So there’s a role you’re keen to get, in a musical you love. The audition’s coming up and you’ve registered. You don’t want to botch it - so how can you put your best foot forward?
Song choice is crucial to success at the audition. Here are a few tips to help you make the right choice at your next audition.
Have more than one song ready
When preparing for an audition, you should have about five songs that you can pull out of your hat at any time. These songs should be ones you know you can nail. They should be well rehearsed and memorised - lyrics and melody.
Reason being, at the audition, the panel may listen to your first song, maybe even your second one, then ask, “Do you have anything else?”
They may want to see more of what you’ve got to offer. You may not know exactly what they are looking for, but they might still be keen to see if you have it!
If you have some other options, you're ready for that question.
So keep your five best songs, in sheet music form, in the folder you take to auditions. (Nicely presented in a folder makes it easy for the piano accompanist as well.) Most professional auditions require you to have two songs prepared, in any case. But be prepared to whip out something else at a moment’s notice.
Prepare contrasting songs
It’s always good to front up to a musical theatre audition with one song that’s pre-1960, and one that’s contemporary. That’s your first contrast. Two contrasting musical theatre traditions.
The second contrast is character. Your songs should display two different characters. One might be Annie Ado with “I Cain’t Say No" from Oklahoma, and the other may be a reprise from Little Red Riding Hood from Into the Woods, for instance. Your songs should show the types of roles you’re capable of playing. So in your suite of songs, find characters that show a variety of virtues and vices.
For example, source songs for a character that is dominant, a character that is evil, another character that is vulnerable, another character that is neurotic, and another character that overcomes the odds. And bring your character to your song. Aim for at least two different energies in the two songs you bring on audition day.
Choose songs that are age appropriate
If you are twenty, don’t choose to sing an audition song where the character is sixty (like Norma Desmond, from Sunset Boulevard, for instance). Choose audition songs where you would be likely to be cast in the role.
Your performance should “make sense” to the audition panel. You don’t want to raise questions, like “Why is she singing that?” Don’t ask the audition panel to work too hard! You need to be believable from the word go.
Choose songs that are gender appropriate
You may love a woman’s song from your favourite musical, and sing it well, but if you’re a fella, choose a man’s song for your audition. And vice versa if you’re a woman.
Admittedly we live in an age where gender fluidity is up for discussion - but if you are auditioning for a male role in a show, you need to show the panel that you can sing and play a male role. Again, don’t make it hard for them. They want to see what you can do, for their show ( - not what you would do for your own personal cabaret performance). They are hoping that the next person who walks into the audition room is ‘the one’.
So if you are going for a male role, sing a male part. If you are going for a female role, sing a female part. As they watch you, they are imagining you as the character they are casting. So you want them to imagine you as the character they have in mind. The character’s gender is part of that.
By all means, if you are auditioning for a cross-dressing role, a specifically gay or a transgender character, you can choose audition repertoire that reflects this; there certainly are songs out there of this description, so it might work in your favour to have one of these up your sleeve if that's the kind of role you're going for. But the general rule of thumb is: sing to gender.
Choose songs you know you can achieve every time
Sometimes singers have songs they’re working on but haven’t quite mastered. There’s that high note, or that low note, or that difficult melody, that you can’t do consistently well.
At auditions, you want to show what you can do well. Choose songs you know you can nail every time you sing them. It may be tempting to sing something you’ve not quite mastered, in the hope that you’ll impress on the day - but the audition is your job interview. You want to put your best foot forward. So know your musical range, and know your vocal type. Then audition within that range and type. The audition is not the time to try something new. Your regular singing lesson is the place for that.
Learn how to cut your music
You won't always sing an entire song in an audition. Usually, you’ve got to be prepared to cut your music.
Depending on the audition requirements (and make sure you familiarise yourself with these), you may only be required to sing a couple of verses and a chorus.
So when you sit down to look at your song, make sure you choose the section that will show you off. It may be where there’s a crescendo. It may be where the character is most emotional. It may be the verse that is most similar in sentiment to the character role you’re auditioning for. Select your section, and work out in advance how you are going to explain the section you want sing to the accompanist on the day. Make it clear by crossing out unwanted sections on the sheet music you will provide to the accompanist.
Prepare your character
Character is so crucial to selling a song in an audition. It’s not enough to sing sweetly and on pitch. You need to understand where your character is coming from and what they are trying to communicate at the moment they sing their song. So make sure you know your character’s journey to this point.
That will mean being familiar with the musical as a whole, and your character’s place in it. So do your research - your reading and listening. Then break down your song lyrics. Ask, “What does my character want here? What is his/her goal? What do they feel?” and “How can I bring these things to life in my face, my hands, my posture, my physicality?”
In other words, how will you tell your character’s story? How will you become the character as you sing?
This kind of preparation is as important as mastering the musical content of your song.
Despite the song and dance requirements of the audition process, ultimately the musical theatre audition is all about the acting - it's all about the storytelling. You, as the auditionee, are the storyteller. So next time you sing, make sure you are telling a story. It's key to audition success.
These parameters are the important to bear in mind for professional musical theatre auditions, as well as auditions for musical theatre training courses. (To find our more about CADA's training course, click here.)
Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art