Audition Song Choices - The Demons Within

When theatre directors sit in at auditions, there is a laundry list of what they are looking for from the actors who take the stage as we have gone into before. But as I look at notes from auditions I have held in the past, a pattern comes up. The phrase "bad song choice" is seen over and over. It is a plague, and it must be stopped. So, I put it out to friends, colleagues and Facebook folks alike to see what they thought. There was some agreement and some mild debate, but it should give you a good look at what most directors do not want to see... maybe even never again.

Disney songs
Quite frankly, I was surprised to see the mouse get the axe. There are some great songs out there, but evidently there is some bad sentiment towards the Disney catalog. Cupertino High School theatre director Arcadia Conrad isn't a fan of "Part Of Your World" from The Little Mermaid, while Santa Cruz High freshman Enya Murray wouldn't mind a ban on "most Disney songs". Why the rancor? Well, Disney shows are so well known, that it is very hard to distance your performance from what we all hear in our heads thanks to the movies and soundtracks. We know every lilt, dynamic, and unique phrasing used by the performers in the originals that you are either in danger of being a copy-cat, or being looked as weird for trying to reinvent the wheel. Find a more savvy song choice that shows you know more than what is just popular.

Difficult Accompaniment
Composers like Steven Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Jason Robert Brown are known for their incredibly intricate or lavish orchestrations which are wonderful to behold when in the hands of a truly gifted group or a talented individual. The problem is that they are quite often just too hard for an audition pianist who is sightreading. It is a sad truth in our business that your average accompanist while skilled, is not there to get every note right. They are there to give you strong backing as you sing. So, giving them a piece like "On The Steps Of The Palace" from Into The Woods with its strange time signatures is just cruel. Either they will play it wrong, or they will play it so sparsely that it won't make sense to you or anyone. Rachel Michelberg agrees: keep it simple. Keep it in 4/4 with a strong downbeat, no crazy key-changes. And always work your pieces with a pianist beforehand.

I love shows that show reality for what it is. Sex, drugs, violence, lies, love, loss, war, death... these all exist in real life and should exist in theatre in a tasteful manner. But, there are times when I really do not want a certain song coming from a certain performer. For example: if you are a fourteen year old, do not sing "When Your Good To Mama" from Chicago or "Man" from Full Monty. It is disgusting, period. Don't do it. I never want to hear such a young performer sing about sex. Also, stay away from songs that are just plain vulgar. Avenue Q is a killer show and I love it, but I don't want to hear many of the songs from it at auditions. It just doesn't showcase your skill as a performer, it showcases the material and the fact that you chose it. This category also goes into knowing your type, again we have talked about that before. Don't choose "Your Daddy's Son" from Ragtime or if you are barely in high-school. It is just awkward. Also, pop music fits into this realm. Musical theatre auditions are for musical theatre pieces unless directed otherwise. Keep pop out of the equation. It is a different style of music entirely and it doesn't often showcase good technique or storytelling skills which all performers need.

Step away from the sheet music, and no one gets hurt.
Done to death
Either it is an old gem, and we are all sick of it. Or it is a hot new show, and we are all sick of it. So, here is a short list of songs or entire shows that should just plain be avoided at auditions, unless you want a director to tune out the second you sing.

-Oklahoma (whole show)
-Rent (whole show)
-Annie (whole show, "Definitely ban 'Tomorrow'. Good song but WAY over done" - Victoria Jones)
-The Fantastics ("Much More" from The Fantasticks is way overdone! - local actress Kristen Carder)
-Wicked (whole show, especially "Popular". Louis "Joey" Kruse agrees, adds that Schwartz is also in the "difficult accompaniment" category)
-A Chorus Line ("What I Did For Love")
-Thoroughly Modern Millie ("Gimme Gimme", Carder says)

And the list could go on and on. This is a very small sample, and there are bound to be disagreements and exceptions. If the song is specifically requested, or the specific composer is requested, then all of this is basically null and void. The point is, be savvy about your choices. Song choices showcase your ability and talent as a performer, but they also show you are a knowledgeable and informed artist when it comes to the many incredible works that are out there. Prove to directors that you know your stuff and have a passion for musical theatre beyond what is just on the surface. Don't just pick the cool, popular, hard, strange, rare or funny songs. Pick the right ones. Break legs.

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