Genuinely Roaring Twenties: 22 Female Solo Ideas From The Jazz Age

Written by Jackson Upperco

March 13, 2017

So you’re auditioning for the role of Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie (2002)? Velma in Chicago (1975)? The Drowsy Chaperone herself in The Drowsy Chaperone (2006)? Well, put some authentic Roaring ‘20s in your repertoire – starting with this collection of solo suggestions for audition and study from Musical Theatre’s Jazz Age. All of the selections below, chosen by a self-proclaimed expert on the scores of this era, are guaranteed to put you in the mind and flavor – the real mind and flavor – of this iconic decade. From classic additions to the Great American Songbook to jazzy (seldom sung) gems waiting to be rediscovered – this EXCLUSIVE list is one to be studied and bookmarked!

1. “I’m Craving For That Kind Of Love” from Shuffle Along (1921)(Soprano)

Shuffle Along was the first successful Broadway musical starring and written by African Americans to permeate the tastes of the predominantly white theatrical community. The score, by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, was jazzy and modern, and this number, in which a woman craves for a love who’ll “kiss me, kiss me, kiss me with his tempting lips” is a little known delight.

2. “(I’ll Build A) Stairway To Paradise” from George White’s Scandals Of 1922 (Mezzo)

George White’s Scandals was the second most popular annual Broadway revue of the era (behind only the Ziegfeld Follies). While Ziegfeld’s productions often looked toward the beauty of the past, White set his gaze on the hot and heavy present – evidenced by this scintillating tune composed by the up-and-coming George Gershwin. This was a true showstopper.

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3. “Bring On The Pepper” from The Music Box Revue Of 1922 (Mezzo)

Irving Berlin, who wrote both the music and lyrics for this admittedly spicy number, was one of the most prolific contributors to the Great American Songbook, and his efforts for the 1921-‘24 series of Music Box Revues is a terrific source of early ‘20s jazz. This number, originally sung by a trio of sisters, begs for music “with pepper.” Well, here’s an example.

4. “Shimmy With Me” from The Cabaret Girl (1922) (Soprano)

Before Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote a 1943 musical that would challenge all shows thereafter to integrate song and story, composer Jerome Kern (with help from smart lyricists, like Hammerstein) had spent the prior three decades moving the theatre in this direction. His work, evidenced by this plainly spoken British show tune, is effervescent.

5. “Nashville Nightingale” from Nifties Of 1923 (Soprano)

More early Gershwin rhythmic heat comes from this Nashville flavored ode to a singer who knows how to “thrill.” Slinky and quintessentially Gershwin, this number – from one of the lesser musical revues of the era – was resurrected and given enhanced popularity thanks to several recordings by musical comedy star Barbara Cook (The Music Man).

6. “I’m In Love Again” from Greenwich Village Follies Of 1924 (Mezzo)

It would take several more years before Cole Porter would become the toast of Broadway, but this offering from 1924 – housed in another of the era’s musical revues (the slightly “hipster” Greenwich Village Follies) – offers a taste of the greatness he’ll become. Considered too hot for its era, it finally caught vogue several seasons later, in 1927.

7. “’Where-Has-My-Hubby-Gone?’ Blues” from No, No Nanette (1925) (Mezzo)

Thanks to a brilliant 1971 revival with relatively little score tinkering, No, No Nanette is one the better remembered shows of this era. But the intentions behind this tune, used in ’71 as a showstopper, can sometimes be clouded. A half-parody of the typical blues songs of the era, the situation has a flirtatious woman worrying about her husband’s philandering.

8. “Blue Skies” from Betsy (1926) (Mezzo)

Perhaps the most famous ditty on this list, this Irving Berlin number – used often to represent the unbridled (and with hindsight, naïve) optimism of pre-Depression America – can be a real crowd pleaser. It was a sensation when Ziegfeld commissioned it for a Rodgers and Hart show (without alerting them); the challenge now is to make it your own.

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9. “The Varsity Drag” from Good News! (1927) (Mezzo)

The songwriting trio of B.G. DeSylva, Lew Brown, and Ray Henderson had a handful of popular, sporty, and youth-oriented musicals in the late ‘20s. This, about a college football game, is the best remembered and most revised. Of the score’s many classic songs, this hot dance number, led by a true flapper, is ideal for anyone who wants to strut.

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10. “Bill” from Show Boat (1927) (Soprano)

From the most important musical of the decade – a dramatic step forward in the aforementioned integration of song and story – this is THE quintessential torch song and was performed by the quintessential torch singer, Helen Morgan, an alcoholic (same as her character in the show) who owned an illegal speakeasy. Revel in this piece’s hidden layers.

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11. “How Long Has This Been Going On?” from Rosalie (1928) (Soprano)

Rosalie was an ambitious musical attempt to reconcile the old world (represented by operetta composer Sigmund Romberg) and the new one (represented by the Gershwin Brothers), and this velvety tune, by the latter, can tell you – sans words – which one came out on the figurative top. Here, a woman is awakened to new feelings of love.

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12. “You Took Advantage Of Me” from Present Arms (1928) (Mezzo)

Elaine Stritch made a hit with this number in the 1954 revival of Rodgers and Hart’s 1936 musical On Your Toes. It was originally from a 1928 show called Present Arms, where it was sung as a duet. Frankly, it works just as well as a solo (because that show’s plot was, naturally, trivial), and as long as you project that ‘20s frame of mind, go on an’ belt your heart out.

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13. “I Must Have That Man” from Blackbirds Of 1928 (Soprano)

Blackbirds was a seminal revue starring African Americans – this time with songs by Jimmy McHugh and lyricist Dorothy Fields – that had played London in ’26 before coming to New York two years later with a new, fresh American score. Adelaide Hall introduced this number, whose title is fairly self-explanatory; you know what she wants.

14. “The Lost Liberty Blues” from La Revue Des Ambassadeurs (1928) (Mezzo)

1928 was Cole Porter’s breakthrough year– thanks to several hits from the musical comedy Paris – but this number comes from a revue staged at a famous Parisian nightclub. (The score finally made its way across the Atlantic in 2014 for a rare concert performance.) This cheeky song features the Statue of Liberty bemoaning an identity crisis.

15. “I Wanna Be Loved By You” from Good Boy (1928) (Mezzo)

Okay – this number is VERY well known thanks to a rendition in Some Like It Hot by Marilyn Monroe, with whom this song is associated; it was actually originated by Helen Kane, the inspiration for the character of Betty Boop. Because this popular number is connected with two strong performers, if you choose to work with it, delve into the material and make it fresh!

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16. “I Want A Man” from Rainbow (1928) (Mezzo)

Vincent Youmans (composer of the aforementioned No, No Nanette) always wanted to be as musically resonant as Gershwin and dramatically potent as Kern. This musical drama, Rainbow, about the California Gold Rush, was his attempt at a Show Boat, and this criminally neglected number introduced by the vampy Libby Holman is rich in possibilities.

17. “Love Me Or Leave Me” from Whoopee! (1928) (Mezzo)

Ruth Etting was a famous Ziegfeld chanteuse and recording artist who put over this sentimental torch song, about a woman who’d rather be lonely than love somebody else, in the Eddie Cantor hit Whoopee! She played a movie star with little connection to the plot – essentially interrupting the action to perform this soon-to-be hit tune.

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18. “I Want To Be Bad” from Follow Thru (1929) (Mezzo)

Another serving of fun by DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson, this number was introduced by the same originator of Good News!’ “Varsity Drag.” Although the show was about golfing, there was still time for a classic flapper tune and this – in which a woman admits that “if it’s naughty to rouge your lips…” then she wants “to be bad” – is it!

19. “Can’t We Be Friends?” from The Little Show (1929) (Mezzo)

This torch song for brooding songbird Libby Holman was written by Kay Swift and her husband Paul James. (Swift, who had a lengthy affair with George Gershwin, was one of the era’s only female songsmiths and became the first to compose a full score in 1930.) The sentiment here is relatable: a woman worries that her crush will reject her with the classic, “can’t we be friends?”

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20. “More Than You Know” from Great Day! (1929) (Mezzo)

A marvelous contribution by Youmans to the Great American Songbook, this potential belter is a classic example of the “I love him so much” number that we find in musicals from every era. But the bluesy nature of the music makes it typically ‘20s, and if you’re looking for a good ol’ classic standard, this is a great selection for study and play.

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21. “If Love Were All” from Bitter Sweet (1929) (Soprano)

Written to be sung by a peripheral character (a singer at a Viennese café), this aching Noel Coward ballad – from a British operetta with terribly modern sensibilities – has come to be considered a Performer’s Anthem. It was made famous decades later by Judy Garland, who really felt this line: “since my life began, the most I’ve had is just a talent to amuse…”

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22. “Boyfriend Back Home” from Fifty Million Frenchmen (1929) (Mezzo)

There are several female solo suggestions worth highlighting from this buoyant Cole Porter score (including “Find Me A Primitive Man” and “I’m Unlucky At Gambling”), but the songster’s lyrics are so divine in this entry – with rollicking late ‘20s references – that there’s no better way to get an idea of this era than here with this lesser-known Porter gem.

For more information on the scores and composers of this era, visit the author’s blog:

Listen to a Spotify Playlist of these audition songs here:

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Jackson Upperco is a lover of retro television, forgotten Broadway musicals, and Pre-Code Hollywood. He boasts a Bachelors Degree in Film and Television from Boston University. You can keep up with all of his entertainment interests at