The Musical Audition

Singers get roles in a musical from a sort of interview called an audition. This is your chance to show your vocal abilities and stage personality. When you audition or try out for a musical, you'll need to prepare certain things ahead of time. How to best prepare depends on where you are auditioning and for what level of theater. If you aim for thorough preparation, however, you'll look professional no matter what the situation.

What to Sing

The most important factor in deciding on your audition material is that you like what you're singing and connect to it emotionally. You have a very short time to show who you are and what you can do. Ideally, the song should show vocal range as well as emotional range, so you'll need to look at both the music and the lyrics to decide on a piece. Choose lyrics first that agree with your character type and are fun to express. Then look at the music to make sure it's in a comfortable range. An audition is the time to show off what you do best, not what you're working on or your greatest challenge.

Musical theater singers develop a collection of songs called a book, containing material they like to sing for auditions. Your book should include only your best material and should have variety. Take your book with you to an audition in case the musical director wants to hear something other than the song you chose to sing. It's a good sign if someone wants to hear more.

Audition material should always come from a musical theater repertoire. The only exception is when the audition notice specifies that you sing something else, such as rock, folk, or gospel. You should begin filling your book with two contrasting songs, a ballad and an up-tempo piece. Ballads are slow and often pensive or emotional. Up-tempo songs have a faster tempo and a bright, funny, or ironic sentiment. After preparing those two selections, you can add a contemporary song or something from a popular genre, since many current musicals require that style.

Many audition notices state that you should sing sixteen bars (measures) of your song. You can start from the beginning of your vocal part and sing sixteen bars, or you could count the sixteen bars backward from the end of the song. That would ensure a good ending. Whatever segment (called a cut) you choose, it should ideally have a beginning, middle, and end both lyrically and musically. If you are unaccustomed to choosing a sixteen-bar cut of your song, you should ask a coach or teacher to help you.

What to Wear

Your audition attire should be neat, clean, and flattering to your body type. It's usually a good idea to wear clothes that are somewhat fitted and not too baggy so that the casting director can see your body. Your auditioners are looking to see if you're a match for the character in the musical. Avoid the extremes of overly dressy, which looks like you're trying too hard, or too casual, which looks like you don't care about the audition. Some people try to dress appropriately for the particular musical of that audition, but you shouldn't look as if you're wearing a costume. A hint of the character is enough. If you audition regularly, you might want to have an outfit set aside that's always clean and ready to go.

You can find audition notices in various places, depending on the size of the community. You might see signs on bulletin boards in schools, churches, and community centers, or there may be advertisements in local newspapers. Large cities have trade papers listing auditions for the week. Well-known trade papers include Backstage and Variety. You can also search the Internet for listings in Playbill, Backstage, or Actors' Equity Association.

What to Bring

If you are auditioning in a large community, you'll need a picture and resume. The picture should be 8 by 10 inches and may be a headshot or full-body picture. Your resume of past theatrical experience and training should be cut to the same size and attached to the back of the picture. If you live in a smaller community, the director may simply ask you to write a short list of any previous experience.

You should bring your book, containing your music repertoire, with you to the audition and give it to the accompanist, open to the page of the song you want to sing. Try to limit the number of pages in each song and bring copies that will lay flat on the piano stand. Many people put their music in a ring binder and have it copied or taped to read like the pages of a book. You can also tape the edges of your music together to fold out into one long flat page, but don't exceed three pages if using this method. The music should be in the correct key. If you need to transpose the song, be sure that it's written out completely, preferably in a computer program for music notation, in the new key for the accompanist. You should never ask the accompanist to play your music in a key different from what's written. The accompanist is sight-reading the music, and if he makes a mistake, it will hurt your audition.

If you have enough music prepared that you're able to make a choice of what to sing, choose a song that's most similar to the show for which you're auditioning. Don't sing material from the show you're auditioning for unless someone asks you for it. The best choice would be music from another show by the same composer. If you're auditioning for Oklahoma! for example, you could sing music from South Pacific since the two shows are both written by Rodgers and Hammerstein. If you only have a basic ballad and up-tempo, however, it's better to sing material you're comfortable with rather than rush to prepare something that won't be well rehearsed by the audition. Be sure to look at Appendix B for a list of songs you might want to consider.

Depending on the musical and the particular audition, you should also be prepared with clothing and shoes appropriate for a dance or movement portion of the audition. You may also be asked to present a monologue to show your acting skills.

If you're interested in pursuing musical theater, you should consider taking lessons in acting, dance, and stage movement, as well as your voice lessons. Performers who can act, dance, and sing are called a triple threat and usually are able to get more work than those who are skilled in only one area.


When you are ready to sing your song at the audition, go to the center of the room and face the casting directors, or whoever is holding the audition. After giving a nod to the accompanist to begin playing, you'll need to use your imagination and pretend that you are singing to a scene partner right in front of you. (Don't look directly at your audience of auditioners unless you're asked to do this.) Make sure your imaginary scene partner is at eye level and not too high or low. Your audience should be able to see the expression in your eyes as you sing. Look again at the exercises in Chapter 16 to review aspects of dramatic interpretation.

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