David Rockwell standing in an amphitheater.
Photo: Emily Andrews

Architect and Broadway Set Designer David Rockwell Shares His Favorite Show Tunes

By Aileen Kwun
August 8, 2020
7 minute read

A love of theater and drama drives the work of architect and designer David Rockwell, who grew up in a theater-going family and is a longtime fan of the stage. His firm, Rockwell Group, has designed numerous hospitality, entertainment, and cultural spaces—from Nobu to NeueHouse to The Shed—plus dozens of Broadway sets, including ones for Kinky Boots and Hairspray. While theaters are officially closed for the rest of the year, here Rockwell brings the spirit of the stage home to us with a playlist of some of his favorite musical numbers. (For more from Rockwell, listen to Spencer interview him on Ep. 1 of The Workspace of Tomorrow podcast.)

“Prologue: Tradition,” Fiddler on the Roof by Jerry Bock and Don Walker (performed by Zero Mostel)

“This is the first musical I ever saw on Broadway. What a magical show to start a lifelong love affair with the theater. This track is the perfect start to a perfect musical.

“Road to Hell,” Hadestown by Anaïs Mitchell (performed by André De Shields)

Hadestown is one of the most exciting musicals on Broadway and stars Broadway icon André De Shields. This track captures his sheer star power and the magic he can weave with his voice.”

“Raise You Up / Just Be,” Kinky Boots by Cyndi Lauper (performed by full company and Kinky Boots Ensemble)

“Working on Kinky Boots was one of the most wonderful experiences of my career. It had a creative team and cast filled with love. Cyndi’s score is a revelation, and this finale never fails to bring audiences to its feet.”

“Overture,” Gypsy (2003 Broadway Cast) by Jule Styne (performed by Gypsy 2003 Broadway Company and Bernadette Peters)

“I’m a big fan of overtures. They are a promise from a composer to the audience and, at their best, fill you with hope and anticipation for a great night. If you listen closely, they also forecast the emotional tone of the show. Gypsy has one of the greatest overtures ever written (music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim). The opening trumpet still sends chills up my spine.”

“Someone in a Tree,” Pacific Overtures by Stephen Sondheim (performed by James Dybas, Mako, Gedde Watanabe, and Mark Hsu Syers)

Pacific Overtures isn’t one of Sondheim’s best-known musicals, but he has proclaimed that this is one of his favorite songs. This summer, Broadway.com produced a wonderful virtual concert celebrating Sondheim’s ninetieth birthday and the cast of the recent revival at Classic Stage Company reunited to perform ‘Someone in a Tree.’ It was one of the highlights of the concert.”

“Paciencia y Fe,” In The Heights (Original Broadway Cast Recording) by Lin-Manuel Miranda (performed by Olga Merediz and In the Heights Original Broadway Company)

“The entire country knows Lin-Manuel is a genius, but In the Heights was our first look at his brilliance. The show blends salsa, merengue, and samba so effortlessly, and when Olga Merediz performed this song at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, it was like glimpsing into the character’s soul."

“I Am Changing,” Dreamgirls (Original Broadway Cast Album) by Henry Krieger (performed by Jennifer Holliday and Dreamgirls Original Broadway Company)

“‘And I’m Telling You…’ is the song everyone talks about. But this lovely ballad from Act II deserves to be just as well known. Broadway loves songs about overcoming pain and heartache. ‘I Am Changing’ is a perfect example of that.”

“Who Will Love Me as I Am?” Side Show (Original 2014 Broadway Cast Recording) by Henry Krieger (performed by Side Show 2014 Broadway Company, Erin Davie, and Emily Padgett)

“I loved designing the set for this revival. It’s a beautiful show, a beautiful score, and this is beautifully sung by Erin Davie and Emily Padgett. They were a powerhouse pairing on stage.”

“(You’re) Timeless to Me,” Hairspray (Original Broadway Cast Recording) by Marc Shaiman (performed by Dick Latessa and Harvey Fierstein)

“Scott [Whittman]’s and Marc’s lyrics to this song are sheer genius: funny and biting, yet tender and loving. In the hands of Harvey and Dick, it’s a master class. Musicals usually feature first love or young love. This is the rare song about an enduring love that’s passed the test of time.”

“Overture,” On the Twentieth Century (New Broadway Cast Recording) written and performed by Cy Coleman

“Cy is one of the greatest composers, and his mixture of comedy and open-hearted romance in this overture sets everyone up for success. During previews, I couldn’t help but tap my foot along to this with a huge smile on my face.”

“Act I: Prologue,” West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein (performed by Max Goberman and West Side Story Original Broadway Company)

“Bernstein’s score and Jerome Robbins’s choreography are seared into the memories of countless theater-goers. The prologue introduces you to this city full of danger and violence; the dancers are full of menace and pent-up rage, dancing with beauty and athleticism.”

“Dear Theodosia,” Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda (performed by Leslie Odom Jr. and Lin-Manuel Miranda)

“Now that the world gets to see the film version of Hamilton on Disney+, I hope people fall in love with this song from Act II, just like I have. It’s a sublime ode to children sung by two fathers looking at the promise of the future. Also, this song captures the beautiful orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire, one of the unsung creative heroes of Hamilton.”

“Something Wonderful,” The King and I by Richard Rodgers (performed by Ruthie Ann Miles and Ted Sperling)

“Ruthie Ann Miles is one of American theater’s greatest up-and-coming actresses. A beautiful voice that can make you laugh one minute and break your heart the next. I cannot wait for more people to discover her.”

“She Loves Me,” She Loves Me by Jerry Bock (performed by Zachary Levi)

“I loved everything about She Loves Me, but most of all it gave me the opportunity to work with Sheldon Harnick, a brilliant songwriter who also wrote the lyrics for Fiddler on the Roof. This song is sheer joy and full of love and humor. It’s a wonderful reminder of one of the most joyful experiences of my career.”

“Sarah Brown Eyes,” Ragtime: The Musical by Stephen Flaherty (performed by Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell)

“Audra and Brian: two of the greatest actors to ever grace a Broadway stage. Listening to them fall in love and seduce each other in this song is a gift.”

“You Can’t Stop the Beat,” Hairspray by Marc Shaiman (performed by Laura Bell Bundy, Matthew Morrison, and Linda Hart)

“Maybe I’m biased because I designed the set for Hairspray, but this is the best finale song of the past twenty years… Maybe forty years. Just a sheer blast of joy straight to the heart.”