Holding On: 5 Songs That Give Us a Light in the Dark

Sondheim once said that “art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos.” In light of recent events, I find myself turning to musical theatre in order to do just that. There have been a lot of events in the last few weeks, and even months, that are both difficult to talk about and to make sense of, but I find calm, catharsis, and sometimes hope in shows and songs where a character’s self-exploration ends up encouraging mine. Instead of telling a story about romance or ambition, the following songs pose either complex questions or remind the audience of what’s left in the world when the characters, or we, are in a dark place – and in a way, may help us find a little order in all of this chaos.

1. “Flying Away (Finale)” – Fun Home, Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron

This show cannot get enough praise. The diegetic, confessional text and score embody what it means to write (or draw) to understand yourself – and in a way, they help the audience understand themselves. While the songs “Days and Days” and Telephone Wire” both bring lyrical revelation to the second act, the finale resolves exactly what Sondheim is talking about when the song reflects back on the motif that “chaos never happens if it’s never seen.” The small moments between those moments of chaos, as simple as a little girl playing “airplane” with her father, make a world of difference.

Watch this video on YouTube.

2. “Holding On” – Tales From The Bad Years, Kerrigan-Lowdermilk

This simple melody is just somehow comforting, here spearheaded my Laura Michelle Kelly’s unquestionably soothing soprano. As the song progresses, the reminder to hold on develops into a declaration of perseverance with Andy Mientus’s riff on top of the key change. The chorus’s lyrics – “The earth keeps turning / The light keeps shifting / and I keep holding on” – repeat many times, but sometimes you just need to hear a tune build on something so simple to ease you out of a tough spot, similar to how “Light” from Next To Normal just reminds you with rocking harmony that after an emotional whirlwind, there is something better to come.

Watch this video on YouTube.

3. “Always/Goodnight” – Scott Alan

This stunningly hypnotic mix of two songs is a lullaby for a troubled soul. In this version, Cynthia Erivo, Broadway’s new Celie in The Color Purple, and composer Scott Alan remember those they’ve lost and help the listener remember that those they’ve left are neither truly gone. The performer plays the role of whoever you’d like to hear from, offering to “steal you from your hardest days” and to always be near “when pain arrives.” Again, here the simplest melodies allow the singer to say exactly what you may need to hear.

Watch this video on YouTube.

4. “Someday/Einmal” – Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The cast recording for the American production of this show should come out any day now, but until then the German cast album is all over YouTube. The song “Someday” was left out of the animated film, but it makes a stunning return in the stage show. The Berlin production features the ballad (“Einmal” in German) towards the end of the show, with all its bellowing harmonies, while the American version makes the stunner a duet between characters as they await death. Either version is deep and emotional, calling for a better time of both equality and understanding amongst the people of Victor Hugo’s Paris.

5. “It’s Quiet Uptown” – Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

This song is easily my most listened to track on the Hamilton album. The song narrates the sequence following a death in Hamilton’s family, and the sorrow that comes across is evocative and reflective. “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” also has some important moments, specifically with Eliza’s epilogue.

Watch this video on YouTube.

These are just a few of the songs hat I find myself listening to over and over again when I’m in a stressed or confused place. Though they may not be able to solve the problems that surround us, they at least help me bring a little more order to the chaos in my everyday life. Below are some additional choices should you ever need to find some order, or hope, yourself:

  • “Light” – Next To Normal, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey
  • I’ll Be Here” – Ordinary Days, Adam Gwon
  • “You’ll Never Walk Alone” – Carousel, Rodgers & Hammerstein
  • “’Til We Reach That Day” – Ragtime, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty
  • “I Know Where I’ve Been” – Hairspray, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman
  • “No One Is Alone” – Into The Woods, Stephen Sondheim
  • “Sunday” – Sunday in the Park with George, Stephen Sondheim
  • “Remember” – Joey Contreras
  • “I’m Here” – The Color Purple, Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray
  • “The Song of Purple Summer” – Spring Awakening, Ducan Sheik and Steven Sater
  • “My House” – Matilda, Tim Minchin
  • “If I Can Dream” – All Shook Up, W. Earl Brown
  • “Flying Away” – Songs for a New World, Jason Robert Brown
  • “Finding Wonderland” – Wonderland, Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy

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