Podcasts are my go-to background noise when I have a low-stakes lineup of tasks at work, but given current situations, I suspect new episodes of my followed podcasts may be few and far between soon. I still have plenty of bookmarked episodes to catch up on, but listening to an author talk about her debut book or following a debate about Nancy Meyers’ greatest film feels a little weird when you’re in such an apocalyptic mood.
So, I figured that nothing is better medicine than singing along to or just playing an uplighting cast recording or movie soundtrack. Yes, I love Hamilton as much as the next gal, and I can practically quote Fiddler on the Roof verbatim, but let’s be real — a lot of those songs are pretty bleak and depressing. The albums below might have their share of slower, reflective songs, but as a whole, they tell stories of optimism and heart, and they have happy endings. The joy entangled in these lyrics and performances is contagious, and even just listening to some of my favorite songs below helped me feel a little lighter. I hope they help you feel the same!
1) Bright Star
Standouts: “If You Knew My Story,” “Whoa, Mama,” “Sun Is Gonna Shine”
This music by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell is inspired by their own bluegrass compositions, but what really makes Bright Star such a soothing listen for me is the voice of leading lady Carmen Cusack. Her performance here scored a Tony nomination during the Hamilton year, which is an accomplishment unto itself. Her delivery is so soulful, and particularly in her single version of “Sun Is Gonna Shine,” you start to believe that everything will be okay. It might be the only cast album I can play without getting bored because every song has a little something that you can appreciate, whether it be a gorgeous note or a moving lyric.
2) The Music Man
Standouts: “Overture/Rock Island,” “Ya Got Trouble,” “Piano Lesson”
This is a sentimental favorite of mine, but I stick to the belief that The Music Man is one of the happiest, catchiest scores ever. It’s also one of the shows that’s so tightly embedded into American life that, for me, listening to it feels like a return home. As much as the more upbeat tunes improve my mood, the softer love songs are so sweetly mature. “Till There Was You” is one of my favorites.
3) Singin’ in the Rain
Standouts: “Moses,” “Good Morning,” “Singin’ In the Rain”
Watching the dances accompanying some of these songs is key for maximum happiness, but Gene Kelly’s wide grin somehow translates via sound. I’ve actually yet to see Singin’ in the Rain, but I feel like it will be quite the experience when that viewing finally rolls around.
4) She Loves Me
Standouts: “Sounds While Selling,” “Vanilla Ice Cream,” “She Loves Me”
If you want the musical equivalent of a delectably airy chocolate mousse, look no further than the recording of 2016’s She Loves Me revival. Starring Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi, the musical is based on the play that inspired the Jimmy Stewart-helmed The Shop Around the Corner, which subsequently led to In the Good Old Summertime and You’ve Got Mail. Knowing the basics of this “secret pen pals are real-life enemies” theme will help you follow the story as you listen to the album. However, if your kryptonite is a Golden Age musical with an effervescently romantic vibe, this is for you.
5) Mary Poppins
Standouts: “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Step In Time”
Now feels like the perfect time to watch an old movie musical that you love. Mary Poppins is one of a handful of movies that’s so ingrained in my psyche that upcoming lines and lyrics just spill out of me whenever I watch it. The Mary Poppins Returns soundtrack is really catchy too, and it pays great homage both spiritually and musically to what came before.
Standouts: “Summer Nights,” “You’re The One That I Want,” “We Go Together”
Grease is another movie that stirs up feelings of home, right? Not necessarily in the same way as The Music Man, though — Grease is that movie you got away with watching at sleepovers and on Saturday mornings before you grew up and realized just how inappropriate it is for little kids. Who said reminiscing about the little rebellions of adolescence couldn’t be enjoyable?
Standouts: “Good Morning Baltimore,” “Welcome to the 60’s,” “You Can’t Stop the Beat”
Even the more emotional songs in Hairspray are powerful and uplifting, and if a song on this tracklist can’t motivate you, it will move you to dance. I also feel like the 2007 movie adaptation is so underrated because it arrived at an odd, in-between time for movie musicals. It has a solid cast and pretty infectious performances. Why not watch it sometime this week?
8) Legally Blonde
Standouts: “What You Want,” “Chip on My Shoulder,” “So Much Better”
Movies-turned-musicals sometimes receive bad reps, but Legally Blonde still strikes me as an adaptation that translated fairly well to the stage and has endlessly entertaining music. It’s packed with so many empowerment ballads that it’s tricky to single out just one, but “So Much Better” is the top of the heap.