We are just about a month away from Stephen Sondheim’s 85th birthday, and what better time to think about auditioning for Sondheim musicals! As many actors (and pianists) know, auditioning with Sondheim songs can be tricky. Not only are his piano accompaniments often tricky, his songs can also be very specific and therefore difficult for audition purposes. His musical style is very individual, and many of his songs are difficult to take out of the context of the shows for which they were written. That being said, you can’t deny the brilliance of his work. On top of this, almost nobody else’s songs are appropriate when you’re auditioning for Sondheim musicals!
Needless to say, Sondheim tunes are a must-have for your audition book. Below are my picks if you’re needing some guidance in choosing one for yourself.
“Happiness” from Passion
Especially with ballads, I’m always a fan of songs that manage to stay away from being super angsty. This song is beautiful, passionate (forgive the pun), and gives you lots of opportunities for nice long sung lines. Acting AND singing? Sounds good to me!
“The Glamorous Life” from A Little Night Music (film version)
Though this song was written to be sung by a child, Audra McDonald has proven that it works well for adults too. I think the lyric leaves lots of room for personality and a sense of humor, which is always good, and the song is beautiful as well. Do note, however, that “The Glamorous Life” from the stage version of A Little Night Music is completely different from the movie version.
“Green Finch and Linnet Bird” from Sweeney Todd
I can’t list Soprano Sondheim audition songs without talking about Green Finch! If you’ve got a phenomenal legit voice, “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” will show it off really well. Just don’t let it become boring. Dig into that text; there’s lots to say in that song.
“Anyone Can Whistle” from Anyone Can Whistle
Ok, you have to watch the angst factor with this one, sure. It’s a gorgeous song that, if deeply felt and communicated, will not fail to move your audience. This song also gets extra points for being easily transposable to other voice types.
“The Miller’s Son” from A Little Night Music
I didn’t even deliberate with this one. The caveat is that it’s fairly low, meaning that it’s not for everyone, but it is an exciting and wonderful song that gives you as an actor lots to play. It’s also very sectioned and easily cut-down for a variety of audition parameters.
“In Buddy’s Eyes” from Follies
I couldn’t not give a shout out to what is possibly my favorite song in all of Sondheim’s canon. It’s another one that you have to be careful with the angst, but it’s just such beautiful song. I particularly recommend having this one in the book if you are the reincarnation of Dorothy Collins.
“Someone is Waiting” from Company
Turns out Tenor ballads are fairly difficult to find in Sondheim’s catalogue, and so I recommend this song with a warning; you have to find a way to keep the acting behind the text active and not passive in any way. If you can achieve that, you’ll have a very successful audition song with a beautiful melody and lots of long sung lines to show off your pipes with.
“Everybody Says Don’t” from Anyone Can Whistle
This song is energetic, tuneful and a great showcase of an engaging voice. There’s room for personality and active acting, and that’s always good in an audition. As with any wordy song, you have to take extra care with your diction, but if you achieve that, this is an exciting song to bring into the audition room.
“Johanna” from Sweeney Todd
I only didn’t mention this guy because it’s such a standby. Don’t get me wrong; its a standby for a good reason. Just make sure you’re singing it perfectly and with lots of intention or you’re liable to bore the people you’re auditioning for.
“Pretty Women” from Sweeney Todd
When I think of a beautiful bass voice and Sondheim, this is the first song that comes to mind. I like it particularly for basses because it sits in a really rich part of the voice, while still managing to show some range. Like any truly good ballad, it also is rich in long lyrical lines to show off your singing abilities.
“If You Can Find Me, I’m Here” from Evening Primrose
I have to pick this song not only because it’s a great song but because I feel like it’s too often overlooked. It skews a little more towards a Baritone range, but it’s nothing that you Bass gentlemen should be afraid of. It’s got a great energy to it and I think it’s a great song to think about adding to your book.
“In Praise of Women” from A Little Night Music
I’m always a fan of any song that lets an actor show off their sense of humor, and this one definitely fits that bill. The song has a pretty specific context, but the comedy of it, when well-executed, will play well with or without your audience knowing the plot of Night Music.
These songs don’t work for you? I’ve got good news! There’s lots of other Sondheim songs to pick from. At the end of the day, a successful audition song is more about your personal connection to the piece than what I or anybody else thinks is the “right” song. Take a look at Sondheim’s entire catalogue in the MusicalTheatreSongs.com archive, and then head on over to YouTube or Spotify to listen for yourself. See what speaks to you!
Mostly, don’t be afraid of Sondheim. The most common caution people give with Sondheim songs in the audition room are the difficulty of his piano parts, but these days a large part of his work is a standard part of the repertoire that any experienced audition accompanist should be able to play. Most importantly, if you’re auditioning for a Sondheim show, the theatre definitely should have hired someone who is prepared to play Sondheim accompaniments. As with many piano questions when it comes to auditions, always ask a pianist friend when in doubt. Pianist friends are always good to have around!
Logan Culwell is an audition accompanist with experience playing for a variety of production levels, from high schools and Universities to Broadway and movies. As a music director, Logan has had productions Off-Broadway as well as regionally at Cortland Repertory Theatre, Hangar Theatre and The Theater Barn. He also serves as manager of the PlaybillVault.com database while writing theatrical history articles for Playbill.com. http://www.loganculwell.com