So you know there’s a show coming up you want to be involved with. And in the style of many audition briefs have been told to choose two songs. Maybe they’ve thrown in some words like ‘contrasting’ or phrases like in the “style of the show.” But where do you go from there?
Staring at that brief with absolutely no idea what to pick can be incredibly daunting but it doesn’t have to be. So I thought I’d help you all out by taking you through my process when it comes to audition song selection. It’s not the only process and by no means would I claim it is for every situation but its a good starting point for sure.
So you have the brief. Lets say it says something like this:
Thank you for your interest in My Fair Lady. Singing auditions will be assigned individual 15 minute appointment times. Please prepare two contrasting songs of no more than 32 bars each in the style of the show.
So lets walk you through how I would break that down.
- So the show is My Fair Lady. What do we know about this show? What don’t we know? It is always good to start with some research. And usually the first point of call is looking at the composers and the type of show. Even if you don’t know about different styles of shows or have an extensive musical theatre knowledge you should be able to pull out the basics: Composers Lerner and Loewe, released in the 1950s [on broadway] (and set similar), set in London, comedic. You can even look up actors who are well known for roles in those musicals as they likely did similar works at some point. Now if you google search the word musical next to any of those terms you should start returning other musicals that are similar to My Fair Lady. Write a list of them and put it to the side.
- The next thing you need to do is decide who you are auditioning for. Are you auditioning for chorus? Are you auditioning for a lead? If so – what lead? If you are auditioning for chorus then go through the list you have already made and see if you are familiar with any songs from those shows and test how well they suit your voice (have a listen on youTube if needed). Your job is to show them that you as a performer can fit the style of their show. If you are auditioning for a lead you may need to refine your research a bit because you need to show them that beyond that you can also be that character. Lets assume for a second that you are auditioning for Eliza Doolittle. What makes her great? What is her story? Can you see any characters similar to her in those other musicals on your list or songs that you can imagine her singing? What kind of range and voice types do you need to demonstrate? All these things are important to deciding what you do next.
- So lets say that we have had a look through our list and we refined it down to some of our favourites – some Lerner and Loewe musicals (Camelot, Brigadoon) and some set in London in a similar time period (Oliver) and maybe lets throw in a Julie Andrews throwback since she was Broadway’s Eliza (Sound of Music). Now we want to pull from that list all the female songs (gender swap usually I’d reserve for a cabaret audition) and cross out all the ones that you could not imagine the character of Eliza Doolittle singing. What I like to do is imagine there are a sample of songs that were cut from My Fair Lady and then find them amongst that list. Find something your character can relate to and then expand on it. Sing them through and make sure they work for you.
- Make sure there is some difference in the two songs you pick to each other so they display the most possible. For instance a ballad and something more uptempo or different emotional journeys. Remember this is the only opportunity you have to show what you can do. It is important to show you can act through your song and have the vocal ability to carry the role you are auditioning for.
- Consider your accompanist. If you have sheet music make sure your cuts are clearly marked and make sense. Don’t choose a song that looks impossible to play as a sight read. If you can’t read piano music then show it to someone who does. As a rule – something like Sondheim or a song with a lot of key changes and time signature changes is probably a risky choice. If you have a backing track consider how you will best cut your song without losing the meaning – the dynamics in verse 2 on the track may be very different to the first verse words you are thinking of singing. Consider whether you want to bring your own accompanist if you have a song you want to sing but it seems like a difficult cold read. Or consider choosing a different song.
- Go back and reread your brief after you have made your choices and your cuts and ensure that you didn’t miss anything important. For instance it says your time slot is 15 minutes but your songs wont take near that long. So be ready for perhaps singing your song again with direction given on the day or needing to talk about your decisions.
Then practise, practise, practise! And remember that even though its not a big stage – this is a performance.
A couple of things I would try to avoid when choosing your songs:
- Unless asked for it don’t sing a song directly from the show. Have it prepared but do not list it as your two choices. Some directors love going straight to show songs but many are sick of hearing the same songs over and over.
- Avoid title songs of shows or songs that are extremely well known. Don’t go so obscure that they are listening to the song lyrics more than you but again don’t give them a reason to switch off before you even start.
- Don’t pick the musical they just did or their favourite of all time – chances are they will have the original or version they just directed in their head and won’t necessarily appreciate your choices. They may appreciate them but its a risk.
- Don’t choose a song that you cannot sing! It can be the best song choice in the world but if you can’t sing it don’t choose it. This means being clever about your choices especially if you are sick or fatigued or don’t really have enough time to put in the extra training.
Best of luck and happy auditions!!!