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TBA Online: News & Features: January 2016

Top 10 Tips for Musical Auditions

Monday, January 11, 2016   (2 Comments)
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By Kimberley Cohan

The audition room can be an intimidating place, and figuring out how to navigate musical auditions successfully can take some time! Luckily, Bay Area musical directors Sean Kana (2015 TBA Awards Finalist, Broadway by the Bay & OMG! I Love That Show! Productions), Dolores Duran-Cefalu (Foothill Music Theatre, Stuck Elevator at American Conservatory Theater), David Möschler (2015 TBA Awards Finalist, Lamplighters & Douglas Morrisson Theatre), Ben Euphrat (2015 TBA Awards Finalist, Central Works), Alicia Jeffrey (2015 TBA Awards Finalist, OMG! I Love That Show! Productions) and Ben Prince (2015 TBA Awards Finalist, Ray of Light Theatre) have summed up these 10 helpful tips to help actors make the most of your musical auditions.


Music director Sean Kana. Photo: Cheshire Isaacs

1. Choose an audition song that showcases your acting and vocal abilities right now, for the right genre of musical.

“The most important thing for an actor to consider is the genre of show,” says Ben Prince. “You want the casting team to imagine you in the show, so don’t go audition for a rock show with a Rodgers & Hammerstein ballad, or vice versa. Don’t just have one go-to audition song that you’re comfortable with, regardless of whether it’s appropriate to the show. Age/type-appropriateness comes within this general rule, so do age-inappropriate or type-inappropriate songs at your peril.”

If there is a certain role that you are going for, try to sing a song where it also shows the range of the character,” adds Sean Kana. “Do your homework! Find out vocally where the tessitura sits for the character and go with that. Do not audition in a ‘character’ voice/song, unless that is absolutely what you are going for.”

2. Choose a song that has room for you to develop a character.

“The most effective audition song will have good lyrics that are written for a dramatic character,” says David Möschler. “It’s not difficult to pick a song that is fun to sing vocally or shows off your range or musicianship, but an experienced casting team can easily find out that information. We want to know how well you can be a character and show intention with clear choices while living comfortably in the music.”

Alicia Jeffrey explains, “If a role requires a certain emotional color, depth, levity, etc., ensure that your song is able to take you there. Sometimes going against type can create some of the most memorable audition moments, but it must be performed in a way that is authentic to you.”

3. Avoid overdone songs if possible—but if it’s your best song, just go for it.

David Möschler explains, “It can be in an actor’s best interest to avoid often-used songs. If you’re casting a show and 10 people in one day sing ‘On My Own’ from Les Miserables, by the time you hear the 10th version, you start to tune it out or compare it with the other interpretations. The person who sings commonly used audition songs will have to work that much more than the person who brought in something less common that was fresher to the ears behind the casting table.”

Ben Euphrat thinks differently: “The novelty of a song is really just a way to help out the casting people—but that isn’t really your responsibility,” he says. “If we’re casting Gilbert and Sullivan, it’s our job to be prepared to hear ‘Modern Major General’ a hundred times. That being said, if you are equally comfortable doing an obvious choice or a more obscure one, definitely go obscure. It will only help you.” 

Music director David Moschler.
Courtesy of David Möschler

4. Carefully choose when to bring out your experimental or self-written songs.

“If a casting call tells you to come in with something from Cole Porter or Roger Hart, then don’t play your indie rock piece on the ukulele,” says Ben Euphrat. “But if they say, ‘Bring in a contemporary piece of your choosing,’ and you think the song is better than a cover of something else and shows you off in a more interesting way, then go for it.”

Sean Kana adds, “Do something new or experimental if you have been seen before and want to be different. But if you are going to experiment, make sure you execute well!”

Ben Prince cautions, “Really be careful about how it’s written down, or the pianist will hate you. And be ready to go with something more traditional if they ask you for it!”

5. Bring multiple song options to auditions.

Ben Prince advises, “Have an audition book with multiple cuts in different styles. When you have other material ready to go, that allows us to delve into your abilities and get a better feel for how you sound, and how you handle the unexpected!” 

Sean Kana recommends having three songs prepared. “Though I appreciate a vast repertoire and I do respect actors that ask the panel what kind of song they might want,” he says, “I would rather you have three songs that are very different in vocal quality but still show your range.”

“Remember to always go with the pieces you know best—especially when prep time is limited,” says David Möschler. “The better you know [your piece], the less chance you have of tripping up on a lyric or musical detail that could detract from the content of what you’re conveying.”

6. Carefully pick, plan and illustrate the cuts in your sheet music.

All musical directors agreed that auditioners should clearly mark all tempo changes; highlight things that need special attention; white-out or cut out sections not being played; and present the music double-sided, three-hole punched, in a binder. Cuts should be marked in a color, not in pen or pencil. The cleaner the sheet music is, the better equipped the accompanist is to help you be successful.

Dolores Duran-Cefalu and Ben Prince agree: Actors who don’t read music or have any doubts about making cuts should take the time to meet with a pianist. A pianist help edit the layout and suggest the most natural musical transitions, and if they are confused by an actor's notes upon first sight, odds are that the accompanist at the audition will be as well.

Alicia Jeffrey adds, “A common mistake is assuming that the end of the song is the best audition cut. While that can be a moment for vocal power, there may be more creative cuts within a song that allow the actor to do more storytelling.”

7. In addition to clearly marking your sheet music, always introduce your piece to your accompanist.

Dolores Duran-Cefalu says, “Show the accompanist the name of the song, what show it’s from, any cuts, any tempo/key changes and the starting tempo.”

The most important thing is the tempo of the cut,” emphasizes Ben Prince. “Aside from that, explain where it starts and ends; any ritards, stops or holds that we should be aware of; and whether you need an intro or just a bell tone (although this should all be clearly marked!). If your music is properly marked you shouldn’t need to spend more than ten seconds with the pianist.”

David Möschler adds, The best way to clarify the tempo you want is to sing or softly hum the first few measures. I ask folks to avoid snapping or foot stamping, as auditioners are often nervous and indicate faster-than-desired tempi, whereas it’s much more difficult to rush through a lyric even when nervous.”

8. Don’t forget about general etiquette and politeness!

“Always be kind to the audition accompanist!” says David Möschler. “You don’t always know if they’re a hired pianist, or the musical director, or on the casting or artistic production team. Regardless, they are often the one person in the room who can singlehandedly be your saving grace or cause of ruin.”

You don’t need to go overboard and shake hands with everyone in the room. Keep it simple—friendly, positive and respectful,” says Dolores Duran-Cefalu.

And don’t ever say the words, ‘I am getting over a cold, or I am still sick,’ Sean Kana notes, “An email would be better, stating ‘I have been sick but am still going to audition as best as I can.’”

And if you make a mistake, do not give your accompanist the evil eye!” adds Alicia Jeffrey.

9. Avoid common bad habits.

“The worst habit I see is coming back year after year singing the same song,” says Sean Kana. “Musical theatre is ever-changing, and your repertoire should be updated accordingly.” He adds, “Be careful when choosing to look in the eyes of the panel (you can scare them or connect with them!) and remember not to close your eyes.”

Ben Prince adds, “Actors who insist on auditioning with Sondheim or Jason Robert Brown songs do so at their own risk! If your pianist is struggling, that can make you sound bad. And the pianist may be the music director for whom you are auditioning—do you want their attention to be focused on executing your difficult music, or on listening to your singing? Personally, I don’t mind Sondheim or JRB, but if you put ‘Light in the Piazza’ in front of me at an audition, I will be giving you major stink-eye behind your back.”

Dolores Duran-Cefalu agrees: “Don’t bring anything that is difficult for the accompanist to sightread—remember, it’s highly possible that the pianist has never seen the music before—picking something super hard to play means you might not get the music you expected to hear!”

10. Don’t overthink it. Allow yourself to shine!

Alicia Jeffrey notes, “The most important thing is to relax, be confident, and be bold in your choices. Sometimes people overthink what they think the panel wants to see, which can be nearly impossible to ascertain. Be confident in the material you have chosen, and the choices you make to express that material.”

“The most important thing you can do is to act. I will always cast the great actor who can carry a tune over the cardboard box with a voice like an angel,” says Ben Euphrat.

“Remember that everyone in that room auditioning you is pulling for you to do a great job, so relax a little and have fun!” says Ben Prince. “If you are at ease, you put us at ease, and it’s win-win for everyone.” David Möschler adds, “The casting team wants to cast you in their show—you just have to give them the reason(s) to cast you.”


That’s it from our music directors here! What audition advice have you heard that you’d like to share? Add it in the comments below. And break a leg!

Kim Cohan is listings editor for Theatre Bay Area and a trained singer. 


Sheila Townsend says...
Posted Wednesday, January 13, 2016
I'm printing this out for my voice students now! Concise, great advice!
Elizabeth Finkler says...
Posted Wednesday, January 13, 2016
I'd like to hear why some musical auditions insist on a dance audition, even if the character does not dance.