Please don't list this on a work's page as a trope. Examples can go on the work's YMMV tab.
Thy hand, Belinda; darkness shades me / On thy bosom let me rest;
More I would, but Death invades me / Death is now a welcome guest.
When I am laid in earth, / May my wrongs create no trouble in thy breast;
Remember me! but ah! forget my fate.
— Dido's Lament, from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, which Dido sings right before committing suicide.
There's something about live theater. Something about being in the same room as the actors, breathing that same air, feeling the vibrations when they fall. Actors are charged when standing before an audience, and stage actors arguably put more into their craft - more time, more stamina, more physical exertion - than your standard TV or film actor.
This pays off.
With the right cast, with a receptive audience, with beautiful words and maybe the perfect music, death, separation, and injustice on stage can break the heart unlike any other medium. Ready yourself for spoilers.
Works with their own pages
The song Bare. The tune is so pretty and the lyrics are heart-wrenching. Best example: if prayer were the answer, I'd fall on my knees. That just...wow. Worth a listen.
Peter's emotional explosion in 'Promise'.
Even the happy songs in the show anymore, with the knowledge of Jason's death and the way and reason he dies. Some especially bittersweet lyrics are found in the title song, Bare. "Please understand that I tried/ It's not goodbye." It is goodbye.
Nadia's A Quiet Night At Home — for a moment her presentation of herself as abrasively sarcastic cynic who's amused by people's nastiness about her size, not wounded, is peeled back and she's incredibly lonely. Sadness? Who, me? Sad?
Billy Bigelow's death is one HUGE tearjerker. He dies in a robbery go mad in a desparate attempt to provide money for his pregnant wife. The film version is sad enough with the death an accident. However, the original theatre production takes it Up to Eleven, with Billy committing SUICIDE! If that's not enough, the death is followed by the famous song "You'll never walk alone", with Julie beginning the song but unable to continue, and her cousin, who is the maternal figure, then singing it.
The Dark Reprise of If I loved you, Billy singing to his wife that now he's lost you and she'll never know how much he loved her
Billy just being dead and never seeing his child. Also, his reaction to seeing what she's going through. "Poor kid, I know what she's going through. What did I come down here for?!"
The History Boys
So many, many moments.
Hector's breakdown in the classroom.
What made me piss my life away in this godforsaken place? There's nothing of me left.
The epilogue's reveal of Posner's future.
Jesus Christ Superstar
Large sections of Jesus Christ Superstar are absolutely heartwrenching in the right hands. Among them: "Could We Start Again, Please?" the Last Supper scene, Judas' suicide, and one of the most incredible solos in music theater history, "Gethsemane."
I'm convinced that if you're a Spanish speaker and do NOT cry with Camilo Sesto's rendition of "Gethsemane", you should search for your lost soul. Kills me EVERY time, even almost 30 years after Camilo played Jesus.
Almost any good cast will put some real feeling and friendship into the Jesus-Judas relationship; when you realise that Judas was a pawn in a desperate gamble by the Jewish authorities; a guy who didn't want to have his friend killed and just wanted everything to be the way it was back when they were quiet and safe... and then you realise that he's been demonised by everyone ever since. It might not be in the canon, but it SHOULD BE!
The musical "Kristina from Duvemala", telling the story of a family emigrating from Sweden to the US in the mid 19th century, is filled with tearjerker moments. One of the worst for me is during the song "Bright Evenings in Springtime" when Kristina sings of how homesick she is, and of the pain of never getting to see your parents again, or the place where you grew up.
Another obvious tearjerker is the song "Stay" during the first act, where Karl Oskar sits by his pregnant wife's side during a stormy night on the journey across the Atlantic, begging her to stay with him when she is sick of scurvy and bleeds from every orifice.
The moment when their poverty leads to the death of their oldest child.
Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You. Even though you already know everything that has happened at this point, the juxtaposition of Cathy's excitement and Jamie's miserable resignation is just HEARTBREAKING.
Also, there's a line that, once the Fridge Brilliance kicks in, is almost just as heartbreaking. During the wedding song, Cathy and Jamie sing about being together "Till there's no one left / Who has ever known us apart". During the show, because of the way the two timelines work, they are only actually together onstage twice - during their wedding and at the ending of the show when their timelines finally seperate. And that reflects how they were never emotionally together in the first place... :(
"Nobody Needs to Know". It's the regret Jamie feels, and the Dark Reprise of "I could be in love with someone like you". Damn Norbert Leo Butz and the break in his voice as he does the line "All right, everyone bleeds! All right, I get what I need!".
"See I'm Smiling" and the way Cathy tries so hard to be what Jamie wants and not rock the boat. Followed by her epic breakdown when she just unloads everything that's wrong with their relationship.
Another heart-shattering instance of (a doubled layering of) terrible, terrible Fridge Brilliance causing a Tear Jerker is more subtle - in "See I'm Smiling", in the middle of her rant to Jaime, Cathy sings the following:
Cathy: "And the point is, Jamie,/that you can't spend a single day that's not about/you and you and nothing but you,/"Mahvelous" novelist, you!/Isn't he wonderful? Just twenty-eight!/The savior of writing!/You, and you, and nothing but you!/Miles and piles of you!/Pushing through windows and bursting through walls/En route to the sky!/And I..."
Then, during her penultimate song to Jamie, "I Can Do Better Than That" (which is chronologically taking place at the very beginning of their relationship, but is at the end of the show, after the previous "you and you and nothing but you"), she sings the following:
Cathy: "I want you and you and nothing but you/Miles and piles of you/Finally I'll have something worthwhile/To think about each morning/You and you and nothing but you/No substitution will do/Nothing but fresh, undiluted and pure/Top of the line and totally mine!"
She also mentions how disappointed she was that her last boyfriend left her with nothing but a "heartfelt letter". The fact that Cathy's pure, unadulterated love for Jamie has been so twisted by the end of their relationship and that she sees none of it coming is heartbreaking enough, but what's worse is that Jamie's final song, "I Could Never Rescue You", is him writing a 'heartfelt' (whether this is true is debatable) letter to inform Cathy that he is leaving her after 5 years of being together. Poor, poor Cathy. * sob*
Man of La Mancha
Quite a few bits in Man of La Mancha, particularly when Alonso Quijana dies. The fact that he dies in a state of euphoria doesn't help matters.
The sum total of the last two scenes, from Aldonza's rendition of "The Impossible Dream," when Quixote remembers who he is and stands triumphantly, to Quijana's death, to Cervantes walking toward the Inquisition while everyone else sings the reprise ... sobbing. Like a little girl.
"What Do You Want of Me?" and "The Impossible Dream."
"Everything Else" is particularly heartwrenching. You can hear the desperation and borderline hysteria in Natalie's voice as she sings. The tears begin to creep up at
You play 'til it's perfect,
You play 'til you ache,
You play 'til the strings or your fingernails break.
The whole damn show makes me cry.
The whole show is one big huge tearjerker.
"Those You've Known," "Left Behind," "And Then There Were None," and "Whispering" from Spring Awakening
Moritz's monologue after "Don't Do Sadness".
"So, what will I say? I'll tell them all - the angels - I got drunk in the snow, and sang, and played pirates... Yes, I'll tell them, I'm ready now. I'll be an angel."
"There are those who still know, they're still home. We're still home..."
"You watch me. Just watch me. I'm calling, I'm calling. And one day all will know..."
The German and English versions of "The Dark I Know Well".
In the original play
The Masked Man last words to the protagonists, "To you [Melchior] the doubt about everything, to you [Moritz's ghost] the certainty about nothing."
Although Moritz already brought his eternal inevitability, Melchiorr gives Moritz some meaning in Moritz's life after all. Melchior tells him "no matter if my personality was to change a hundred times, you will probably be [my closest friend]" Melchior walks off with the Stranger leaving Moritz behind. Moritz is saddened to rest in eternal rot but realizes that he can rest, straighten his grave with dignity, and sleep with a smile on his face.
The whole play is just one colossal downer, from Sweeney scream-singing about taking his revenge on humanity and abruptly swinging into "and I'll never see Johanna/no, I'll never hug my girl to me," and "and my Lucy/lies in ashes/and I'll never see my girl again," to Mrs. Lovett locking Toby in the bakehouse, realizing what has to be done. But the absolute crowning moment is the ending, with Sweeney cradling the wife he longed for all those years in Australia, whose memory drove him to homicidal madness and rage... the wife he killed in a moment of blindness, the death from his own slit throat dripping onto her face. It gets even worse, as Mrs. Lovett is smoldering in her own oven; and Toby has returned to an urchin's life in Victorian England, the only mother figure in his life killed by the man he suspected all along. But at least Johanna and Anthony got away...we hope.
It's very easy to read Sweeney's movements while Toby is sneaking up behind him as baring his throat for the blade; which is worse; that he is killed after murdering the wife he has lived through hell to see again, or that he is so completely crushed he wants it?
The most saddening part of the scene was Mrs. Lovett desperately and tearfully trying to explain her deception to Todd, who is barely even listening to her. Todd then turns to a clearly distraught and terrified Lovett to calm and reassure her before tossing her into the oven and quietly watching the slow, burning death of the only chance he has to be loved again, before slowly closing the door of the oven, making sure that the last thing she sees is his contemptuous look, and his last words to her being "Life is for the alive, my dear", which she had said to him before, imploring him to move on. It is made all the more poignant by the fact that the final song draws lyrics and music from the triumphant "My Friends" and the cheerful "A Little Priest", which is also probably the only song where Todd and Lovett are on quite the same page.
The moment when Sweeney began to tell Anthony about the barber and his wife. Between the pain in his voice and the despairing music, it weights heavily on the heart — especially as the visuals flash back to the day Benjamin Barker was hauled away from his wife and child. (Tim Burton has said shooting that flashback left him in tears.)
Also, Sweeney's part in the song "Johanna," if one can ignore the blood, and focus on the words, is a crushingly depressing song about Todd accepting that his daughter's gone for good, and that seeing would only hurt worse because she'd look like his wife.
"Not While I'm Around" . The look on Mrs. Lovett's face as Toby sings to her is heartbreaking.
The quartet version of "Johanna", even with all the (fairly funny) murders: "And though I'll think of you, I guess, until the day I die/I think I miss you less and less as every day goes by." A song about how a character's sadness is fading should not be such a tearjerker, except that his humanity is fading with it. Oh God, Sweeney...
There's something about watching Neil Patrick Harris as Toby going quitemad
George Hearn is not helping in that scene, especially when he lifts his head and rips his collar open. He knows what's coming...and he no longer cares. Sob...
And that assumes you can get through his "Not While I'm Around" without breaking down.
Mrs. Lovett frantically trying to save face when Sweeney finds out his wife was still alive and then finally giving up and admitting she lied because she loves him. In one production, the actress playing Lovett was, in fact, in tears and her voice cracked on the line "Could that thing have cared for you like me?"
The lines "I'll never see Johanna, no I'll never hug my girl to me" and "My Lucy lies in ashes and I'll never see my girl again" from Epiphany definitely count.
Len Cariou's version of "Epiphany" in particular; right after the above line he doesn't scream "FINISHED!!!" like most other actors but instead says it simply and flatly, in a voice of total despair. It makes you realise just what has finished for him - his family, happiness, morality and sanity...
In the 2012 London production, during Mrs Lovett's passionate rendition of "By The Sea", Sweeney looks, listens for a moment and then picks up a newspaper. The sheer brutality of him casually reading the paper while she pours out her plans for their future happiness is awful to watch.
But the lyrics are so strong and hopeful in the face of darkness! And Sarah's part is soaring and happy! Now, Rebecca reacting to Chagal's death with a slow, sad reprise of his theme tune? That's a tear jerker right there, especially when you consider it's the last we see of Rebecca, who up until then has been a minor comic role. Almost everyone else in the play gets something at least roughly approximating a happy ending, and Rebecca exits three quarters through the first act sobbing and alone.
West Side Story
West Side Story. The death at the end combines the music of "Somewhere, there's a place for us, somehow, someday, somewhere," and Maria's rhapsodic affirmation of her love: "I have a love, and it's all that I have."
"One Hand, One Heart". Make of our lives one life/Day after day, one life./Now it begins, now we start/One hand, one heart,/Even death won't part us now.
As the final act of a collection of Poe stories being performed, there was a ballet duet to piano music playing over a recital of the poem "Annabel Lee."
The Light in the Piazza. All the way through.
The Act I finale "Say It Somehow" when Margaret runs in on Clara and Fabrizio, and the end of "Fable" when Margaret joins the wedding ceremony and the final chord sounds. It echoes through the theatre.
"Something is terribly wrong..."
The Dark Reprise of The Beauty Is kills me every time. Although Margaret reveals that Clara's innocence is the result of brain damage from when she was kicked by a pony at her 12th birthday party in Act One, it is not until this number, when Margaret retells the story, that we find out that Margaret holds herself responsible because she turned away to answer the phone. Just the Ironic Echo of "I thought if I had a child, I would take such care of her" and the way the lyric just cuts out at the end... I get the shivers just writing it.
Franca's response to Clara's outburst in the Octet, especially because you know she knows that Giuseppe would not do the same for her.
The first song, 'Marilyn Monroe', and there's always that reprise that makes it 50 times worse.
The ending of The Yeomen of the Guard.
A recording of that show with the legendary Joel Grey as Jack Point. The sight of him struggling, lost and heartbroken, through "I have a song to sing, O!" is heartbreaking.
The trio of songs from the musical Titanic: "To the Lifeboats", "We'll Meet Tomorrow" and "Still", thought the whole shows is subject to Foregone Conclusion.
An audience member said that she was holding together quite well until Thayer "Told his small child to get into the lifeboat and that he'll see his father in the morning. And then the kid believes him."
When Alice Beane (the second class passenger who always wanted more) told her (somewhat) henpecked husband she loved him for the first time in the entire play, and then she bursts into tears, not wanting to leave him.
Also, Barrett's reprise of "The Proposal during "To the Lifeboats"
Surprisingly, there's one in Mamma Mia. "Slipping Through My Fingers."
"Vesti la giubba", from Pagliacci, sung by Canio, a cuckolded tragic clown.
La Traviata. At first, it looks as if it's just going to have a tragic ending, with the main character hoping to the last that her lover will return to her- in vain because she is dying of TB. They twist the knife by having the lover return (improbably), just in time for the character to die after a happy reunion scene.
Aeeing Michael Ingersoll singing Why during a production of Tick, Tick, Boom. Those three minutes blew Rent out of the water, now and forevermore.
"Why" - when Raul Esparza played Jonathan in the run that coincided with the tenth anniversary of Jonathan Larson's death.
Louder than Words; it's just so profoundly beautiful and relevant.
Those heart-wrenching ballads in some cookie cutter musicals. Like the surprisingly moving duet "If I Told You" from the musical of The Wedding Singer
Mary's death in the musical version of Reefer Madness. Especially the Dark Reprise of "Romeo and Juliet".
Goddamn it, yes. It's Reefer Madness, for God's sake, it shouldn't make you cry like a little girl. But it does. Somehow.
Several years ago this humble contributor found himself choking up something awful during Sanders Family Christmas, a piece about a 1940s American family of gospel singers: in one number, the mother sings a prayer for her son's safety as he prepares to head off to war.
In Stephen Sondheim's Assassins, after sitting through almost two hours detailing the lives and passions of the men and women who have tried, or succeeded, in killing various American Presidents we are presented with the amazingly Tear Jerker song, "Something Just Broke", with Americans from every era trying to come to terms with the tragedy of an assassination, which comes right after watching Lee Harvey Oswald take his shot...
Emily Webb talking about the beauty of Earth and how no one realizes it.
"They don't understand, do they?"
The musical 1776 is pretty lighthearted through its first act, leaving audiences completely unprepared for the emotional gut punch of how that act ends: with the Continental Congress in recess, only the clerk, a maintenance man, and a courier are left in the building and discuss the monumental events that are occuring right in front of them, yet they cannot really be a part of it. The courier notes that two of his friends were killed when the war began and sings "Momma, Look Sharp", about the thoughts of a dying soldier on the battlefield.
Almost any Puccini opera. Except Gianni Schicchi (and possibly Edgar, although that wasn't quite intentional) they've all got somewhere in them where you want to cry for somebody. Usually a dying soprano.
Another of Puccini's operas, Tosca, has the incredibly emotional finale, beginning with E Lucevan Le Stelle, Cavaradossi's final goodbye to his love as he is about to be executed, all the way through to Tosca's final piece when she realises that Scarpia had tricked her and Cavaradossi has actually been executed. The way she says his name and calls for him to hurry before the soldiers return, and when she figures out he's dead, are heartbreaking.
Madama Butterfly. When she starts singing "Un Bel Di Vedremo".
Two moments in Oedipus Tyrannus are particularly heartbreaking: the first, steeped in irony, is when Oedipus declares that he doesn't care who his parents were (at this point he only knows he was adopted), whether they were slaves or princes, even if his beloved wife and everyone despises him for it. In any other play, when Oedipus declares himself the "son of Chance", it would be uplifting and still is, in a horrible way. The second moment comes right at the end, when he's found out who his parents actually were and has blinded himself. His daughters/half-sisters are brought to him so that he can say goodbye, and he asks for their forgiveness for screwing up their lives. Then Creon comes to take them away and Oedipus, so proud and haughty throughout the play, begs for one more moment to embrace them. He doesn't get it.
In the last moments of the play, one of the daughters pulls away from Creon, runs back to her father, and leads him offstage, presumably intended to be Antigone. It was sweet, in a heartbreaking sort of way, until you remember what actually happened to Antigone, and connect that fate with the little girl on the stage... then it's just heartbreaking.
The ending faces a daunting challenge — how can the film's final shot of Norma Desmond coming in for her close-up be translated into stage terms? Well, after her iconic final line, and as she moves towards the camera, she reprises "With One Look" as a scrim is lowered behind her (concealing the huge mansion set and the other people on stage). As she sings of how "With one look I'll be me", the scrim is filled with the black-and-white close-up of a beautiful, young, beamingly-smiling ingenue. That's what she thinks that close-up will be. That's what she thinks she is. This is the note the show ends on.
Elegies: A Song Cycle by William Finn (composer of Falsettos and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) is a loosely connected series of songs about death. Some are happy, some are sardonic, and many just open the fricking waterworks. Like "Anytime (I Am There)".
Towards the end of Once On This Island, the heroine Ti Moune waits outside the hotel where the man she loves is preparing for his arranged marriage, begging people to let him know she's waiting for him at the gate. Sob.
This scene always brought tears to my eyes onstage, particularly when her parents, and then the gods, show up. Particularly in our production, where casting issues made Agwe a woman. Papa Ge's last-minute Heel-Face Turn is even more poignant.
''Erzulie took her by the hand/and led her to the sea
Where Agwe wrapped her in a wave/and laid her to her rest
And Papa Ge was gentle/as he carried her to shore
And Asaka accepted her/And held her to her breast
Held her to her breast
Earlier, Ti Moune sings to her parents as she leaves, "What I am, you made me. What you gave, I owe."
"But if I look back, I'll never go..." *sniffle*
Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme by Frank McGuinness is the story of eight soldiers from Ulster who fought in the First World War, as told by the only one of them who survived. We know from the beginning that all but one of them are going to die, but that doesn't make the scenes where they're facing a battle they know they're probably not going to survive any less gutwrenching.
Savage in Limbo by John Patrick Shanley often treads a very fine line between this and Narm, but if done right it is exceptionally powerful.
SAVAGE: You said there was an animal.
SAVAGE: There is. There's one in me too. It's the only thing in me that I love. It wasn't alwaysâ€”it's just that these days, these days, it's the only thing in meâ€”in everybodyâ€”that ain't a total fuckin' horrible lie. I. AM. ALONE. [exit]
Grey Gardens The whole second act sequence from Edie's refuge in the past in "Around the World" to her attempt to leave Grey Gardens in "Another Winter in a Summer Town."
There's an opera, in Italian, about the life of Joseph Carey Merrick, a.k.a., the Elephant Man. The staging is usually pretty stark, though not minimalist, and the music is lovely. The main character is usually played by a fairly fragile countertenor, with no stage makeup to represent the man's very real real-life deformities- making the absolute cruelty of what goes on hard to ignore. On the article here for Hollywood Homely, they mention how in the original production of the Stephen Sondheim musical Passion they had to keep cutting back on the homeliness of one of the main characters who is SUPPOSED to be plain lest the audience stop sympathising- it's as if whoever's staging the piece is aware of that rule in effect and avoiding it. All we see is a very gentle, very dignified man- being reviled and mistreated and, in the end, only being accepted by a bare few as anything more than a grotesque oddity.
Bernard Pomerance's much-acclaimed 1979 stage play The Elephant Man also eschewed makeup for its lead actor, likely for the same reason.
The musical Parade
The emotion is universal - "I'm ready to die. Even though this is unjust and unfair, I am ready for my death."
Mary's funeral scene. It goes from friends sharing fond memories of Mary to Frankie swearing revenge on Mary's murderer...tears every time
Frankie: It don't make sense to me that she won't be around/No, it don't make sense to me to put her in the cold and lonely ground/And no, it don't make sense the way the world will let you fall/I swear it don't make sense to me at all."
Passing Strange has so many great tear-jerking moments like the end of "Keys" and Youth and his Mom's last telephone call.
"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat" is an exceedingly silly musical, but both "Close Every Door" and the "Any Dream Will Do" reprise when Joseph is reunited with his elderly father - hysterics. Utter hysterics.
"I dreamed we were there. The plane leapt the tropopause, the safe air, and attained the outer rim, the ozone, which was ragged and torn, patches of it threadbare as old cheesecloth, and that was frightening. But I saw something that only I could see, because of my astonishing ability to see such things: Souls were rising, from the earth far below, souls of the dead, of people who had perished, from famine, from war, from the plague, and they floated up, like skydivers in reverse, limbs all akimbo, wheeling and spinning. And the souls of these departed joined hands, clasped ankles, and formed a web, a great net of souls, and the souls were three-atom oxygen molecules, of the stuff of ozone, and the outer rim absorbed them, and was repaired. Nothing's lost forever. In this world, there's a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we've left behind, and dreaming ahead. At least I think that's so."
"Bye now. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one, and I bless you: More Life. The Great Work Begins." WAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH.
Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.
"I made the last payment on the house today...and now there's no one home."
The "Vigil" scene
Our Town. After Emily gets a chance to see her life all over again, reliving it and realizing how little she appreciated it the first time, she turns to the omnipresent stage manager and asks if anyone truly gets life while they live it. The response — "No. Saints and poets, maybe." — is just depressing.
When George starts crying in front of Emily's grave. It's only for 10 seconds, but gaaaaahhhh...
Company: right before the final song, Bobby has an epiphany about friends and being loved. He starts breathing heavily as the rest of the ensemble starts going "BOBBY! BOBBY! Bobby baby / Bobby honey..." as they've done the entire show. In the 2006 run on Broadway, Raul Esparza cut them off with a soul-wrenching, heartbroken, tear-jerking"STTTTOOOOOOOOOOOPPPP!!" He breathed heavily for a few more seconds, asked "What do you get?" sounding as if his whole world had been torn apart... and then segued into the finale, Being Alive, with him playing a slow, stilted piano solo at first and eventually finding enough resolve to stagger to the front of the stage and sing to the world about finding someone to love and show him a reason to be alive.
M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang: a de-construction of Madame Butterfly and Asian steroetypes while being a VERY loose re-telling of a true story. Gallimard's final monologue can really get to you. It'd doesn't matter how you hear it.
My name is Rene Gallimard, also known as Madame Butterfly. SOB.
The original use of Chekhov's Gun in The Seagull: "Get her out of here. Whatever you have to do, get her out. The fact of the matter is, Konstantin has shot himself."
Translations by Brian Friel, both the love scene in the middle, and the ending - Yolland is most likely dead, Maire is almost incoherent with grief, Manus is on the run, and will most likely be caught almost immediately, Sarah is permanently muted... it's sad enough before you start to think about what's coming for the surviving characters, and Ireland in general.
Jersey Boys (the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons Jukebox Musical) is so fast-paced you'd think it couldn't jerk tears, but each act has at least one scene to trigger the waterworks - "My Eyes Adored You" in the first, which comes as Frankie's first wife leaves him, and "Fallen Angel" in the second when Frankie learns one of his daughters has died - if the monologue beforehand doesn't kill you, the song will.
The short reprisal of 'Walk Like a Man' as Tommy is revealed to have dug himself deep into debt. Instead of making any excuses, Tommy adjusts his suit and... He faces the consequences. That's how we fade to black on Act I.
R C Sherriff's Journey's End has quite a few (perhaps unsurprising for a play set in WWI), but one of the worst is when Stanhope, the young Captain struggling to cope and turning to alcohol intercepts a letter sent by another soldier, Raleigh to his sister whom Stanhope was once involved with, he expects the letter will reveal his drinking habits and is ashamed as when they were at school Raleigh had idolised him, in fact the letter reveals that Raleigh not only thinks of Stanhope as a hero, but is proud to be his friend If this wasn't bad enough, Raleigh eventually dies in Stanhope's arms
Osborne's death on the raid, as we see him maintain a brave face, while quietly accepting that he will never again return to the life (and garden) that he loved. Especially potent given his father-figure status for all of the other officers, especially Raleigh and Stanhope.
The final scene also implies that all the other characters die as well.
The famous Act One closer of La Cage aux Folles, "I Am What I Am".
The acclaimed 2010 Broadway revival of this show was cast-recorded for posterity. It includes, as a track titled "What I failed to tell you...", the dialogue and music that leads into this song. Backstage at the club, Georges (Kelsey Grammer) explains to love-of-his-life Albin (Douglas Hodge) that he must not be there to meet their "son"'s prospective in-laws, and it is wrenchingly clear that Georges doesn't believe what he's saying (that everything will be okay and that they'll be able to laugh about this later, etc.), and yet he doesn't think he has any other choice but to say it. Poor Albin, as his stage alter ego Zaza, tries to just go on with the show with the other Cagelles, but the pain overwhelms him and...
Time for some happy tears: the Maltby and Shire flop Baby ends Act I with "The Story Goes On", a mother (no pun intended) of a power ballad sung by a young pregnant woman upon feeling her baby kick for the first time.
The climaxes of the other two couples in the production to this list. The above example comes from a college junior couple, who predictably decide to marry before their baby is born. A couple of 30-somethings find out (in their own tear-jerker) that they aren't having a baby, and the tension created as they try again fruitlessly leads to their conclusion that a child isn't worth risking their marriage. The third couple, in their 40s, has already had 3 kids, and as the play progresses, the mother starts leaning more and more on the side of abortion, and in the end it seems as though she and her husband are going to get divorced, but at the last second they embrace and decide to start anew. My heart-strings were tuned to a high F#.
It's done in lots of different ways, but in Chess, when Freddie tells Florence that he loves her, you can't help but feel bad for him, not least he screwed up beyond the point of having a functional relationship with her.
To some it may be narmy, but if your own childhood was broken, every line of "Pity the Child" is a trigger.
When I was nine I learned survival, taught myself not to care. I was my single good companion, taking my comfort there. Up in my room I planned my conquests, on my own - never asked for a helping hand. No one would understand - I never asked the pair who fought below, just in case they said "No."
The end of The Drowsy Chaperone, mostly because it tells us of the only relief we have from our dull, unmusical lives.
Repo! The Genetic Opera. Some laugh their heads off, some may call it Narm. But 'I Didn't Know I'd Love You So Much''. Especially the ending.
Nathan: But you've already saved me, dear Now go and change the world for me And we will always have each other, in our time of need Shilo, you're the world to me...
The sound of Shilo crying at the end of that song breaks my heart, as does the look on her face in "Let The Monster Rise" when she turns around and sees the projection of Blind Mag's body.
Ragtime. The whole thing, but especially "Your Daddy's Son".
"Till We Reach That Day". Poor, dead Audra McDonald.
The final verse of "Make Them Hear You" just before Coalhouse is killed, particularly the lines:
Coalhouse: Teach every child to raise his voice And then my brothers, then will justice Be demanded by ten million righteous men Make them hear you When they hear you, I'll be near you again . . .
"Fame: The Musical" ends with the entire cast mourning the (offstage) death of the main character by cocaine overdose.
"These Are My Children".
"Some Other Time" from On The Town.
"The Fantasticks" 'Love... you are Love'
The amusement park setting was a metaphor for a destoyed/changed childhood. Combining this with the greater understanding of life that Matt and Luisa gain throughout the show, losing their childlike naivety, and it really hits home for many people.
Merrily We Roll Along has a few - "Not a Day Goes By," "Good Thing Going", "Our Time," and the Cut Song "The Hills of Tomorrow".
The musical as a whole is just miserable. You see this complete Jerk Ass at the beginning, and you're taken back through the years to see just where he lost his hopes and dreams, his promises for tomorrow. It's not a happy play at all, but it's *good*.
A play called "Indoor/Outdoor" is the story a cat tells of her life and how she ended up with the family she's with now, while her owner searches for her. That's about a year or so of her life. It's a silly, funny, occasionally touching thing with No Fourth Wall. And then at the end, she says that it's been about 17 years since then, and we quickly come to realize her owner is looking for her because she's sick, and not going to get better. In the end, she dies surrounded by her family, and for a moment, "Silly Love Songs," which plays the first time when she and her owner meet at the shelter, plays again. It's more touching than it sounds.
There are several in the show Hair - particularly "Frank Mills", the Finale ("Eyes, Look Your Last/Let The Sunshine In"), "Children's Games" and "Three-Five-Zero-Zero".
The finale, in which it's revealed that Claude has been killed in Vietnam.
The worst part about rehearsing this is that some people weren't taking it seriously enough, so the director stopped rehearsal and gave us a lecture using some touchy words - words like "massacre" and "Columbine". * eyes well up*
In Proof, the flashback scene of Catherine and Robert where Robert tells her he has finally had a break through, the most lucid he's been in years... and when Catherine begins reading the proof, it's complete and total gibberish. Her father is getting worse, not better.
The scene between Catherine and Hal where Hal reads the notebook Robert wrote during his lucidity about her was the scene she volunteered to read in front of an acting class.
The ending of Coram Boy, when Meshak dies and Aaron is reunited with his parents, Alex and Melissa — and the show ends with the Hallelujah freakin' Chorus.
The Diviners, at the end of both acts. Especially Act II.
Although it's a school play and only known because of Amanda Palmer's involvement, With the Needle That Sings in her Heart is an amazing, somewhat bizarre and touching story of the Holocaust, portrayed through the fictionalized imagination of Anne Frank.
Another Sondheim musical - Follies. The whole thing is depressing, but some songs... "The Road You Didn't Take," "In Buddy's Eyes," "Losing My Mind" are particularly sad.
War Horse - a play about an English horse sent with the cavalry to France in WWI, and his boy, who follows him. Between the idiocy of sending a cavalry charge against German machine guns, to Albert having to put a mortally wounded horse out of her misery, to Joey (the titular warhorse) being stranded in No Mans Land and getting trapped by barbed wire, all while the full size, ridable horses in the play are performed by PUPPETS.
The deaths of Major Nicolls, the German officer and especially Topthorn, but mostly the reunion scene at the end, when Albert has been blinded by tear gas, and he and Joey recognise each other purely by sound... and then the final scene when he goes home a broken man. If you don't shed a tear at some point, you have no soul.
Rosencrantz: That's it then, is it? The sun's going down, or the earth's coming up, as the fashionable theory would have it. Not that it makes any difference. (small pause) What was it all about? When did it all begin? Couldn't we just stay put? I mean, no one is going to come and drag us off...they'll just have to wait...we're still young...fit...we've got years...(pause. No answer. A cry.) We've done nothing wrong! We didn't harm anyone! Did we?
Guildenstern: Our names shouted in a certain dawn...a message...a summons...there must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said—no. But somehow we missed it. (he looks round and sees that he's alone) Rosen—? Guil—? (he gathers himself) Well, we'll know better next time. Now you see me, now you— (disappears)
The end of Arcadia, when the timelines have merged and Hannah is dancing with Gus in 1993 while Septimus and Thomasina are dancing in 1813 on the shared stage. Doubly a Tear Jerker because Hannah has just learned that Thomasina died that night in a fire started by the candle Septimus lights for her.
The moment in Rock N Roll where Jan comes back to his Prague apartment to find that not only has it been raided by police, but that they broke all the records in his ceiling-high collection. Absolutely sickening to any music fan (and indeed, Jan's immediate reaction is to run off stage and vomit), but pile on top of that the running theme in the play of the power musical counterculture had in inspiring people to topple communism...
Paula Vogel's The Baltimore Waltz, a tribute to her brother who died from AIDS. The play is prefaced by Carl's letter describing lovingly but humerously how he would like his funeral and how he'd like to be remembered. Sob!
South Pacific, when we learn that Lieutenant Joe Cable has been killed, and later, when Nellie tells his devastated lover. And the finale, which finds Nellie putting aside her prejudices to be a mother to Emile's biracial children, and when she and Emile joyfully reunite.
The scene before that, too, when Nellie is at the bridge saying "Live, Emile. . .live!".
Lieutenant Cable's death is especially sad because he, too, would have likely overcome his prejudices and married Liat had he not died
The Laramie Project concerns the beating and death of Matthew Shepard, which is in itself a difficult topic. The description of Reggie, the police officer who found Shepard, is really horrible: the only part of his face she could see were the places where he'd been crying. The speech of the CEO of the hospital where Shepard died. He's delivering it on live television and is reading a statement from Mrs. Shepard, which reads, "Go home, give your kids a hug, and don't let a day go by without thinking about them." He then says that his only thought was oh, God, she doesn't have her kid anymore and breaks down crying on television. Mr. Shepard's speech at the end is also heartbreaking. ("May you live a long life, Mr. McKinney, and may you thank Matthew every day for it.")
Waiting for Godot while comedic, has an overall tragic message, if it has one at all. At one point, the protagonists are so overcome with the futility of their existence, they can neither leave the stage nor meet Godot, they actually try to kill themselves. The tear-jerker comes when they can not hang themselves because a tree isn't strong enough, nor can they kill each other because one of them will be left alive, a fate which they consider, in their soul-crushing surroundings, to be worse than death.
When Dr. Frank N. Furter sings "I'm Going Home" in The Rocky Horror Show.
The title song of Legally Blonde: The Musical sung by Elle. In what is perhaps the only non-hammy moment of the entire play, Elle sings about her plan to quit Harvard after Callahan fires her due to her rejecting his sexual advances, in matter-of-fact, step-by-step terms ( "Take back the books and pack up the clothes/Clear out the room and drop off the key..."). Her resignation to her fate is gut-wrenching, as is Emmett's Anguished Declaration of Love ("The timing's bad, I know"), and in a play that had previously spiked every moment with a liberal dash of humor or wit, the script plays this moment completely straight.
As much as Shrek the Musical was pretty forgettable, the Big Bright Beautiful World reprise Shrek sings at Fiona and Farquaad's wedding so he can convince Fiona he loves her. "I know I'm not the handsome prince for whom you've waited / I don't have a fancy castle and I'm not sophisticated / A princess and an ogre, I admit, is complicated / You've never read a book like this / But fairy tales should really be updated..."
Who I'd Be, full stop. The whole song is tearjerking, especially for anyone who has been a social outcast for the better part of their lives, but especially so is Shrek's brief pause, after describing how he'd be a hero and rescue the princess from the tower, and he'd 'remove his helmet.'
The Ramona Outdoor Play has several tearjerker moments. At the end of the Indian scene in honor of Ramona and Alessandro's new baby, you see the Americans riding out of the hills, coming to drive the Indians out. A few scenes later, the baby gets sick and dies. Then, in the penultimate scene, Alessandro goes mad and takes a horse belonging to a local bad guy named Jim Farrar. Farrar tracks him down and shoots him to death in front of his wife. In the final scene, it is revealed that the Californios have lost their land, and all of them head for Mexico, singing the Spanish song of farewell, La Golondrina.
Ramona sobs over her dead child and cries out in anguish to God, then takes the baby and runs home, calling out for her husband.
Morris Panych's "The Girl In The Goldfish Bowl". Everything's gonna be okay! Really! The missle crisis was averted, and Iris and her parents can be a family again! And then Iris's mom leaves anyway, and Iris grows up in an instant.
'The Letter' from Billy Elliot : The Musical. Both Mum's Letter and Billy's Reply.
"Deep Into the Ground". Counts as a Tear Jerker in-universe, as Billy's father can't even finish the song he's so choked up.
Oh once, I loved a woman
She meant all the world to me
Saw ourselves a future
As far as I could see
But I was only forty-seven
When they took her down from me
And buried her deep...
Several different times during Copenhagen - especially when Heisenberg talks about how he almost wishes the highly unsafe nuclear reactor he was working on had melted down and killed him, and during his final monologue.
Bohr's line "Whereas you, my dear Heisenberg, never managed to contribute to the death of one single solitary person in all your life." You can just hear his regret.
The only show at which I've truely damn near broke down and sobbed was the original play Trust, as produced by the Lookingglass Theatre Company. Watching a happy nuclear family unravel completely because of a child's trust in people had me swimming in my own tears and trying not to make any noise. It's powerful stuff.
Walter: You wouldn’t understand yet, son, but your daddy’s gonna make a transaction...a business transaction that’s going to change our lives...That’s how come one day when you ‘bout seventeen years old I’ll come home...I’ll pull the car up on the driveway...just a plain black Chrysler, I think, with white walls—no—black tires...the gardener will be clipping away at the hedges and he’ll say, “Good evening, Mr. Younger.” And I’ll say, “Hello, Jefferson, how are you this evening?” And I’ll go inside and Ruth will come downstairs and meet me at the door and we’ll kiss each other and she’ll take my arm and we’ll go up to your room to see you sitting on the floor with the catalogues of all the great schools in America around you... All the great schools in the world! And—and I’ll say, all right son, it’s your seventeenth birthday, what is it you’ve decided?...Just tell me, what it is you want to be—and you’ll be it...Whatever you want to be—Yessir! You just name it, son . . . and I hand you the world!
"Some Things Are Meant To Be" from Little Women, even without knowing the context, hearing her just sing "All my life, I've lived for loving you...let me go now"...
The combination of "Some Things Are Meant to Be" followed by "Days of Plenty" followed by "The Fire Within Me" on the cast recording
Madame Ranevskaya's Heroic BSOD when her beloved cherry orchard is purchased by Lopakhin, and he starts ranting about how he's finally become a Self-Made Man in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard.
And the last scene, with Firs being left behind and dying. SOB.
Brundibar. The existence of the show is a real life tearjerker; it was written and performed in a concentration camp, with a cast of children. The majority of the cast, including the composer, died at Auschwitz. It's a simple, wholesome children's opera, but Reality Subtext makes so many moments in it just physically hurt. The worst is how victorious it is, in defiance to where it was written and performed; the villain is vanquished, the grown-ups aren't evil and they learn their lesson, the children welcome you at the end to be their friend as well. This doesn't even need a spoiler; you know it from the start, that good will win out in the end. And after thinking about the fate of the original cast you aren't so sure any more.
Footloose: Strangely enough, "Can You Find it in Your Heart?"
Anne of Green Gables:The Musical, when Matthew dies, singing the title song to Anne. Followed immediately by 'The Words', sung by Marilla, about how she was unable to tell him how she loved him. *sniffle*
And the pseudo sequel, Anne & Gilbert when Anne is reading the letter her parents wrote her.
In A Very Potter Musical, right after Voldemort has abandoned Quirrel to Azkaban and Dumbledore has died, Harry starts to sing a song called "Missing You", with Quirrel joining in. You would think with lines like "Watch a movie, roller skate/fill the world with fear and hate..." the song would be narmful, but some that, combined with the utter woobiefication of Quirrel just makes the whole song a punch to the gut.
And then the sequel has To Have a Home, which resonates with anyone who's ever been rejected then found a place where they truly belong, and Guys Like Potter, which, despite its last line, deals with the always-tearjerking Snape/Lily ship in a way comparable to the Prince's Tale chapter.
Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Proctor choosing his death to rescue a true reputation and honor. A Foregone Conclusion if you know the history. Proctor could have choosen to "confess" and resume his life with his wife, whom he wanted to amend for cheating on her, but he realizes he cannot live on a weak lie. To make it more heartwenching, a pregnant Elizabeth forgives him, respects his choice, and they kiss good-bye. "God forbid I [take his goodness] from him.
No it is not an actual production. Carrie, yes, that old flop that will have a revival. The ending of the workshop production is strangely relatable if you think back of particular real life tragic events that occured at schools. In the ending of the workshop readings, after Carrie is driven to anger and kills everyone, the audience is to be shown photos of teens arriving at their prom "ready to celebrate. One final photo appears. It is of Carrie, in her prom dress, happy."
The reprise of "The Colors of My Life" from Barnum: Earlier in the play Barnum and Chairy each sing their own lyrics to the song (Barnum's world is full of bold, garish color; Chairy's is neutral and clean). In the middle of the second act they sing the song together and it really emphasizes how much they love each other. Then Chairy exits and Barnum calls her name a couple of times, but she never comes back. It's one of the simplest, heartwrenching representations of death in a play.
It's telling that in the filmed-for-TV staging starring Michael Crawford as Barnum, he sheds real tears in this sequence.
Obviously, "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music is quite sad, but can be elevated to insanely tearjerking levels in the hands of the right actress. Glynis Johns's performance.
Iolanthe when the title fairy pleads her case to the Lord Chancellor, and then when her plea fails.
In Edward Albee's Seascape, when the human Charlie tries to explain emotions to the sea creatures, he riles up Sarah rather cruely, forcing these creatures to think of and feel things they never have before in their lives. He yells at Sarah and tells her that she would "cry her eyes out" if her Leslie would ever leave her, causing Sarah to cry for the first time in her life at the thought of loosing her mate. Leslie then get very angry and proceeds to attack Charlie for upsetting Sarah so badly. The raw emotion in both the sea creatures makes this scene an overwhealming Tear Jerker in this overall lighthearted play.
Leslie: You...you made her do that! You made her cry!"
Listen to the quartet "If Only" from The Little Mermaid and see how long you can hold out before the tears just cascade. It's unlikely you'll make it to the halfway point.
"Cute Boys with Short Haircuts" from the Vanities musical, sung by Kathy after Gary dumps her. She never really recovers. Also, "Friendship Isn't What It Used To Be", appropriately used at the story's Darkest Hour. Further adding to the dim mood, the scenery is withdrawn and the lights are turned off except for the spotlights illuminating the characters. The Dark Reprise of "An Organized Life", and "Looking Good" from the TheatreWorks and Off-Broadway versions, can also bring forth the waterworks.
"Reprise: In My Own Little Corner" from Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. "In My Own Little Corner" is overused and overdone, and the reprise is not different. That is, until the end, when Cinderella sadly sings the final words "All alone" and then a "The Sweetest Sounds" instrumental comes in as she runs out, unable to sing the rest of the song. Good performances twist the audiences' heartstrings when they have Cinderella run out of the scene just as the instrumental comes in. Done right, it's utterly heartbreaking.
Danny Boyle's Frankenstein when Benedict Cumberbatch played The Creature. Victor has just told the Creature he will complete the Creature's bride but instead kills her. The Creature picks up the Bride's body and tearfully Calls Back to his dream of the Female Creature from earlier.
Awake, my fairest, my espoused! Awake! Awake!
Showboat has quite a few sad parts. The saddest to me is when Julie Laverne is forced to leave after someone outs her as mulatto. Right after this is the signature song of the musical, Ol' Man river, about the hardship of life. Next time we see her, her husband, who even sucked on a needle to be Mulatto according to the One Drop Rule, is gone, and she's dishevelled and an alcoholic.
Ravenal comes back and sees him, and sings a reprise of "Only Make Believe" but can't finish he then asks if her daddy came back, if she can pretend he never went away to begin with, she replies "Of course!"
Jeremy Jordans last performance in Newsies as Jack Kelley. Particularly in Santa Fe . He's either barely holding himself together, putting on an exceptional show or both. Either way the passion for the role shows.
Of Mice and Men. If you've read the book, you'll know how tragic the story is, but seeing the play version brings it to life.
"Slipping Through My Fingers" and "The Winner Takes it All" from Mamma Mia!