Musical Theater playlist

Musical Theater Playlist: My Life in Song

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Musical Theater playlist

A musical theater playlist that represents my life is probably a life dream come true. I always said that I wanted my life to have a soundtrack. Then I started thinking about the songs I sing at different times and that connected to me at various points in my life. It turns out that most of those were from Broadway musicals, even today.

Why Broadway Musicals?

Growing up, my parents had the Broadway subscription for the Bushnell Theater in Hartford, CT. Whether they loved musicals or not, the performances spoke to my soul. As I grew up, performing in pit orchestras as a violinist and upright bass player offered me the community I needed during my formative years.

Immersion in musical theater meant learning lyrics, living by them, and, basically, singing constantly. All. Day. Every. Day. I have to stop complaining about the child doing this since it’s really probably my fault.

What Musicals Represent My Youth?

I was the lonely, weird kid who spent a lot of time in their head. As an adult, some new Broadway shows speak to that part of my life, but old ones still bring me back to those days.

“Bali Ha’i” – South Pacific

One of my favorite Broadway musicals has been and always will be South Pacific. More than any other childhood experience, this musical taught me the embedded problems of systemic racism. Although, clearly, I didn’t know this when I was eight. I just really loved World War II. (Told you I was a weird kid.)

To me, this song represents everything I wanted. The haunting minor key comes with this sense that you can find a place in the world, a special place just for yourself. As an elementary school kid, I needed that.

“Waving Through a Window” – Dear Evan Hansen

Although Dear Evan Hansen wasn’t part of my youth, this song speaks to me precisely because it was how I felt growing up. I often think Dear Evan Hansen has become so popular just because it found a way to speak to the loneliness in many people’s souls.

For people with social anxiety who feel like outsiders, we’re always tap-tap-tapping on the glass. I’ve felt like this my whole life, still feel like this sometimes, but never as much as in high school.

Truthfully, this song could be played again in my mid-30s asking, “Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?” For several years, that was my biggest life question. Maybe I’ll listen to it twice on the playlist.

“On My Own” – Les Miserables

OK, I told you my teen years were pretty bad. I spent a lot of years wrapped up in unrequited crushes. Frances Ruffelle’s voice in this song breaks my heart every time I listen to this song.

I can remember, as a teen and college kid, pretending a pillow was the boyfriend I didn’t have. I’d imagine this song in my head. It would be another five years before I no longer needed that pillow when I met my husband.

“I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” – South Pacific

Fine, I made a lot of unfortunate boyfriend choices in college. Doesn’t everyone? Well, every time one of them messed me up, I’d sing this in the shower. It never gets old. NEV-ER. Sorry, folks.

What Musicals Represent My Early 20s?

“What You Own” – Rent

My first job out of college was working in insurance. It was 1999. I had just discovered Rent.

As an idealistic 20-something, working in big, bad corporate seemed like some kind of soul-sucking level of hell that Dante missed. I had been raised in a society that told me I would do better than those before me, be more, change the world.

Every morning that I drove into that insurance job, I listened to this song. Every. Morning.

“You Will Be Found” – Dear Evan Hansen

At that first soul-sucking demon job, I met my husband. My best friend. My biggest pain in the butt. Within three months, we knew we wanted to be together forever.

Even more, my twenties were when I found places on the internet like Facebook, Ravelry, and Twitter where I could create my own group of friends. In so many ways, my twenties were terrible.

I worked at jobs I hated. I went to law school at night. I got nearly fired from a job I hated. I started a new business. I failed at the new endeavor. I began teaching. I was good at teaching. I had fertility problems and found some of the most supportive people by using groups online.

I am still friends with many of them.

I was no longer lonely. I had found my home and my people.

I had been found in more ways than one. At least, by others.

“One Song Glory” – Rent

Despite very much being a Mark, Roger’s desire to leave a lasting impression is something that has always spoken to my soul. Growing up, I was the AP class, Phi Beta Kappa inducted kid who was supposed to be something.

Rounding the bend to thirty, I wanted nothing more than to find the one mark I would make in the world.  Knowing that I wasn’t living up to that potential, feeling like a failure for not being more than I was.

I get you, Roger, man. I do.

What Broadway Songs Represent My 30s?

“Good Morning, Good Day” – She Loves Me

In my senior year of high school, She Loves Me toured at the Bushnell. I loved that musical. It was fun but also had a lot of different themes going on.

As I grew into my 30s, teaching became my job. Three times a day, twice a week, I have to say hello to a group of college students who probably could care less. Every time I walk into a 9:25 AM class, I sing this. It’s just the happiest good morning song I know.

“Seasons of Love” – Rent

In 2009, I gave birth to the only child I’ll ever have. After trying to get pregnant for so long, I was overjoyed. Also, I was as scared as I’ve ever been.

That first year, as any parent knows, is 525,600 minutes of questioning yourself, sleep deprivation, screaming (not just the baby’s), and strife.

However, it’s also a season of the newest more pure love I’ve ever felt. Instead of measuring in struggles, I chose to measure in love.

I hope this story never ends.

“Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” – The Wall

As a teacher, I’ve learned more than I’ve taught. I’ve learned that my students come in beaten down. Testing, core curriculum, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top—these have all sucked the joy out of learning.

I used to teach an education unit along with the book Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. Talking to my students, I realized that a great video lesson would be to incorporate the video of “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” so we could discuss the imagery.

One year, I decided that I wouldn’t ever be another brick in their wall to learning. These kids needed someone who would help them find themselves, find their writing voices.

I now have a tattoo of my business logo breaking through a brick wall to remind myself that I need to be the person who helps my students.

“My Shot” – Hamilton: An American Musical

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical, Hamilton, speaks to me on a lot of levels. As a business owner, I’ve learned a lot over fourteen years.

One thing I’ve learned is that no matter the risk, sometimes I cannot throw away my shot. In 2016, I lost the client whose work was approximately a third of my annual income. I knew the client was closing our book of business. I took a chance. I didn’t throw away my shot, but I lost the client.

This song reminds me now that it’s ok to take those chances because sometimes you need a risk to become something more.

“Sorry-Grateful” – Company

One of the beauties of Company is that it explores both the joys of new love and the trials of mature relationships. Raising kids is hard, y’all.

It’s not just hard because there’s a new person for whom you are totally responsible. It’s hard because you lose time with your spouse, you argue with your best friend, you wonder whether you made the right decisions.

It’s easy to lose oneself in the daily grind of lunches and dinners and homework and… and…

In those times, it’s easy to look to your partner and wonder who you would be without them. Would you be that soccer mom that doesn’t quite understand everything going on? Would you have really been that powerful businesswoman you thought you should be? Would you have written your one song?

And yet, I know that everything I am has nothing to do with, all to do with, my husband. I wouldn’t be who I am today—for better or worse—without our friendship and arguments and jokes.

And that is a good thing.

“Anybody Have a Map” – Dear Evan Hansen

When friends suggested I listen to Dear Evan Hansen, I chuckled. After all, it’s a story about a teenager, and I am, not-so-alas, no longer that young.

The first song, “Anybody Have a Map,” spoke to me as both a parent and person.

As a parent, I’ve felt the sense of inability. I’m just trying to figure out how to keep my kid from being a jerk while making sure that they’re a decent human being. Sometimes, I have no idea how to do that. Parenting books and parenting websites offer advice everywhere I look. In the end, however, parenting is lonely since each kid is different. There’s no map.

Enter imposter syndrome in the business world. Let’s be honest, half the time people are making things up and hoping for the best. I don’t know if people can tell, but most of the time I’m flying blind and making things up as I go.

Every time something good happens, I start humming this in my head.

“Carefully Taught” – South Pacific

Yeah, we’re back to this oldie but goodie. As social media offered me ways to meet new people and learn about different life experiences, I began to examine how the 1980s formed me as a person.

Y’all, the 1980s were a racist, homophobic era. We were taught to hate and fear. We were taught that AIDS was a “gay” disease (whispered carefully at tables). We were taught that “those people” who sang “that music” about the police would be better off killing themselves off.

We were taught, year to year, to hate who our relatives hated, and none of us even recognized it.

The 2010s and social media, however, opened up new worlds to me. They offered me words I didn’t know existed and ways to readjust my worldview. Yes, you have to be carefully taught to hate and fear. You can also be carefully taught to love and embrace.

“Hurricane,” “Non-Stop,” and “Stay Alive” – Hamilton: An American Musical

This triptych of songs in this order approaches my forties. In another month, I’ll hit the Big 4-0.

In 2016, I learned that I could write my way out. When I lost my client, I started a copywriting business. It’s small. It’s moving toward success, at least I think it is. I used my skills to rebuild myself out of the rubble that had become my old career.

And for a year, I wrote non-stop. I wrote blogs posts. I wrote emails. I wrote to book publishers. I landed two book deals and several new clients.

By writing non-stop, I wrote my way out of the depression that would have set in otherwise.

I stayed alive. I kept my head above water. Now, when I look back on where I started, the fact that I’m still alive is kind of a miracle. The fact that my business is alive is kind of a miracle.

I’m going to keep looking at where I am, where I started, and remind myself that it’s really a miracle, even when I’m feeling some imposter syndrome all up in here.

“Being Alive” – Company

When my 21-year-old-self heard this song the first time, I had no idea what this all meant.

As parents, we know that we need someone to need us too much. As Bobby’s friends talk to him, they remind him that it’s not about worrying that it won’t be perfect but that it won’t be.

I don’t want to “not be.” I don’t want to be afraid of being alive. I want to live and be aware of being alive.


My Broadway Musical Theater Playlist can be found here, but what would yours be? Why?

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3 thoughts on “Musical Theater Playlist: My Life in Song

    1. Thanks! Oddly enough, Music Man was clearly not one that made it through Hartford in the 1990’s so I’ve never heard it (*gasp*!)

  1. Thanks for sharing your story Karen. I also work in music and love the idea of my life having a soundtrack 🙂 I came across your post while I looking for some good websites like for info about the latest music software being used in the industry.

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