In terms of vocalism, what differentiates a ‘rock tenor’ from your standard-issue musical theatre tenor (or, perhaps more commonly, ‘baritenor’)? Rock tenors employ a type of singing that is heavily influenced by commercial music styles like pop and rock. While this vocal style does share some similarities to traditional musical theatre singing, there are also major functional and stylistic differences. Here are several defining characteristics of this type of singing:
- It is an empathetic, reactive, and emotion-based style of singing.
- All registers of the voice are utilized, and abrupt registration shifts are common.
- Maintaining stylistic authenticity sometimes takes precedence over lyrics/text.
- There is a heavy reliance on amplification (and often electronic instruments).
- Vocal distortions are common (i.e. vocal fry, growls, breathy tone, screams, glottal stops, vowel manipulation, and more).
- Pop and rock ornamentation and embellishments are utilized (i.e. riffs, bends, fall-offs, and more).
The first rock musical to hit Broadway was Hair in 1968, and the first show to specifically ask for rock singing in casting calls was Rent in the mid-1990s. Over the past two decades since, many musicals featuring full out pop/rock-style vocalism have premiered on and off Broadway. Some notable examples include Hedwig and the Angry Inch (1998), Bright Lights, Big City (1999), Bare (2004), Jersey Boys (2005), Spring Awakening (2006), Next to Normal (2009), Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson (2010), Once (2012), and Beautiful (2014). Some of these shows feature original scores, and others are jukebox musicals made up of pre-existing songs by popular music artists from the past and present.
Below, I have compiled a list of ten original musical theatre songs (aka no jukebox musical songs) for rock tenors from shows that have run on Broadway from the year 2000-present. This repertoire list is far from exhaustive, but it will provide some ideas and examples. Note: Many of the male actors below can sing very well in other styles as well. As noted in a previous post, Broadway singer-actors today need to be extremely versatile.
1. “I’m Alive” from Next to Normal (2009)
Music by Tom Kitt; Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Performed by Aaron Tveit
2. “I’m Not That Guy” from Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson (2010)
Music and Lyrics by Michael Friedman
Performed by Benjamin Walker
3. “Leave” from Once (2012)
Music and Lyrics by Glen Hansgard & Markéta Irglová
Performed by Steve Kazee
4. “When She Smiles” from Lysistrata Jones (2010)
Music and Lyrics by Lewis Finn
Performed by Max Clayton
5. “The Origin of Love” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2014)
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Trask
Performed by Neil Patrick Harris
6. “Step One” from Kinky Boots (2013)
Music and Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper
Performed by Stark Sands
7. “What Say You, Meg?” from The Last Ship (2014)
Music and Lyrics by Sting
Performed by Aaron Lazar
8. “All That’s Known” from Spring Awakening (2006)
Music by Duncan Sheik; Lyrics by Steven Sater
Performed by Jonathan Groff
9. “Ich Bin Kunst” from Taboo (2003)
Music and Lyrics by Boy George
Performed by Matt Lucas
10. “Generation Apathy” from Glory Days (2008)
Music and Lyrics by Nick Blaimire
Performed by Adam Halpin