10 Great Audition Songs for Older Women

Article Image
Photo Source: “Kimberly Akimbo” Credit: Joan Marcus/Atlantic Theater Company

From Joanne in “Company” to the title character of “Kimberly Akimbo”—unlike most other mediums, theater roles for women only seem to get better with age. But that doesn’t mean landing those parts gets any easier. Never fear, we’re here to help. Here are 10 of the best audition songs from musicals for women of a certain age—a superior age, if ever there was one.

“I Hate Men” from “Kiss Me, Kate” (1948; music and lyrics by Cole Porter)

One of the best things about aging, for women especially, is finally getting the chance to be surly with impunity. This Porter ditty gets right to the point—because a woman scorned has neither the time nor patience for pleasantries. “I Hate Men” is technically a soprano song, since the highest note is a C#5/Db5; but considering the lowest is a B3, it can also be considered versatile.  

“Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from “Gypsy” (1959; music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim)

To understand the power of a particular musical theater song, you only need to look at the ladies who made it famous. In this case, that means Ethel Merman, Patti LuPone, and Bernadette Peters. For singers who have a commanding belt, this is—and will always be—the song to have in your repertoire.

“Where Am I Going?” from “Sweet Charity” (1966; music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields)

The title of this tune becomes more and more wrenching as the title character ages; at a certain point, the question shifts from literal to metaphorical. Depending on the production, this 11 o’clock number can be all brass. But other renditions strip it bare, emphasizing the true heartbreak that Charity has experienced in her life. That means you can speed up or slow down the tempo based on your acting choices. 

“The Ladies Who Lunch” from “Company” (1970; music and lyrics by Sondheim)

Everybody rise! There are countless Sondheim gems that could make this list (Steve loves writing juicy numbers for older ladies). But this one, performed in the original Broadway production by the great Elaine Stritch, makes the cut thanks to its pure fury—and who but a woman who’s really lived knows that feeling better? It isn’t a piece that calls for perfect vocal polish; rather, it lives or dies based on the passion of your delivery.

“Send in the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music” (1973; music and lyrics by Sondheim)

This Sondheim masterpiece doesn’t feature a moment of dramatic belting nor a big vocal climax. Instead, it’s drenched in feeling from beginning to end; and only someone who’s experienced decades of regret will have the wherewithal to mine the emotional depths of its lyrics. “Send in the Clowns” is a waltz whose original key and meter—D flat major, alternating between 12/8 and 9/8—can be easily adapted for varying vocal ranges.

“Memory” from “Cats” (1981; music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; lyrics by Trevor Nunn and Richard Stilgoe, after T.S. Eliot)

Yes, yes, we know—it’s “Cats.” But there’s a reason why Betty Buckley won a Tony for her turn as Grizabella the Glamour Cat in the original Broadway run. Is there any faster route to catharsis in musical theater than an 11 o’clock torch song? When it comes to auditioning, this kind of emotional shorthand is the name of the game 

“Last Midnight” from “Into the Woods” (1986; music and lyrics by Sondheim)

Many women wait half a lifetime in showbiz to play a particular role—and the Witch in Sondheim’s dark fairy tale is certainly one of the greatest. As menacing as it is fun, “Last Midnight” is an ideal 16–32-bar number to sing if you want to show off your versatility as both a singer and actor.

“I Miss the Mountains” from “Next to Normal” (2008; music by Tom Kitt, lyrics by Brian Yorkey)

In this selection, sung by a suburban mom suffering from bipolar disorder, the image of “mountains” refers to a time before she was medicated and could still experience emotional peaks and valleys. It’s a song that must be performed by an older actor, since it requires the woman performing it to have actually experienced decades of life’s ups and downs.

“Days and Days” from “Fun Home” (2013; music by Jeanine Tesori, lyrics by Lisa Kron)

“I didn’t raise you / to give away your days / like me.” Has a more heartbreaking lyric ever been written? This song provides a rare opportunity for sopranos to project anger and devastation. Breath control is crucial for getting through the melismas here, so be sure to choose the places where you’ll take a breath ahead of time. 

“Make a Wish” from “Kimberly Akimbo” (2021; music by Jeanine Tesori, lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire)

How’s this for an acting challenge? Though this piece is meant to be sung by an older woman, the character is actually a teenager suffering from a disease that causes her to age rapidly. Kimberly addresses the song to the titular Make-A-Wish Foundation, choosing what she most wants to experience in her tragically shortened life. 

Ready? Check out Backstage’s musicals audition listings!

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Backstage team and/or a Backstage Expert. If you purchase items through these links, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partner.