This blog is a part of The Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers, found online at www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com.
We’ve all heard of audition calls that request odd things – an 8-bar up-tempo (I mean, really, what’s that going to show?!).
This summer I had a private client come in panicked because she had to sing a bluegrass song for an audition. After some time on Pandora, we found a song that fit the description of the character she was auditioning for (reading some of these character descriptions is a hoot and a half: “She’s a mid-thirties folk belter – half bitch, half Donna Reed…” Seriously??). But who would have ever have guessed one would need a bluegrass song?
I do my best to help my Marymount Manhattan College students prepare their audition books for most any situation by giving them personal song assignments each semester. The idea is that, after four years with me, and through their audition techniques class, they will have an audition book that covers not only the basics, but rounds out some of the unexpected selections they might be called upon to sing.
As you’ll see, I try to make these assignments incredibly specific so the students really have to dig to find something that meets the given requirements. With so much wonderful repertoire out there, there’s no reason we still need to be hearing “Not For the Life of Me” at auditions (as much as I adore Jeanine Tesori and that show).
These assignments tell me so much about the students and how they perceive themselves as performers. I always seem to have a baritone who wants to be a tenor and, therefore, picks inappropriate repertoire based on that delusion. The song assignments allow us to have constructive conversations about how their vocal identity and teach them to pick appropriate repertoire. I also ask the students to prepare the audition cuts on their own so I can get a sense of how (or if) they’re applying the technical work we’re doing in lessons to other repertoire.
Students are expected to bring me a copy of the song with their paper (yes, there’s a written portion to these assignments…), which helps me continually expand my repertoire beyond the research I regularly do.
Here are some assignments I’ve given in the past several years. Some of them encourage students to think about their “type” (a subject for a future blog) while others challenge them to find obscure repertoire that is sight readable by audition accompanists and perfectly suited to them as singing actors.
Off The Beaten Path
Find an “off-the-beaten-path” musical theater song from a/an (possibly) obscure show that meets the following requirements: 1) it’s a part you would be cast in either today, or within the next five (give or take) years; 2) a song that balances out the other repertoire you were assigned this semester; and 3) within the piece you see something specific that will challenge you to grow into a healthier vocal technique (i.e. – long phrases, the tessitura lies mainly in head voice, etc…).
The song must be from a show written after 1960. You may not pick songs by the following composers: Jason Robert Brown, Adam Guettel, Jonathan Larson, Andrew Lippa, Richard Rodgers, Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Sondheim or Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Furthermore, you may not pick any song that is: 1) featured in the Hal Leonard “Singer’s Musical Theater Anthology” books; 2) from a show currently on Broadway; 3) from a musical revue; or 4) a selection from one of the following shows: AVENUE Q, CABARET, CHICAGO, A CHORUS LINE, FALSETTOS, HAIRSPRAY, SPELLING BEE, SPRING AWAKENING, THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE.
The Worst Show in Town
Find a good/interesting, vocally and otherwise appropriate song for yourself from a musical that was a flop on Broadway between 1960 and 1990. The musical must have run for less than 200 performances. You should be able to tell me:
- How many performances the show ran (extra points for songs from shows that ran for less than 100 performances)
- Why it flopped.
- Why it’s a good song for you (technically, as an actor, etc…) and how it rounds out the repertoire we’re covering this semester.
The song can be in any style (i.e. – ballad, up-tempo, comedic, dramatic, etc…).
You may not choose selections from the following shows: 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE, ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, BRING BACK BIRDIE, CHESS, GRIND, MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, PACIFIC OVERTURES and WORKING.
Remember: you may only pick songs that came from shows that actually made it to Broadway, then flopped. This means musicals like THE BAKER’S WIFE and LUCKY STIFF are out of the running. You may not select a show written by a composer whose work you have already sung in the studio (this applies only to sophomores, juniors and seniors).
I’ll Cover You
Find a 16-bar cut of a ballad and a 32-bar cut of an up-tempo that would be appropriate for a RENT open call. Be original, and make sure your song reflects how you think you’d be cast in the show. If you think your agent is nuts for getting you this audition, find a song that shows who you really are, while still being stylistically right for the audition.
Make sure the song is within your vocal range and shows off a healthy belt/mix.
The song must have been released between 1990-2000. You cannot choose something from a Broadway show or movie musical (i.e. – EVITA). You may not pick songs that were “remakes” of previously released songs or songs recorded by the following performing artists: Christina Aguilera, Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey, Cher, Celine Dion, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Bon Jovi, Ricky Martin, Meatloaf, George Michael, Alanis Morrisette, REM, Seal, Britney Spears or Whitney Houston.
Call The Understudy – They’re Going On!
From a short-list of THREE, pick one performer you think you could understudy based on your mutual “type.” Then choose a song from a show they’ve performed (original cast preferable, but not mandatory) that highlights your gifts as a performer. The song must be in an appropriate key for you (remember the difference between range and tessitura) and easily cut into 16 bars (32 bars is acceptable for up-tempos).
You may not pick a song from a show currently running in New York (Broadway or off-Broadway) or a song that was first performed on the radio (meaning, no jukebox musicals). No Sondheim (sorry, Steve…) The song must be one you would use in an audition. Finally, and most importantly, the song must round out your repertoire for the entire year (i.e., if I’ve given you more legit “Golden Age” material, I expect you to bring in something more contemporary, and visa versa).
It Was a Chelsea Morning
Find a folk song written between 1960 and the present that you would sing when auditioning for ONCE. You may choose songs written by the following singer/songwriters: Tracy Chapman, Leonard Cohen, Judy Collins, Christopher Dallman, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Loudon Wainwright and David Wilcox.
If you find a song by an artist not on this list that would suit you better, you must let me know at least two weeks before the due date, and petition for me to accept it as your selection.
The song must be in an appropriate key for you, easily cut into 16 bars and tell a story while showing your best self as a singing actor.
Dolly Parton has already written one musical. And there are other shows like ROBBER BRIDEGROOM and BIG RIVER that have country-influenced scores. It’s only a matter of time before Nashville and Broadway have a love child, starring folks from The Grand Ole Opry.
Prepare two country (or bluegrass) songs: an up-tempo and ballad that showcase your vocal and acting ranges. The song must have been written and performed in the last ten years. The song must be in an appropriate key for you (remember the difference between range and tessitura!) and easily cut into 16 bars (32 bars is acceptable for up-tempos). Please refer to Sheri Sander’s book, “Rock the Audition” for information on how to correctly cut a contemporary song.
You may only sing a song a person of your gender has sung (i.e. – men can not sing women’s songs, and visa versa).
The Audra Effect
Find a song from a musical that has been performed by a US opera company in the last 20 years (New York City Opera, San Francisco Opera, etc…). You may also do a song from an opera that has made it to Broadway. The song must be in an appropriate key for you and easily cut into 16 bars. It must also be a character you could play today or in the next five years.
You may not select songs from the following musicals or operas: LA BOHEME, PORGY & BESS, RAGTIME, SWEENEY TODD or WEST SIDE STORY. You may not select a song by a composer whose work you have already performed in lessons.
It’s no surprise that Disney owns a large stake of Broadway business. From LION KING and NEWSIES to the forthcoming ALLADIN, there are plenty of shows to go around. And don’t forget their growing cruise line industry. I just had a private client return from 10 months on the high seas with Mickey and the gang.
Visit http://disneycruise.disney.go.com and review the several shows currently playing on Disney Cruise Lines around the world. In addition to performing on the main stage, keep in mind you will also have to dress up as various characters over the course of the cruise. Then find a song from a Disney movie ONLY that you believe will match the types of shows they’re producing on board (NOTE: You may not choose selections from AIDA, BEAUTY & THE BEAST, LION KING, LITTLE MERMAID, MARY POPPINS, TARZAN or any other Disney show that has been brought to the Broadway stage).
You may not select any of the following songs:
- “Bare Necessities” – The Jungle Book
- “Colors of the Wind” – Pocahontas
- “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” – Cinderella
- “Friend Like Me” – Aladdin
- “Go the Distance” – Hercules
- “Heigh-Ho” – Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs
- “I Won’t Say I’m in Love” – Hercules
- “Just Around the River Bend” – Pocahontas
- “One Jump Ahead” – Aladdin
- “Out There” – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
- “Reflection” – Mulan
- “Someday My Prince Will Come” – Snow White
- “Two Worlds” – Tarzan
- “When You Wish Upon a Star” – Pinoccho
- “You Got a Friend in Me” – Toy Story
- “You’ll Be in My Heart” – Tarzan
- “Zero to Hero” – Hercules
The song must be in an appropriate key for you and easily cut into 16 bars.
A musical theatre performer’s audition book must, out of necessity, be a continually evolving selection of songs that highlight the performer’s strengths and show the folks behind the table that they’ve done their homework. I hope this inspires you to engage your students around finding specific material that will get them the job! And, of course, if it’s new work you’re looking for, our website is a simple click away!
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