What, What, WHAT Are You Singing??? Part I

For the last several years, I’ve helped adjudicate freshman musical theatre auditions at Marymount Manhattan College, where I’ve taught private voice for the last five years. I don’t think it’s over reaching to say Marymount has one of the best musical theatre programs in the city. Led by Pat Simon, it boasts some incredible teachers – from acting to dance to voice and speech – including a wonderfully supportive and gifted voice faculty.  It’s a pretty cool place.

So, given this, we always look for the best of the best to bring to our program. We’re interested in hearing and seeing each prospective student’s potential. Sometimes it can be hard to accurately assess this given the repertoire brought into the room. While I try to be a good sport, a little part of me dies when a young woman announces she’s going to sing “Not for the Life of Me” from Thoroughly Modern Millie. Must you? Or, most memorably, I heard a girl sing “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables.  Are you a 40ish year old man?  I don’t think so.

The truth is, students and teachers alike need to be much more savvy about what songs we select (or help select) for auditions of any kind. There are certain songs that are simply sung to death in audition rooms, and it behooves us all to know what those songs are and avoid them. With the help of some of my colleagues, I’ve put together a starter list of “Oh no you didn’t!” audition songs.

But before I launch head-long into this, let me clearly state that, by suggesting the below list of songs shouldn’t be sung at auditions, I’m not making any value judgments on the songs or shows themselves. There’s a reason they’re so popular.  Also, please note these are my personal suggestions, taken from experience, unless otherwise noted.

OK – enough “legalese”. Here we go…

GOLDEN MOLDIES

There are certain songs and shows from the “Golden Age” of musical theatre on that tend to be overdone, or just don’t translate well in audition situations.  Here’s a short list (including links to the songs or shows):

Adelaide’s Lament” (from Guys & Dolls)
    • This is usually sung with a character voice, which doesn’t allow the listener to hear the singer’s real instrument.
Being Alive” (from Company)
    • “Although I adore the song, I’ve heard it done badly so many times.” – Clay Zambo, composer/lyricist, musical director
Anything from Hair
    • Christine Riley, Artist in Residence – Marymount Manhattan College
I’m The Greatest Star” (from Funny Girl)
    • “I’m pretty not-fond of anything like ‘I’m the Greatest Star’.  Unless it’s, say, for a callback. It’s the sort of thing that makes me think, ‘Bet you’re not…’ (And I’m seldom proven wrong.)” – Clay Zambo
Johanna” (from Sweeney Todd)
    • A popular song for baritones, I have yet to see it read well in an audition.
Anything from Les Miserables
 
Maybe This Time” (from Cabaret)
    • This tends to be a belt-fest.  I almost always wonder if the singer is going to make it up the steep mountain of this song.
Meadowlark” (from The Baker’s Wife)
    • Paul Stephan, musical director and vocal coach
Moonfall” (from The Mystery of Edwin Drood
    • Christine Riley
Anything from Phantom of the Opera (need I even say that???)
 
Shy” (from Once Upon a Mattress)
    • This belter song gets done a lot.  It’s hard to play the joke of the song in 16 bars, and I often end up feeling screamed at in the process.
Story songs that have been made into 16-bar cuts.
    • Christine Riley
Stranger to the Rain” (from Children of Eden)
 

CONTEMPORARY NO-NO’S

I’m always excited to hear contemporary musical theatre performed at an audition.  Unless it’s one of these:

Astonishing” (from Little Women)
 
Jason Robert Brown songs (especially from The Last Five Years)
 
Anything by Adam Guettel (especially The Light in the Piazza)
    • “Vocal technique and musicality issues become strikingly obvious in this repertoire.” – Paul Stephan
Gimme, Gimme” (from Thoroughly Modern Millie)
 
I’m Alive” (from Next to Normal)
 
Anything by Michael John LaChiusa 
 
The Lady Must Be Mad” (from Illyria)
 
Larger Than Life” (from My Favorite Year)
 
My Unfortunate Erection” (from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee)
    • Christine Riley
Anything by Pasek & Paul (especially Edges)
    • These songs do not tend to cut well.
Purpose” (from Avenue Q)
 
Run Away with Me” (from The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown)
 
Anything from Spring Awakening
    • Christine Riley
Take a Chance on Me” (from Little Women)
 
Anything from Wicked (especially not “Popular!”)
 
Anything from Andrew Lippa’s Wild Party
    • “One of my favorite musicals that has been murdered by late-night open mic fatigue.” – Jenny Wren, actress

Thanks to my incredibly talented colleagues for helping me round out this list.  Of course, I’m sure there are others and we’ll keep adding them.

So, why not make a comment?  Go ahead.  Tell us the song that makes you cringe at auditions.  We’re all in this together!

And stay tuned, because next week, we’ve got even more helpful information for you about what not to sing!

____________________________________

Please visit www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com for more information on over 150 contemporary musical theatre writers and 360+ songs, all searchable by voice and song type.

15 thoughts on “What, What, WHAT Are You Singing??? Part I

  1. We recently saw 110 insanely talented people, each with two songs. We ended up with 16 next to normal songs, 14 spring awakenings, and a whole crapload of contemporary. I admit, I enjoyed them all, even through the repetition. The winner of best audition song was a MT arrangement of One Headlight.

  2. Hi I’m just wondering what advice you’d give/what song you’d recommend for me maybe? I was planning on singing astonishing from little women, but now I’m not so sure. I’m in high school and on some of the higher belting notes I can’t control my voice that well. I’m auditioning for into the woods no particular part, I’m female and soprano 2. Thanks

    1. Dear Lane – I find “Astonishing” to be on the overdone list and, frankly, usually poorly sung. I think it’s better to do a song that has something to do with self-discovery because that’s what INTO THE WOODS is all about. Not knowing your voice, I don’t feel comfortable recommending something, but you might want to look at something like one of the following: “Feelings” (THE APPLE TREE), “Take Me to the World” (Sondheim’s EVENING PRIMROSE)… I hope that’s helpful! Best, David Sisco

  3. Hello! I know you said not to sing Pasek & Paul, but I was planning on singing “Pretty Funny” coupled with “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood” for contrasting audition pieces. I have a 32-ish bar cut for “Pretty Funny” but it goes a bit over (I think 34 bars.) Do you think that’s okay?

    1. Hi Emma – I think songs from DOGFIGHT are exceptions and could be considered good audition pieces. I’m personally very fond of that show and think “Pretty Funny” is a great audition choice. Usually if you’re a couple measures over the 16 or 32 bars, that’s fine. No one is counting measures, though usually colleges will stipulate that ballads like “Pretty Funny” should be 16 bars.

    1. Hi Emily – thanks for reaching out! We recommend a fantastic song by Sara Wordsworth and Russ Kaplan called “Hittin’ the Road.” It’s in the pop/rock vein of NEXT TO NORMAL and has the same kind of teenage angst Natalie has. You can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrEx03TNZ5Y. Incidentally, we just started selling music on our site (www.ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com) the other week and this song is now available for purchase and automatic download when you subscribe. Check us out – we think you’ll find it worth while for this and your many other auditions. Break a leg!

    1. Hi Amy – thanks for your question. “Woman” from Pirate Queen isn’t necessarily overdone but, to be honest, it’s not a very good piece. Like much of the show, it’s emotionally overblown and doesn’t allow the actor honest expression. Consider checking out our site (ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com) – we have hundreds of songs that will showcase your talents better.

  4. I’m auditioning for Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, and I was thinking of using “Not for the Life of me” from Thoroughly Modern Millie as my audition song but I saw this post and now I’m not really sure. Do you have any better songs you could suggest to me?

    1. Hi Natalie – You definitely should not sing “Not for the Life of Me,” not only because it’s overdone, but also because it doesn’t match the musical feel of HAIRSPRAY. I would recommend singing something with a 60’s feel – either a musical theatre piece or a pop song.

  5. i’m a legit lyrical soprano, and it’s hard enough to find a solo that i want to scream and rip my hair out — but not only would that be counterproductive, it would also ruin my voice. i’ve been trying to find a solo to audition for my district’s international thespian festival, and i was thinking about doing “the beauty is” from the light in the piazza, but after seeing this list, i’m a bit hesitant. what do you recommend?

    1. Dear Single Peeled – We have almost 40 contemporary musical theatre songs on ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com that would fit your voice. My top favorites are: “Alive” by Leslie Becker & Curtis Rhodes, “It Feels Like Home” by John Bucchino, “Spring” by Will Reynolds, “Through the Course of the Day” by Micah William Young and “Time on My Hands” by Katya Stanislavskaya. Almost all of those are available for purchase directly on our site. You can get a 3-day “QuickPass” for $19.95 if you don’t want to get an annual subscription. Don’t sell contemporary writers short: they’re definitely still writing for your voice type! Best of luck on the competition!

  6. This list could not have come at a better time! Thanks!
    I’m a legit soprano with a high belt to boot, and while I love using some of these over-sung songs in voice lessons, they’re not what I want to take to auditions. Even if I sing it incredibly well, they’ve heard it a million times before. I have, however, used a couple of these for competition for the same reason – they’ve heard it a million times, but I’m doing it justice.🙂
    Thanks again!

    1. I’m so glad this has been helpful! We’re going to try to keep it updated. It’s amazing how fast these lists change, especially in New York! We wish you all the best!!

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