Honorable mentions: “She Cries,” “The World Was Dancing”
If there were such a thing as a Platonic ideal, the Platonic ideal of a Broadway romantic duet would be “I’d Give It All for You.” It checks the boxes: stars heterosexuals, appears late in the show, features reunification of a couple who have split, provides roughly equivalent time to sing for both parties, only changes volume once the bridge happens, makes you feel good at the end. Might even be a kiss there, but only after the actors start at different ends of the stage and slowly but surely come closer to one another as the song goes on and as their feelings for one another, like everything else that rises, converge.
Songs for a New World, as I suppose any musical which is held together conceptually rather than through characters or a plot would be, is kind of preachy about the message. It’s about new beginnings, thus the title. It recognizes that new beginnings can be funny (“Surabaya-Santa”) or grave (“Christmas Lullaby”) or threatening (“The World Was Dancing”) or, in some cases, not really new at all (“I’d Give It All for You”). The audience gets a lot of guff about how opportunity is out there if you just seize it, or that sometimes we have to act boldly when the next step is clouded over, or that beginning something new means keeping what you have already. It’s a fairly non-specific show, and the message is non-threatening.
It’s the secret to “I’d Give It All for You.” One can’t help but relate in a song to two people in a fractured relationship. The man in the song is afraid of intimacy, presumably, as men seem to be so frequently in media. His intention was to hide from her as best he could. And her intention was fear as well, fear perhaps that she would be stuck if she stayed with him. Those are easy motivations to connect to, but more difficult to come up with than they appear. What the man and the woman have in common is their fear of being with someone else; they only express it differently. Songs for a New World assumes that fear is behind most of what drives people apart, or what keeps people from reaching the goals that they barely admit to themselves. Like the rest of the musical, that’s a glib statement, but there must be something to it; “I’d Give It All for You” is the most frequently performed song from this musical, and almost certainly the most famous song from this show. In a musical chock full of feel-good tunes, this is the one that just feels the goodest.