D.C. actors’ favorite tearjerker songs


Eddie Redmayne as Marius in LES MISERABLES. (Laurie Sparham)

When things go bad for Barbara Hershey’s character in the 1988 movie “Beaches,” the soundtrack swells. Bette Midler sings “Wind Beneath My Wings,” and for many viewers the mysterious faucets in human tear ducts open wide.

“Beaches” is heading for the stage this week in a new musical adaptation at Signature Theatre, with book and lyrics by Iris Rainer Dart (author of the 1985 novel) and a whole new score by David Austin. Director Eric Schaeffer describes Austin’s songs as a pop musical score that reflects the changing eras as the story’s friendship rides ups and downs through the 1960s through the 1980s.

But will the new show include the movie’s signature tune? Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley wrote the song in 1982, and it had already been recorded by Sheena Easton, Gladys Knight and Pips, and Willie Nelson (among others) by the time Midler finally drove it to the top of the charts. In the public mind, “Wind Beneath My Wings” is crisply linked with “Beaches.”

“Audiences expect it, they want it, and you want to give audiences what they want,” Schaeffer says, reporting that the song has been worked into the show. The writers — Dart penning lyrics to Austin’s tunes and co-writing the libretto with Thom Thomas — had mixed feelings about integrating the well-known ballad into an otherwise all-new score, according to Schaeffer, but “they were realistic about that.”

Broadway has always done the lump-in-your-throat thing very well, and chat room lists of Greatest Tearjerkers are perpetually refreshed. Favorites understandably skew toward post-“Les Miserables” shows more than to vintage heart-tuggers like, says, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from “Carousel” and “This Nearly Was Mine” from “South Pacific,” or Nancy’s torch song “As Long as He Needs Me” from Lionel Bart’s “Oliver!”

Popular nominees include the gospel-tempo reprise of “I’ll Cover You” mashed up with “Seasons of Love,” from “Rent,” the conjoined twins’ ballad “I Will Never Leave You” from “Side Show,” and any number of the operatically scaled emotional moments from “Les Miz” and “Miss Saigon.” Tonier choices frequently making the lists: “Dividing Day” (a middle-aged woman lamenting her crumbling marriage) from Adam Guettel’s “The Light in the Piazza,” and “Another Winter in a Summer Town” (a loopy middle-aged woman realizing she’s tethered to her crazy mother) from “Grey Gardens,” with music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie.

No telling yet what sentimental tricks may be up the sleeves of this month’s Broadway entries “Rocky” and “The Bridges of Madison County.” (“Love Wins,” the “Rocky” ads promise.) But as “Beaches” primes the emotional pump, people working on that show and other musicals around town — many of them e-mailing between performances — share the songs that reliably leave them in weeping heaps:

Alysha Umphress

Playing Cee Cee (the Midler character) in “Beaches”

Tearjerker: “Light in the Piazza”

Why: “It is THE most beautiful score since ‘West Side Story.’”

Eric Schaeffer

Directing “Beaches”

Tearjerker: “We Do Not Belong Together,” the angry breakup number from Sondheim’s 1984 “Sunday in the Park With George”

Why: “Two people who really want to be together, and know they can’t be.”

Mara Davi

Playing Bertie (the Hershey character) in “Beaches”

Tearjerker: “What I Did for Love” from “A Chorus Line”

Why: Sacrifice is “something everyone understands, whether you’re an actor or not.”

Erin Driscoll

Now playing Violet in “Violet” at Ford’s Theatre

Tearjerker: “Make Our Garden Grow” from “Candide”

Why: “Besides the fact that the orchestration and expansive choral harmonies are stunning, it is the message in the song. We all make mistakes, but we realize we do not need fame or fortune. We need each other, simplicity and love to make our lives flourish. I am getting teary just thinking about it!”

James Gardiner

Now playing one of Violet’s suitors in “Violet” (and Driscoll’s husband in real life)

Tearjerker: “Our Time,” from the end of “Merrily We Roll Along”

Why: “Seeing those three idealistic kids on a rooftop ready to change the world and knowing all the things that will stand in their way really knocks the wind out of me.”

Christopher Youstra

Musical director of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” at the Olney Theatre Center

Tearjerker: “Till We Reach That Day” (end of Act 1) from “Ragtime”

Why: “A beautiful anthem that can truly get the tears if you have any empathy for Sarah [the slain wife of the hero, Coalhouse Walker, Jr.] at all.”

Another tearjerker: “Lady’s Maid” from Maury Yeston’s “Titanic”

Why: “When the whole chorus comes in (which is pretty great writing), all of the folks in third class sing of the hopes for their lives in America — particularly touching if you are the child/grandchild of immigrants. Doesn’t help that you know that they are all going down with the boat (‘We’ll Meet Tomorrow’ in Act 2 is pretty moving as well).”

Meg Gillentine

Yvette in “Mother Courage” at Arena Stage

Tearjerker: “How It Ends,” a ballad sung by the eccentric father in Andrew Lippa’s short-lived Broadway entry last fall, “Big Fish”

Why: “A big ol’ ugly, messy, snotty, curl-up-in-my-family’s-arms-and-don’t-let-go cry.”

Sherri L. Edelen

Recently Mama Rose in Signature’s “Gypsy” and now the secretary Miss Jones in “How to Succeed”

Tearjerker: “Beautiful” from “Sunday in the Park”

Why: “George’s mother sits while her son draws her. While she sits, she sings about what she sees and how it’s all changing too fast for her at her age She begs him: ‘Quick, draw it all, Georgie. Sunday’s disappearing. You make it beautiful.’ I get more teary now than before as I age and can’t keep up with the technological world.”

Sam Ludwig

Playing J. Pierrepont Finch in “How To Succeed”

Tearjerker: “Sunday” in “Sunday”

Why: “I happen to be a pretty easy crier. In high school I did a lot of driving around listening to cast recordings of Sondheim shows. One day I popped in my well-worn copy of ‘Sunday in the Park With George’ and by the time I got to the interlude in the opening and titular number, I was bawling. I mean loud, wracked sobbing. But ultimately that’s why I love show songs — they can manipulate your emotions unlike any other medium.”

Nelson has been writing about theater and other arts – but mostly theater – for the Post since 1999.
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