Teen girl audition song needed!
March 18, 2008 6:38 AM   Subscribe

Teen MusicalTheaterFilter: Audition song for teen girl- make it a good one!

My niece (age 14) will be auditioning for a “young adult” production of Sweeney Todd (maximum age 21) at a local community theatre. She has asked me to help her plan and prepare for her audition.
She remains hopeful of getting a role although I have tried to keep it real and explain that it’s VERY unlikely that any of the leads will be 14-year-olds (except perhaps Toby).

Also, I tried to explain that it’s extremely unlikely that someone brand-new to the group will be cast over someone they know who is a proven commodity. Kids struggle with this because it’s not _fair_ but it’s a fact. Even if she kicks major ass at the audition, they probably won’t cast her in a lead. I advised her to list the role she wants but to also say she’ll take any role, and go for the gusto.

So- I can’t dissuade her, despite all of the above [AND my firm belief that there is no way a bunch of teenagers-twentysomethings can do this show justice. Ahem].

So she needs an audition song. I’m not used to working with teen voices, so I’m asking for help.

She has never done any “real” theater, just little plays at church. She has a good voice, a great ear, learns quickly and can even do a damn good Cockney accent. She’s had experience singing in front of people and understands that she needs to cast her semi-geeky adolescent fears aside or the masses of experienced teens who are bound to show up at this audition will wipe the floor with her.

She was all proud of the fact that she learned “By the Sea” (off the movie soundtrack!) but I had to explain that it’s not appropriate to sing from the show unless specifically asked to; plus, she wants the Beggar Woman role. Third, her voice is totally wrong for that song.

In my opinion (and what my 25+ years of experience have shown me), the goal should be to get called back, so she can get over the first rush of terror and relax a bit in the comfort that she made it past the first round. The song needs to let her show her ability and make them want to see more of her.

The song should (ideally) be somewhat bipolar in nature (as is The Beggar Woman)- she goes back and forth in her delivery between the lyrical, almost wailing upper range (“Alms, alms…”) and the low bawdiness of the “How’d you like to push me crumpet…” sections, etc.

It doesn’t have to be Sondheim per se, but it needs to be more than just fluff and not Rent-type pseudo-pop. I will teach it to her and coach her so she doesn't have to learn it on her own. It needs to be the typical "your best 16 bars" worth, so it can't be a whole opus.

Caveat- please don't refer me to anthologies. However, I would welcome other sites/forums where people in the know could assist.

I know this is a tall order. It’s not “just another audition” since she will have so much invested in this. I REALLY want her to do well because to step into the world of theater will do wonders for her (she’s fairly introverted and appears shy but is actually very smart and would, I know, eventually shine as an actress and singer).

Thanks for the help!
posted by I_Love_Bananas to Media & Arts (21 answers total)
How is singing from the show inappropriate unless asked? I've auditioned for community shows all my life, and singing from the show (for Todd, sing the Broadway version, not the movie (which is awesome in its own right)) is the best way to show that you can handle the specific kind of music.

If you don't want to sing from Todd, pick another Sondheim song.
posted by sjuhawk31 at 6:43 AM on March 18, 2008

More: Sondheim-specific, how about "Lament" from Into the Woods? It has a nice range and is a good song to show acting ability too.
posted by sjuhawk31 at 6:46 AM on March 18, 2008

My first thought was "The I Love You Song" from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, although it is more of a trio than a solo. With a small effort it could be cut down into a solo piece, and is definitely chimerical in nature.
posted by Lokheed at 6:49 AM on March 18, 2008

Another suggestion. As Long as He Needs Me, from Oliver. Female - a bit bi-polar in theme, and chronologically appropriate.
posted by Sparx at 7:06 AM on March 18, 2008

"Rainbow Connection" from The Muppet Movie has a wide range and can show off a good voice.
posted by waraw at 7:43 AM on March 18, 2008

"Turn Back, O Man" from Godspell could work, although you don't mention her voice type? I have my thinking cap on, I'll probably be back in this thread all day with new suggestions.

Honestly, for a young adult production, I wouldn't worry too much about finding something that's just like this particular show, either- something that shows off her voice is top priority. It would be better to nail 16 bars of "Happy Birthday" than do a weak job on something that's all over the place.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:59 AM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

One suggestion I've heard for standing out at auditions for characters with heavy stage dialects or odd voices in musicals is to perform (using the target voice) a song that's normally associated to a different dialect or to no particular dialect. My father managed to land a decent roll in a production of Chess performing Reviewing the Situation from Oliver! with a thick Russian accent. Doing something like this might help to separate her from the numbers of other auditioners who will likely be performing songs from Oliver!, My Fair Lady, and other shows featuring Cockney accents.

No numbers come immediately to mind, but you might look into shows where the characters are solidly American (West Side Story, Grease, Oklahoma!, etc.). I Cain't Say No from Oklahoma! is certainly a number about a conflicted girl. If she really wants to blow their mind, she could choose a song from Porgy and Bess, though the dialect is so strongly built into the lyrics that you'd probably have to adjust some of the lyrics.

The lyrics in Sweeney Todd are pretty complex, so you might want to choose something that follows that lead. Gilbert and Sullivan come to mind immediately, though there aren't many good numbers for female voices (though she doesn't necessarily need to restrict herself to any sort of traditional performance of anything for an audition). When Fred'ric Was a Little Lad comes to mind, a very regret-filled number.

Tell her to break a leg for us, and make sure you let us know how the audition went!
posted by ErWenn at 8:07 AM on March 18, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the feedback so far. It's prompted me to consider something a tad more daring along the lines of "Reviewing the Situation from Oliver! with a thick Russian accent." This type of cross-gender interpretation will definitely set her apart and I think she could pull it off.

With respect, sjuhawk31, singing from the show is something I would never recommend at a first audition. I have performed in many professional productions as well as community theatre and have found this to be SOP. I have also been on the other side of the table and in traditional audition situations (meaning the 3-step process of first audition-callback-casting), the goal is to shine by singing something that shows off your voice but is close to the style of the show you are auditioning for.

To sing from the show unasked would place one at a distinct disadvantange, especially here. We all have ingrained in our minds the de facto interpretations of these songs from years of listening to the Broadway recordings (or perhaps weeks of listening to the more recent movie soundtrack). She would only be offering her imitation of someone else's version, and she would, under stress, simply deliver Broadway karaoke.

That being said- when there is only one shot and it's do or die- only then would I sing from the show, because yes- at that point, you must show what you can do with that specific material.

Again, YMMV, but it is often mark of the less-experienced performer to sing from the show without prior request.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:21 AM on March 18, 2008

I guess I've always had prior clearnace, then, because I've almost always found that singing from the show was an accepted and useful behavior. Example: when I tried out for Ragtime last summer, the audition sheet said something from the show or another by its authors would be preferred (but not required). It's not relevant here, but future readers might want to know...

In your case I'd still recommend looking for something from Sondheim's library - for sheer wordiness, Sondheim can only be matched by Sondheim.

If not Sondheim, along the lines of ErWenn's suggestion, how about something from Music Man (if she's a soprano) in a Cockney accent? Or something from Seussical (nicely wordy and smart) in a different voice? Just make sure that it complements her abilities.

Agreed that getting her feet wet in a "real" production, not getting a callback, should be the #1 goal here. Being part of a show in any capacity is a rewarding experience for a young performer.
posted by sjuhawk31 at 9:01 AM on March 18, 2008

From someone who deosn't know anything about this stuff...

How about a go at Those Were The Days? (NOT the All In The Family theme song.)

Why it might work: The English version was first popularized by a teenage girl. It can be delivered in either an understated or overly dramatic fashion and still work. It is rarely performed these days, yet everybody knows it. It seems like something out of musical theater, but as far as I know, it isn't. It would offend no one, but can move anyone.
posted by quarterframer at 9:20 AM on March 18, 2008

I would advise against the use of any accents in an audition. The most important thing to convey in this first song is that she can sing. A bad accent (and it will be bad, if she's nervous and inexperienced) will distract from that and distract her from focusing on other important audition techniques, like breathing and posture.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:38 AM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

The song should (ideally) be somewhat bipolar in nature (as is The Beggar Woman)

For a Sondheim audition song that fits that description, you can't do much better than "The Miller's Son" from A Little Night Music. It's kind of ribald for a 14 year old girl, but if she's ready for crumpet pushing, she's surely ready for this.
posted by Mender at 9:59 AM on March 18, 2008

Response by poster: I love The Miller's Son too... however it sits very low in the voice and needs a true belter-quality delivery to truly sell it. Maybe in a higher key... hmmm. Must think on that one.

Let me qualify the earlier statement about being called back- I do not mean that her goal should only be to get called back.

I guess what I mean by that is- in an audition, if you go in with an "I must get the ___ part!!" mentality, you are setting yourself up for potential disaster.

If she goes into it thinking, "I know I need to get called back in order to get cast. Therefore, at this audition I will do the best I can to get called back. I need to make myself memorable and ensure they want to see more of me," she'll do herself a favor.

Using this self-talk takes a lot of the pressure off and generally produces a much better audition.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 10:34 AM on March 18, 2008

What voice part is she?
posted by sjuhawk31 at 11:06 AM on March 18, 2008

Well- first of all, there is no reason that she will not be cast. Yes, favorites sometimes get roles but you're first audition in a place usually gives you the leg up actually. The director has never seen you, you're new and exciting!

So- you're right. Nothing from Sweeny Todd, thats what a callbacks for! Also- nothing from Sondheim. It is much too hard to sight read which means that the pianist might have trouble.

I would suggest something like "Change," from A New Brain. It's a beggar woman singing who's sort of crazy. Bonus points for not singing a song everyone else will be singing.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 11:41 AM on March 18, 2008

Response by poster: She has a very clear, pure tone in the upper register which is a strength. She doesn't try to carry a belt too high. Not tons of power, but she is always on pitch.

She plays pop songs on the guitar and sings along, but she alwys ends up imitating someone she's already heard (using that odd, affected Avril Lavigne-type diction that seems to be everywhere). [Not that she likes Avril Lavigne. But that is the sound I mean when I attack that style.]

I think if she committed to developing her voice towards the goal of musical theater vs. pop, she would definitely see good results.

From what I have heard her sing (not really musical theater repertoire), I think she is definitely a soprano. To show off that upper range would be to her advantage, especially for Sweeney and the big, full-voice choral numbers.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 12:22 PM on March 18, 2008

Response by poster: Quarterframe, I have not thought of Those Were the Days in years. It has a music-hall vibe. And yes- NO ONE else would do it. Hmmm.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 12:25 PM on March 18, 2008

I've always been given the advice never to sing a song from the show that you're auditioning for unless asked to. On the other hand, it's actually not uncommon to be asked.

Regarding accents: I do agree with ThePinkSuperhero in that she shouldn't perform an accent if she can't do it well. However, the bar is probably not as high as you might think. Stage Cockney doesn't have much to do with the way anyone actually talks (in fact, if you tried to perform My Fair Lady with an authentic accent, I imagine quite a few of the lines wouldn't even rhyme), so it's not nearly as difficult as performing a realistic accent. Also, I've noticed that youth productions often value energy over subtlety. An bold, unusual performance with a lot of energy and a few mishaps seems to get more attention than a lower-key, but flawless audition. Take these words with a grain of salt, however. The youth theatres I'm more familiar with are generally 12-18 year-old groups. This one sounds a bit older. I guess what it boils down to is this: if she can pull of a good stage Cockney, go for it. If it's kinda iffy, you might not want to put it front and center.
posted by ErWenn at 4:59 PM on March 18, 2008

If I was a young girl (which I'm not) and could sing (which I can't), I'd sing Blue Hair by Joe Iconis every time I auditioned.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 6:55 PM on March 18, 2008

"I've Got the Sun in the Morning" from Annie Get Your Gun. Solid song that you don't hear too often and works for well for a lot of different voices.
posted by easy_being_green at 9:41 PM on March 18, 2008

Response by poster: Good grief, they won't let under-16's audition. The drama!

I guess I'll save all this info for 2 more years.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 9:06 AM on March 21, 2008

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