and the Beast
Love at first sight was not to be for Belle and the Beast. In fact, it takes quite a bit of manoeuvring for them to get to the night of their big date, when Belle dons her iconic golden dress and the Beast dresses up and the two dance to the sound of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s title song. The journey to that moment takes much longer in the shamelessly padded stage version of the almost perfect film, but when Mrs Potts toots a ‘tale as old as time’ through her spout, it’s time for some first-class romance.
There’s only one couple really worth rooting for in RENT, and that’s Angel and Collins. Roger and Mimi have to bear the brunt of being the hetero-normative, show-thesis-crushing centre of Jonathan Larson’s musical and Maureen and Joanne’s on-again-off-again dynamic gets a bit tiresome, even if they do get a fabulous break-up song. There’s nothing quite as moving as Angel’s funeral in the second act and as Collins sings his eulogy, a ballad version of their date song, “I’ll Cover You.” you realise just how profound their love was. And it’s all because of that first, joyful, effervescent version of the song. That’s all a date has to be: coat-shopping and one helluva tune.
Here’s an example of a first date that goes really, really badly. What at first seems ‘nothing short of wonderful’ soon turns out to be anything but, when Rose realises that Eddie has brought her to a dogfight, where the marine with the ugliest date wins the pot. But, this being drama – and one with a fantastic score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, that sets things up for reconciliation and redemption, and so we get “First Date/Last Night”, which is self-conscious and endearing and everything else you’d expect a real first date to be.
So there are ten of my picks for great musical theatre dates. How about you head down to the comments box and share some of yours?