Unrequited Love | Musical Theatre Song Reviews

Guten Morgen, Leute! It’s no secret that I love a good unrequited love storyline and I firmly believe that musical theatre portrays unrequited love the best. Seriously. Songs just work with unrequited love. And today, I intend to grade songs about unrequited love. Yep. It’s going to be tough because some of the songs on this list are all-time favorites of mine but I’m going to grade as tough as I possibly can. What songs are ip to bat this round? Well… “Nur sie allein” [Only She Alone / Never to Love] from ARTUS-EXCALIBUR, “On My Own” from LES MISÉRABLES, “All I Ask of You (Reprise)” from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, “If I Can’t Love Her (Reprise)” from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, “I’m Not That Girl” from WICKED, “As Long as He Needs Me” from OLIVER!, “Der letzte Tanz” [The Last Dance] from ELISABETH, “Elisabeth, mach auf” [Elisabeth, Open Up] from ELISABETH, “Boote in der Nacht” [Boats in the Night] from ELISABETH, “Ich gehör nur mir” [I Belong to Me” from ELISABETH, “Stay With Me” and “Lament” from INTO THE WOODS, “Reflection” from A TALE OF TWO CITIES, “Tears to Shed” from THE CORPSE BRIDE, and “So viele Fische ins Meer” [So Many Fish in the Sea] from SCHIKANEDER.

Each of these songs will be graded on the following factors:

  • Emotion
  • Tune
  • Character Advancement
  • Lyrics
  • Story Impact

“Nur sie allein” or “Never to Love” from ARTUS-EXCALIBUR

  • Emotion: A-
  • Tune: A
  • Character Advancement: B
  • Lyrics: A-
  • Story Impact: A

Almost everyone has, at one point or another, heard the story of King Arthur. And where there is a King Arthur story there is very often a Lancelot subplot. I believe that this song is the climax of ARTUS-EXCALIBUR’s Lancelot subplot. The lyrics are gorgeous in this song and the emotions portrayed in the song itself are amazing. But what I see as the biggest fault in this song is really to be found in the fact that after this song, something happens that kind of sets Lancelot back a few steps as it contradicts some of the things Lancelot says in his song. 

Overall Grade: B+

“On My Own” from LES MISÉRABLES 

  • Emotion: A
  • Tune: A-
  • Character Advancement: A
  • Lyrics: A-
  • Story Impact: A

Éponine is a fan favorite character in LES MISÉRABLES and I believe that much of that comes from how popular this song is. It is undeniable that “On My Own” is a masterpiece song about unrequited love. Its faltering point? I think that the lyrics in the English version sell Éponine’s story short. Éponine loves Marius and the fact that he doesn’t return her affections doesn’t stop her from loving him. I only truly realized that the English lyrics are not very strong when I discovered the German version, “Nur für mich.” It is undeniable that the German version has its own flaws but the lyrics “Ja, ich weiß er hat mir übersehen. Ganz egal, ich muss zu ihn stehen!” [Yeah, I know he overlooked me. Doesn’t matter, I have to stand beside him!] really do bring something to the song that the English version doesn’t.

Overall grade: A

“All I Ask of You (Reprise)” from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

  • Emotion: A
  • Tune: A
  • Character Advancement: C
  • Lyrics: B+
  • Story Impact: A

The Phantom reacts to Christine’s lack of affection badly (to say the least). And this song demonstrates that pretty well. The tune just really is beautiful and the lyrics that start out sad and become angry realky do work together nicely. However, there is relatively no character development here. The Phantom’s anger and jealousy where Christine is concerned have been brought out several times already by the time the song is sung. The lyrics themselves do not really generate sympathy for the Phantom but rather the acting does that.

Overall grade: B-

“If I Can’t Love Her (Reprise)” from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

  • Emotion: A
  • Tune: A
  • Character Advancement: A-
  • Lyrics: A
  • Story Impact: B-

The wonderful thing about this reprise is the fact that it is in this song that we, for the first time, really get to see the fact that the Beast loves Belle. And that is brought out in a small but crucial change in lyrics from the original song. The original says “No point anymore if I can’t love her” whereas the reprise says “No point anymore if she can’t love me.” And that switch is precisely what makes this song so effective. However, the fact that the story can go on without this song really doesn’t give it a lot of help in the category of story advancement.

Overall grade: A-

“I’m Not That Girl” from WICKED

  • Emotion: B
  • Tune: A-
  • Character Advancement: A
  • Lyrics: A-
  • Story Impact: A

My favorite thing about this song is the fact that it starts the love trianglr subplot of WICKED out really, really well. However, I must say that the emotions here, are, to me, duller than several other songs on this list. At the point in the story wherein Elphaba sings this song, I really think that she was not in love with Fiyero. I think that it really was more of the realization of a crush. That being said, though, Elphaba’s feelings definitely do shine through and make “I’m Not That Girl” and make it a very effective song.

Overall grade: B+

“As Long as He Needs Me” from OLIVER! 

  • Emotion: A
  • Tune: A
  • Character Advancement: A
  • Lyrics: A
  • Story Impact: B+

Nancy’s emotions in “As Long as He Needs Me” would be nigh impossible to convey without song and that is, in my opinion, one of the strongest parts of the song. It’s a song that can be tough to understand at first and its overall impact on the story falls a little flat.

Overall grade: A

“Der letzte Tanz” [The Last Dance] from ELISABETH

  • Emotion: B+
  • Tune: A
  • Character Advancement: A
  • Lyrics: A
  • Story Impact: A

This is a very tricky song. I mean… Death himself suffering from unrequited love is well… not something you see every day. And, as any fan of the musical will know, it is difficult to see where the metaphor ends as it is really up to  interpretation. However, I think that der Tod’s fury and honesty here is, while off-putting, very true to the rest of the story. There is an indefinite feeling that the audience gets from der Tod here and that is the feeling that the message behind his guarded metaphor is this: “Sisi, I am the one who has always been there for you. This idiot will only let you down and you’ll come running back to me. You know it too–you just don’t want to believe it.”

Overall grade: A-

“Elisabeth, mach auf” [Elisabeth, Open Up] from ELISABETH

  • Emotion: A-
  • Tune: A
  • Character Advancement: A
  • Lyrics: A
  • Story Impact: A

Leave it to ELISABETH to create a song in which all three people in the love triangle are unhappy. Franz Joseph’s been flat-out rejected by Sisi and has no hope of making ammends if he doesn’t fulfill the ultimatum Sisi’s set before him, der Tod has lost Sisi to her want to live once again, and Sisi, despite wanting (partially) to go with der Tod, has found that she doesn’t want to give up just yet.

Overall grade: A

Boote in der Nacht” [Boats in the Night] from ELISABETH

  • Emotion: A
  • Tune: A
  • Character Advancement: A-
  • Lyrics: A
  • Story Impact: A-

“Boote in der Nacht” falls short with character advancement and story impact due to the fact that it shows up towards the very last part of the musical where there really isnall that much room left for growth. The unique nature of this song is impossible to ignore, though. It doesn’t often happen that a character gets rejected mid-song but thats what happens here. Sisi essentially reaffirms der Tod’s message in “Der letzte Tanz” and tells Franz Joseph that “Liebe kann vieles, doch manchmal ist Liebe nicht genug. Glaube ist stark, doch manchmal ist Glaube Selbstbetrug. Wir wollten Wunder, doch sie sind nicht gescheh’n.” [Love can do many things but sometimes love isn’t enough. Faith is strong but sometimes faith is self-deception. We wanted miracles but they didn’t happen.]

Overall grade: A-

“Ich gehör nur mir” [I Belong to Me] from ELISABETH

  • Emotion: A
  • Tune: A
  • Character Advancement: A
  • Lyrics: A
  • Story Impact: A

One of my favorite things about this song is that, while Sisi is feeling unloved and neglected, she spins her hurt into strength and powers herself forward. She really proves herself to be a strong, independent  character in this scene. 

Overall grade: A

“Stay With Me” and “Lament” from INTO THE WOODS

  • Emotion: A-
  • Tune: A-
  • Character Advancement: A-
  • Lyrics: A
  • Story Impact: A

We’ve got a slightly different brand of unrequited love here. Most of the songs on this list deal with romantic relationships/feelings but here we have the love between a mother and a daughter, While it is implied that Rapunzel does indeed love her mother, it is the overall feeling of the song that qualifies the song to have a place on this list. Because the witch feels unloved by her daughter, we get a very unique, even strange unrequited love song. The aftermath of this song does make this song confusing because the emotions truly seem all over the place. However, I still believe that this is a gorgeous song about unrequited love.

Overall grade: A-

“Reflection” from A TALE OF TWO CITIES

  • Emotion: A
  • Tune: A-
  • Character Advancement: A
  • Lyrics: A
  • Story Impact: A

Sydney Carton presents a perfect example of a character using their unrequited feelings and making the best of it. His entire character arc rests on this momentum. When I first watched the concert DVD with my family, my dad started off hating Sydney. By the end of this song though, my dad was wiping away tears and proclaiming that Sydney wasn’t, perhaps, as bad as he had thought. Yep, it only took this one song. That’s how you know a song is really good. 

Overall grade: A

“Tears to Shed” from THE CORPSE BRIDE

  • Emotion: A
  • Tune: A
  • Character Advancement: A-
  • Lyrics: A
  • Story Impact: B

THE CORPSE BRIDE is easily one of my favorite Tim Burton films. And I truly believe that it has something to do with the magnificence of this song. It is nigh impossible to not feel bad for Emily as she grapples with all of her pain. The melody is gorgeous, the lyrics phenomenal. There isn’t much about this song that I’d even think to change! 

Overall grade: B+

“So viele Fische ins Meer” [So Many Fish in the Sea] from SCHIKANEDER

  • Emotion: A
  • Tune: A
  • Character Advancement: A-
  • Lyrics: A-
  • Story Impact: A

Yes, the title of the song is very misleading. Yep, I will agree that the title indicates an optimistic song. And well, maybe, depending on how you view it, perhaps it is. But I’ve always seen it as a song in which Emanuel is trying to cheer himself up after Eleonore rejects him. SCHIKANEDER, is, in many ways, a story in which Emanuel learns to grow up (albeit slowly). This song holds a mournful meaning behind the cheerful façade of the tune and title.

Overall grade: A-

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What are your favorite songs about unrequited love? Vielen Dank und tschüss!

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3 thoughts on “Unrequited Love | Musical Theatre Song Reviews

  1. The unrequited love songs that automatically come to mind are “On My Own” and “I’m Not That Girl”.

    It can be tricky feeling heartbroken in “I’m Not That Girl” when Elphaba sings it when I know she is going to end up with Fiyero, but I still have to feel heartbroken at the moment, but not fully due to the fact that literally Elphaba just found out that she loves him just moments before.”I’m Not That Girl” was one of the earliest sad song in my life. This was the earliest love triangle that I connected with. Whenever I think of love triangles, it is the Wicked one that automatically comes to mind.

    Then there’s “On My Own”. That song is even more heartbreaking and stronger than “I’m Not That Girl”. Whenever I think of unrequited love, it is Eponine and “On My Own” that automatically comes to mind. Since her story revolves around unrequited love, it made me understand that unrequited love is heartbreaking. So glad I figured that out. Due to “On My Own”, it helped me delve even deeper into Wicked’s love triangle, which is even more complex than the one in Les Mis.

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    1. I agree. I think that it is easier to truly feel heartbroken for Éponine due to the ever so hopeless feel to her words and the clear yearning she has to be with Marius while knowing that she’s only fooling herself. Audiences that are familiar with Éponine’s story also know that her love for Marius is never returned. With Wicked, however, audiences familiar with the show know that Elphaba does indeed end up with Fiyero in the end. While “I’m Not That Girl” is undoubtedly heartbreaking, it is definitely more subtle than “On My Own.”

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      1. “I’m Not That Girl”-that song over time has gotten more and more vulnerable and more and more fragile and now it hurts more than ever when Elphaba sings it. I cannot believe I once saw it as just a sad song: that really shows just how different musical emotions were. So glad “On My Own” helped support “I’m Not That Girl” in the way that it did

        In “I’m Not That Girl”, for Elphaba to sing it in act I to Glinda singing it in act II adds so much texture to the storyline.

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