With Valentine’s Day that just passed the world is still in the afterglow of red hearts, flowers and decorations used to celebrate this love-filled day. For a lot of people, however, this day can be a cruel reminder of heartbreak, hurt and scorn. This list is for all those who have loved, lost and decided to shoot Cupid’s arrow right back at him.
1. “Burn” from Hamilton
After Alexander cheats on his wife, Eliza, and then tells the world about it to clear his name, Eliza is left in heartbreak and ruin. In “Burn,” Eliza reminisces about their love and grieves the husband she has lost as she burns the many love letters that Alexander wrote to her. Going from the burn in her heart when she first fell in love, to the burning of the letters and then finally her hope that he, himself, will burn for what he has done to her and their family, Eliza writes Alexander off and ‘erases herself out of the narrative.’ I am sure she speaks the truth of many who have been the victims of unfaithful partners.
2. “All I Ask Of You (Reprise)” from Phantom of the Opera
“All I Ask of You” is probably the most well-known love duet by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with Raoul promising to protect Christine from the Phantom and both of them confirming their love for each other. The reprise to this beautiful duet, however, has the Phantom looking on as Christine ‘denies and betrays’ his love for her. As the first act closer, this song is a turning point for the Phantom as his heartbreak and jealousy turn to rage and he swears to take his revenge on everyone who has wronged him. I think we can all relate to this feeling of unreciprocated love and the feelings of rejection, hurt and even anger that goes with it.
3. “On My Own” from Les Misérables
In Les Mis, Éponine is also suffering from the hurt caused by unreciprocated love. Éponine falls in love with her best friend, Marius, as they grow up. She soon realizes, however, that Marius won’t ever feel the same way. What hurts more is that Marius does care for Éponine, but as a dear friend and nothing more. When Cosette and Marius’ love starts to blossom, Éponine’s heart is shattered. As a last effort to be with him, she disguises herself as a boy to fight next to him at the barricade. Marius discovers her and wanting to protect her, he sends her away with a letter for Cosette. Wandering the streets of Paris, Éponine dreams of being loved by Marius, knowing that this will never be a reality. In modern terms, you could say Éponine was “friend-zoned” and “On My Own” shows that even though it doesn’t seem so bad to friend-zone someone, it does still hurt – sometimes more than flat out rejection.
4. “Still Hurting” from The Last Five Years
Jamie decides to move on and Cathy is left hurting. The Last Five Years introduces Cathy at the peak of her heartbreak while telling the story from the opposite perspective (Jamie meeting Cathy) at the same time. In “Still Hurting,” Cathy shares how Jamie seemingly just dropped her and left with no hurt or regret. This is oftentimes how it feels in a breakup – that you are the only one that is suffering a loss while the other person is out enjoying their best life. But as The Last Five Years shows us, there are always two sides to the break-up story – and sometimes there is no right or wrong side.
5. “Mr Cellophane” from Chicago
Ever felt invisible in a relationship? Well, Amos Hart definitely does and expresses this feeling in the quirky, seemingly light-hearted “Mr Cellophane.” Having been ignored and in all sense of the word forgotten by his wife, Roxie, Amos tries to get her attention by stating he is the father of her (unbeknownst to him) fake child. He is however shut down by Billy Flynn who tells him that he can’t be the father since he hadn’t slept with his wife in more than four months. Feeling betrayed, forgotten and ‘see-through,’ Amos compares himself to ‘unimpressive’ and ‘undistinguished’ cellophane. Unlike Amos, it is sometimes better to know your worth and cut off those who make you feel invisible.
6. “Someone Else’s Story” from Chess
Depending on what version of the musical you watch, you will either see Svetlana or Florence lament their loss of love – Svetlana the loss of her husband, Anatoli, and Florence her loss of Freddie. In both cases (even though the lyrics are slightly altered) the root of the song stays the same: reminiscing about a girl who met a boy, fell in love and had her heart broken by a man who changed and forgot about her. They both wish they could warn that girl who foolishly fell in love and tell her to walk away and spare her from the hurt. The twist, of course, is that they are singing about themselves. They don’t want to associate with this story that they are telling and thus distance themselves by singing ‘someone else’s story.’ Sometimes it is easier to just escape the pain by simply removing yourself from it, but one day you must realize the hurt from every broken heart is part of your own story.
7. “Getting Married Today” from Company
For some, the idea of marriage seems unnecessary and for others simply horrifying. A lot of the time the fear only seems to set in the day of the marriage, i.e. cold feet. In this vignette from Company, Amy (or Jamie in the recent revival) is stuck in the midst of a cold-feet-freak-out. While being serenaded by their future husband, Paul, they quickly start to spiral in a perfectly pattered word vomit about all their fears of marriage, like potentially ruining a wonderful husband like Paul, losing their identity in marriage or simply realizing that they married a ‘nut-job.’ So the song barrels through to the point that Amy/Jamie calls off this wedding and storms out. Love is a strong commitment and marriage seems to make that commitment very official, too official for some. So if you find yourself in the shoes of Amy or Jamie just remember; in the end, marriage or not, what is most important is retaining that love that the relationship started with.
8. “Forget About The Boy” from Thoroughly Modern Millie
After being kissed by and seemingly cheated on by Jimmy in one night, Millie is through with him and tells this to her co-workers at Sincere Trust. They give her the advice just to ‘forget about the boy’ and so Millie tries to do exactly that, convincing herself that Jimmy is no good. Soon the rest of her co-workers join in and sing about their own mister wrongs and how they are all much better off without them. A very important part of the breakup process is the last step of acceptance and letting go. Even though Millie does end up with Jimmy, “Forget About The Boy” is still a great anthem for those who broke up and are ready for someone better.
9. “Without You” from My Fair Lady
Eliza Doolittle is taken in by professor Higgens to be “made proper” and to speak like a lady. This process proves to be very difficult and even though they succeed, no recognition is given to Eliza. Insulted and hurt, Eliza leaves Higgins’ house. Later on, Higgins out of confusion complains that women are too irrational and emotional and states that men are the superior sex. The song that follows is Eliza finally standing up to the egotistical and misogynistic Higgens, saying that she’s realized that he isn’t the beginning and the end and stating all the things that will continue existing without his presence. Higgens tries to turn this argument in his favour saying that he has finally made a true woman out of Eliza, but Eliza simply leaves saying that he would not be seeing her again. Eliza found her worth in herself and left the person she once adored to find someone who will truly appreciate her.
10. “In Love With You” from First Date
Casey is traumatized by his past relationship having been left at the altar by his fiancé, Allison. With the help of the girl he is currently on a date with, Casey tries an exercise where he actually breaks up with his ex since he never got the chance to say to her what he felt. In this subverted rock love-ballad, Casey goes off, listing everything he hated about his ex and finally overcomes the trauma of the relationship. Sometimes we harbour feelings towards people in our past without realizing it and this affects our current relationships. Having a chance to vent those feelings and get rid of them is crucial to getting over that ex and moving on!
And there you have it, my top ten picks for best anti-love songs in the musical theatre world and some added relationship advice that came to me as I was writing it. If you have any other good anti-love songs to suggest or good break-up advice, please make yourself heard in the comments down below!