FINDING AND CHOOSING THE RIGHT SONG FOR YOUR AUDITION From “The Complete Professional Audition” by Darren Cohen, Back Stage Books, New York, 2005
VOCAL REQUIREMENTS You want to show the strongest and most secure parts of your vocal range.
AGE APPROPRIATENESS Consider the age that you project. Find material that matches your look. You have to see yourself as a product that you are trying to market.
Having unusual maturity and life experience doesn’t matter too much if you look young. Those auditioning you can only use what they see on the outside. (p. 3 at bottom – Fantasticks ex.)
DRAMATIC TONE Find material that is positive in nature rather than offensive and cynical.
Keep away from hate songs, suicide songs, sexual-orientation songs, and parodies, because you never know whom you may insult (or frighten). The auditors assume that you want to show them a part of your personality through the material you have selected for your audition.
Stay away from songs you hate to sing. The worst thing you can do is to audition with a particular song simply because your coach/teacher told you to do so. You need to take part in the decision. It’s like shopping for your own clothes – you are the one wearing the outfit. You need to be comfortable in it.
LENGTH Mostly you’ll be instructed to sing only 16 bars of a song.
Stay away from narrative story songs, as they are difficult to cut down to 16 bars. Composers that write a lot of story songs: Schwartz, J.R. Brown, Maltby/Shire, Sondheim (Not all of their songs are story songs)
Even if you are asked to sing a full song, there are plenty of songs that will accomplish what you need to do without boring the panel with a story song that has 8 verses of the same repeating music.
REPETITION Avoid songs with repetitious melody lines. What a waste of time to attempt to demonstrate your range by only using 3 or 4 notes in your 16 bars!
SIGNATURE SONGS Don’t choose a song that is too connected to specific star performers.
These songs are overdone and sometimes the auditors can’t help comparing you to the performer they have always associated with that song: People – Barbra Streisand Cabaret – Liza Minelli
WHAT IF THE AUTHORS ARE PRESENT??? Unless requested, don’t sing an author’s song initially at the audition.
You don’t want the authors to focus on their material; the focus should be on you. The original cast recording still lingers in their ears, so to top these artists is nearly impossible. If you don’t perform their song to their liking, they’ll have trouble seeing past that – and you’ll have lost your potential call-back.
Instead, find material that is stylistically similar to the show and that will help the panel see you in the role you have been submitted for or are interested in.
If you are strongly being considered for a role you will probably be asked to learn one of the songs from the actual show being produced. (p. 8 – Jerry Herman)
STYLE OF THE SHOW Read the casting notice carefully. 90% of the time, the style of the music that the panel needs to hear is spelled out in casting notice.
Find out a head of time as much as possible about the creative team and its work. What else have the authors written? Does their writing encompass one certain style? Is this particular show set in a specific period of history? Is the show based on an ethnic theme?
Once you have identified the specifics, look at the material you have. Which is the most appropriate for the audition? (Choosing a song from Les Miz to use at an audition for Anything Goes shows the panel that you have no understanding of style, and/r that you didn’t bother to do any research.) (p. 8 – 9)
ASKING TOO MUCH OF THE PIANIST Be wary of songs that have difficult piano accompaniments. You can’t expect an audition pianist to sight-read music that is very complicated.
Some composers that write difficult piano parts: Sondheim J.R. Brown Bernstein Kurt Weill Maltby/Shire (Not all of the songs are difficult)
Also, think twice about using sloppy hand-written scores that are very hard to read. (Or music that is cut-off on bottom or sides) (Or music that is too light in print) If you’re considering an obscure score, have a second choice ready to go if necessary.
ARRANGEMENTS Stay away from fancy nightclub and clever cabaret musical arrangements. They tend to distract and even upstage your work.
You are the one auditioning, not your musical arrangements. Exceptions: read p. 9
FINDERS, KEEPERS If you find a great song that works for you, don’t be quick to give it out to friends, especially if it’s hard to find.
You can use the same song for years if it still works well for you. Only consider changing your material if you feel that too many people in the industry have heard you use it for too many years, if you simply cannot keep it fresh anymore, or if you have aged beyond it.
FIND PARALLEL SONGS Don’t present a song from the show you are auditioning for unless it has been specifically requested.
Most directors go into an audition with a clear vision of the character. If your rehearsed vision differs from theirs, it can be difficult for them to see beyond your choices. They may feel they will have to redirect you and that will take too much time.
It is very common for a theatre to suggest that you sing a song that the composer for this show has written. This request can be misleading, though. (p. 10)
PARALLEL CHARACTERS It’s more fun and appropriate to parallel actual characters than musical styles.
USING NONTHEATER SONGS When auditioning for a show that requires a specialty song, don’t feel that you have to use a musical theater song necessarily.
For example, if you have an audition for Big River, the audition panel will want to hear a country song. It is perfectly acceptable and often preferred that you bring a real country song to demonstrate your sense of that style. If the show is Grease, bring in a true 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll song
PIANO-BASED POP/ROCK WRITERS If you are considering a pop/rock song, look for a piano-based pop/rock artist.
These writers are pianists, so the printed piano music will sound close to the accompaniment you are accustomed to hearing. If, however, you choose a guitar-based artist, the piano accompaniment on the printed music will not serve the audition pianist well enough to give you the sound you expect to hear.
Examples of piano-based artists: Billy Joel Elton John Barry Manilow Carly Simon
OVERUSED SONGS If you choose one of these songs, there is a possibility that the auditors will tune you out from sheer boredom.
The auditors have to listen to these songs all day. A song that was once new becomes overdone. However, it’s refreshing for the panel to hear a great song that nobody else thought to bring in.
If once at the audition you realize your material is being sung by a lot of other performers, don’t be deterred from using it. It’s too late to change songs, especially if you chose yours to fit this particular audition. Don’t panic, you have to consider the presentation of the performance. Don’t be boring to watch! p. 19
Overused songs Out Here on My Own I Don’t Know How to Love Him Popular My New Philosophy On My Own Bring Him Home This is the Moment
OBSCURE MATERIAL Every singer is forever in search of a hard-to-find, obscure song to use at auditions.
However, use a song that you enjoy singing and that demonstrates the skills you are trying to show the panel. If that song happens to be obscure, good, but choosing a song solely because it’s rarely done is a miscalculation. So often singers will bring an obscure song that means nothing to them.
The panel will enjoy your song only if it suits you well. Its rarity should just be a bonus.
Keep in mind the pianist may not know your obscure song. Is the manuscript handwritten and hard to read? You might sabotage your own audition. Have a back up song.
RESEARCHING WRITERS As yourself what theater songs you really like. What lyrics have you heard that really appeal to you?
For example, if you love the show Gypsy, find out who the composer is. You’ll learn it’s Jule Styne. Look him up. You will be amazed to find out that over the course of fifty years he wrote hundreds of songs, both well known and obscure, for shows and films.
Keep in mind that if a show by any composer or writing team is labeled a flop, don’t let that deter you from investigating some of its great songs or monologues. Its being a flop just means that the show didn’t work as a whole.
CELEBRITY TYPES • Find a theater personality whom you admire or think you resemble in type. For ex: Bernadette Peters. If you look up Ms. Peters in a theater history book, you’ll find background on her career and accomplishments. You will discover she has been in shows you’ve never heard of.
Find these shows and listen to the recordings, or simply read through the lyrics. If the material looks interesting, get hold of the music and learn it.
The more shows you do, the more actors you will meet. Find people older than you who perhaps were your type at some point. Talk to them about what material they might recommend for you. • Be open to all types of music