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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…


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)


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.