Dark, confessional, female musical theater song?
March 24, 2009 7:53 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: Please suggest a dark, confessional female pop/blues song, suitable for a "Spring Awakening" musical theater audition.

A friend is auditioning for the role of Martha in Spring Awakening. Martha's solo song is called "The Dark I Know Well" (a short clip of the song is online here- scroll down). Context: just before singing this song, Martha accidentally confesses to her young girlfriends that her father is sexually abusing her and her mother knows but isn't stopping it. The song is the story of her twisted homelife.

Please suggest a song my friend can audition with, something similar in style and theme to "The Dark I Know Well".

The specs:
Alto / Contralto range (any race)
Dark, bluesy tune
Minor key
Not too fast. A creeping/building tempo, restrained urgency.
Character is not empowered (yet), so no Aretha-Franklin style anthems like Chain of Fools.
The singer should seem angry, helpless, sad, quietly desperate.
Tone of song should be confessional, rueful, ashamed, hurt.

YouTube links to the songs you suggest would be much appreciated, as well.
posted by dziga to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I can't give direct links, but you could do worse than to dig around amongst the music of Portishead and Black Box Recorder.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:57 PM on March 24, 2009

I'm thinking just about any Tori Amos song would fit in here.
posted by AlliKat75 at 8:02 PM on March 24, 2009

I'm thinking Fiona Apple - her catalog is a gift to show-offy altos everywhere.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:04 PM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Rilo Kiley (fan videos):

The Execution of All Things

The Good That Won't Come Out

I can't find a good version of "A Better Son/Daughter" but it's kind of dark and building and deals with a lot of family issues.
posted by Science! at 8:05 PM on March 24, 2009

Seconding Tori Amos, specifically "Crucify" (it does have some funky vocal acrobatics on the line "my heart is sick of living in chaaaa-aaaa-aaaains...." but the rest of it is about that range) or "God".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:07 PM on March 24, 2009

More specifically: Never is a Promise fits all of your criteria.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:08 PM on March 24, 2009

Another one that fits the rules would be Tori's Hey Jupiter.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:13 PM on March 24, 2009

(but a better Tori track would be Donut Song).
(seriously, I promise I'm done now).
posted by moxiedoll at 8:14 PM on March 24, 2009

Dust Bowl by Natalie Merchant
posted by Methylviolet at 8:15 PM on March 24, 2009

((.... but if I wasn't done making suggestions, I'd also suggest School Night by Ani DiFranco)).
posted by moxiedoll at 8:17 PM on March 24, 2009

Oooh, the Natalie Merchant one reminded me of 10,000 Maniac's "Eat For Two".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:19 PM on March 24, 2009

On the bluesier side of things, how about I Put A Spell On You? It's a classic so you can pretty much bend it tonally to suit whatever you have going on, and there are many famous recorded versions of it so you don't risk being compared with the one famous person who sings it, a la Tori.
posted by hermitosis at 8:37 PM on March 24, 2009

A Quiet Night at Home from Bare: A Pop Opera. It's the right genre, feel, key, and range.
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:01 PM on March 24, 2009

I think Amy Winehouse's Some Unholy War would fit this criteria. Kind of disempowered, dark, moody and she has a lower voice. This is a live version so it's kind of more wail-y than the album version.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:27 PM on March 24, 2009

(I assume songs from musicals are okay, too?) The first song that came to mind is from the musical Cabaret, "What Would You Do?" Enormous dramatic heft, dark, a bit unsettling, even. Definitely meets the "Not too fast. A creeping/building tempo, restrained urgency." criteria.

YouTube link to the version off of the 1998 revival's cast recording. The versions by Lotte Lenya and Judi Dench are even better.
posted by jroybal at 9:40 PM on March 24, 2009

Maybe that awesome tune from Synecdoche, New York?
posted by 31d1 at 9:48 PM on March 24, 2009

Another confessional and quietly desperate one that might fit the bill is "Losing My Mind" from Sondheim's musical "Follies." I wouldn't call it dark, per se, moreso bluesy. Dorothy Loudon's version is shattering. YouTube here, but ignore the other parts of the medley. Here's a version that provides the whole song.
posted by jroybal at 9:57 PM on March 24, 2009

I don't know the song you mention as an example, but Fiona Apple's Oh Well, from the album 'Extraordinary Machine", sounds like it may fit the bill. Ditto perhaps her O Sailor.
posted by springbound at 9:59 PM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I honestly don't know enough about music to know if it meets the technical requirements even closely, but a dark tune with creepy building tempo and a confessional, angry/helpless narrative?

I present you with Sarah Slean's "Book Smart, Street Stupid" (warning: Megaupload link, but a 30 second clip doesn't quite do it justice). I mean, just check out those lyrics!

(A lot of her other work fits the criteria, too.)
posted by rafter at 10:31 PM on March 24, 2009

In the Tori-esque vein, you might consider Charlotte Martin, especially "Chariot" from On Your Shore.

Or, again, as long as we're on the Tori thing, Kate Bush, since she arguably did it first. There might also be some possibilities in the dark cabaret vein, stuff from the Dresden Dolls/ Amanda Palmer, A Particularly Vicious Rumor, and the like.

And, hey, when all else fails, cover "Mad World" by Tears for Fears. Everyone else does.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:40 PM on March 24, 2009

I agree with the Tori recs, but I would specifically recommend "Me And A Gun," a song about being raped. It's sung a capella, and is really powerful. The theme fits well, too.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 11:04 PM on March 24, 2009

Not sure whether this one really counts as ashamed as such, but Plain Gold Ring by Nina Simone seems to fit everything else.
posted by fearnothing at 11:23 PM on March 24, 2009

I like the DiFranco "School Night" suggestion. Also you could try DiFranco's Gratitude or Letter to a John.
posted by onlyconnect at 11:32 PM on March 24, 2009

Some soul tunes:

He hit me and it felt like a kiss original by the Crystals, cover by Grizzly Bear (even better than the original in my opinion)

I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine by The Ronettes

After Laughter Comes Tears by Wendy Rene

Let Me Be Lonely by Dionne Warwick (I couldn't find a youtube video)
posted by Foam Pants at 11:46 PM on March 24, 2009

Little Girl Blue
posted by watercarrier at 4:17 AM on March 25, 2009

"Ghost" by Indigo Girls
posted by Dukat at 5:29 AM on March 25, 2009

Sarah Maclachlan? "Stardust"?
posted by wenestvedt at 5:56 AM on March 25, 2009

I haven't auditioned for anything in a loooooooong time, but back in the day, album tracks by alternative singer-songwriters would've been potentially kind of a faux pas. Especially if you don't have sheet music, or if the sheet music is going to a pain for the accompanist to follow because the songwriter has a quirky style of composition.

I'd plough through the catalogues of great female soul/blues singers like Billie Holiday, Aretha, Nina Simone, Irma Thomas. (For some inspiration, Neko Case's cover of Aretha's "Running out of Fools" is a terrific example.)
posted by desuetude at 7:04 AM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm on my iPhone so I can't link, but definitely consider "Summertime" originally from Porgy @ Bess.
posted by apostrophe at 7:15 AM on March 25, 2009

I am with desuetude on the appropriateness factor of most of these songs.

I see the allure of this line of questioning. Spring Awakening may appear to be an exception because it's by Duncan Sheik and it has a pop/rock feel, but it is still musical theater, and your friend should still audition using musical theater repertoire. (That's not to say she has to whip out "In My Own Little Corner" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella - that would be just as inappropriate.) She's right to want something that will help the auditioner see her in the role of Martha. But those auditioners will be balancing that inquiry with the practical questions of, "Does this unknown person have any idea what she's doing in a musical?" And if you stray too far from the genre, you run the risk of tripping those alarms and having the entire process backfire.

Emotionally fragile/mentally ill/dream deferred, creepy song: "Around the World" from Grey Gardens.
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:34 AM on March 25, 2009

Am at work so can't link, but if your friend does decide to go the musical theater repertoire route and Summertime appeals to her (as mentioned by apostrophe), I strongly recommend searching itunes for the many excellent and amazingly different covers of this song - make sure to check out Nina Simone's, Sissel's and Janis Joplin's!
posted by widdershins at 9:51 AM on March 25, 2009

You could try checking out Jolie Holland.... She's a bluesy/folksy singer with a couple of songs that sort of fit that bill.
posted by Aubergine at 12:02 PM on March 25, 2009

Echoing desuetude and greekphilosophy re: appropriateness of modern/alternative pop music for musical theatre auditions.
posted by hermitosis at 1:12 PM on March 25, 2009

"Ballad of the Soldier's Wife" by Kurt Weill (here's a version by PJ Harvey)

I agree that the female blues/soul/jazz vocalists will be fertile ground. Off the top of my head: "The Other Woman," "Strange Fruit," and "Solitude" by Nina Simone; "In the Middle of It All" by Irma Thomas. For Aretha, maybe "Good to Me as I Am to You." Maybe Etta James' version of "One more for the Road."
posted by aka burlap at 2:45 PM on March 25, 2009

(and yes that was supposed to be Porgy & Bess, stupid virtual keyboard)
posted by apostrophe at 7:12 PM on March 25, 2009

I'm a little curious about how many of you suggesting modern pop/alternative songs have ever done musical theater? Standards and perhaps even some classic 60s soul would be okay, in this case, but beyond that...

'Cause wow, when the accompanist is sighing and three bored, hungry, jaded theater professionals are staring at you from an otherwise empty theater, it is a memorably visceral enough experience that I'm having flashbacks. And am reminded of how glad I am that I was not that girl who brought in the tape of the song with which to sing along. Or, god forbid, delicately asked "um, and what made you decide to select that song for your audition, may I ask? And...erm...what is it from?"
posted by desuetude at 7:42 PM on March 25, 2009

Well, regarding the the appropriateness of pop and alternative songs, the Spring Awakening casting page says:

Bring a recent picture and prepare a short folk/alt. rock song. Bring sheet music, accompanist provided.

& a girl auditioning in the UK says here that the casting director told her:

We'll be asking people to prepare 2 songs (we may only have time to hear 1). They shouldn't be Musical Theatre songs unless of a rock/pop nature. What we really want to hear is something that shows off your range, you feel comfortable with and is of a folk rock sound. Something like Alanis Morrisette/ Jeff Buckley etc.

It surprised me too when I encountered a similar request on the notice for RENT. (Not that I'm in musical theatre! I am just nosy.) But dziga's friend should be OK.

BTW, Fiona Apple sounds good to me. Good luck to your friend! :-)
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:46 PM on March 25, 2009

Well then, I stand corrected in this case. I still think 60s soul/blues type songs are a better bet to show off range and fit with the character, as well as more likely to have reliable sheet music.

(And oof, I feel sorry for the casting directors listening to everyone's favorite song from the radio.)
posted by desuetude at 6:22 AM on March 26, 2009

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