Songs in musicals are not only entertaining but play integral roles in telling stories, explaining situations, and detailing how characters are feeling. In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re featuring some songs from Broadway musicals that are sung by female characters and show strong emotions while conveying a message of feminism and female empowerment.
“I’d Rather Be Me” – Barrett Wilbert Reed (Mean Girls: The Musical)
This angsty song is all about individuality, staying true to yourself, and forgetting about the stereotypes society has placed on women and girls. In the song, Wilbert Reed, who plays Janis, literally sings “And here’s my right finger to how girls should behave.” Her right finger referring to her middle finger, this line is the essence of the song. It echos the idea that Janis would rather be who she wants to be, regardless of what others think, than to be friends with someone who would disagree with that idea, someone who would pull her down.
“For Good” – Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth (Wicked)
Perhaps the most popular duet (no pun intended) from the hit show, “For Good” is a wonderful example of the power of a strong female friendship. They literally sing “Because I have known you, I have been changed for good,” and isn’t that the goal of all friendships, especially those with your girl gang? Women should lift up and support one another and help make the world a better place, and Elphaba and Glinda have shown us that we can do it one friendship at a time.
“So Much Better” – Laura Bell Bundy (Legally Blonde: The Musical)
The iconic Elle Woods achieves great growth while singing this song in the musical version of the classic 2000s movie. It’s in this moment when she realizes she is “so much better” than who everyone thought she was, who she thought she was. She’s better than the girl who decided to go to Harvard just to get a boy back. She’s better than the dumb blonde girl everyone thought she was when she set foot on the Ivy League campus. Elle Woods is better and bigger than she ever was before, and she proved everyone wrong. And, as women who have been doubted or stereotyped, to realize and prove that we are “so much better” is powerful. (Special shoutout to Abby DePhillips for being the reason we checked out this musical!)
“Watch What Happens” – Kara Lindsay (Newsies: The Broadway Musical)
The strong female lead in the male-dominated musical, journalist Katherine Plumber is excited to go after her first big story as she sings her solo. She’s finally writing a news story, not a review of a cabaret or flower show. Her story will be on the front page of the paper for everyone to see, not in the arts and entertainment section, and she doesn’t want to screw up this opportunity. Because she’s a girl, she knows this could make or break her career, and she does not want to ruin it. Katherine babbles and sings, imitating newspaper executives and editors, “‘Girl?’ ‘It’s a girl!’ ‘How the hell?’ ‘Is that even legal?'” So she wants to prove that her gender does not make her inferior, that a girl can write a good story–maybe even a better one than any man. And by the end of the song, she is motivated and ready to go, showing the world what a girl can do, singing “Watch what happens! Let’s begin!”
“These Palace Walls” – Courtney Reed, Khori Michelle Petinaud, Marisha Wallace, Tia Altinay (Aladdin: The Musical)
If you think you know Aladdin and what Princess Jasmine is all about but haven’t seen the musical adaptation or listened to the cast recording, think again, because Jasmine is so much fiercer and stronger in the musical than she is in the original Disney film. In the classic animated film, Jasmine doesn’t get a song of her own. But she gets a solo in the musical, and it is one of the best songs of the entire show. “These Palace Walls” is about Jasmine’s desire to explore what’s outside of her palace, what the real world is like, what her kingdom deals with, who her people are. She sings about wanting to make a life of her own and not doing something just because it’s the law or what is expected of her. Jasmine’s ladies-in-waiting encourage her to follow her dreams and explore, do what no other woman before her has been able to do, singing to Jasmine, “Stand on your own two feet” and “If you’ve a dream then stand behind it.”
“First Burn” – Arianna Afsar, Shoba Narayan, Lexi Lawson, Rachelle Ann Go, and Julia Harriman (Hamilton)
While Hamilton is all about Alexander Hamilton and features mostly men, the female characters in the show are integral characters, especially Eliza Hamilton, Alexander’s wife. Unless you’ve seen Hamilton or listened to the cast recording, you probably aren’t aware of Alexander’s affair where he cheated on Eliza (it’s not exactly something schools teach is U.S. history class). In the show, Eliza sings about the affair in “Burn” but “First Burn” is the original version of the song that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote. “First Burn” is a powerful song full of passion and anger where a couple of the actresses who play Eliza in different productions of Hamilton portray Eliza. In the song, Eliza is in obvious emotional pain and condemns Alexander for his actions. On the surface, “First Burn” is about Eliza condemning Alexander, birds it’s more than that. It’s about a woman who knows she has been treated poorly but won’t let herself continue to be. She knows she has power, and she isn’t afraid to use it. The song emphasizes how, even though people will inevitably hurt you, you can put yourself first and choose who hurts you, and Eliza isn’t going to let Alexander cause her anymore pain.