Category Archives: Auditions

Why We Should Consider Ditching the Term ‘Contemporary Musical Theatre’

WARNING: This is an opinion-based post.  One of the most common questions I receive from students and colleagues is, “can you please help me find a contemporary musical theatre song to sing?” It seems like a simple enough question, right?  The problem is, ‘contemporary musical theatre’ is one of those frustratingly ambiguous terms that can mean 100 different things to 100 different people.  Here are some of the many definitions I’ve heard from individuals over the years…

  • Any musical theatre song written from the late 1960s to the present that is meant to be sung with amplification.
    To me, it seems a little odd to label nearly 50 years of musical theatre songs ‘contemporary’, but I understand the logic.  Body-miking performers really started to take off on Broadway in the 1960s, and there was a shift in vocalism, instrumentation, and other factors as a result (some songwriters also began to adopt pop and rock influences around this time). Generally, I just find this definition a bit too vague to be practical in most cases. Too much has changed over the past five-six decades.
  • A sub-style of musical theatre music that is influenced by both traditional musical theatre styles and popular/commercial music styles.
    This definition seems pretty good, but it’s still a bit wide-reaching. What years are we talking about?  For example, 1970s pop-influenced musical theatre songs often sound quite different from 1990s pop-influenced musical theatre songs.  There are differences in vocalism, instrumentation/orchestrations, acting, and more.  To further complicate things, many of the European-invasion musicals from the 1980s combine elements of classical music, traditional musical theatre music, AND pop/rock music.  A show like Les Misérables is essentially a sweeping, sung-through ‘pop-opera’.
  • A sub-style of pop-influenced musical theatre music that began in 1995 with Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World.
    Giving JRB a lot of credit with this definition, but he has been an influential figure in the development of musical theatre over the past couple decades. Many young musical theatre songwriters today cite him as a major inspiration.  More so than Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, etc., though?
  • Any musical theatre song written by ‘New Musical Theatre’ songwriters like Kerrigan & Lowdermilk, Joe Iconis, Adam Gwon, etc.
    This is an interesting definition, and it’s used fairly commonly.  This group of songwriters is sometimes referred to as the ‘YouTube Generation’.  Before YouTube, most theatre fans outside of NYC only knew about musical theatre songwriters with Broadway and/or Off-Broadway credits.  Thanks to YouTube and sites like, and now, musical theatre songwriters of all backgrounds and experience levels have been able to get their music out to the masses (which is great).

My main point with all this: if/when using the term ‘contemporary musical theatre’, make sure to clarify what you actually mean.  The definitions above are just a few of the many out there.  It is a devilishly vague term, and I sometimes wonder if we might be better off without it completely.  However, that’s just me.

Kevin Michael Jones

“But My Piece is 19 Bars!” What Does (And Does Not) Matter When Choosing Audition Material

All conscientious theatre and voice educators aim to promote mindfulness in their students, especially as a grounding device in the midst of potentially stressful situations (read: auditions). As teachers are sadly neither omniscient nor capable of cloning, the best tool we have to help students audition better lies within the student’s ability to objectively assess their own performance. Guided by an accurate account, teachers can then help students form a game plan for the next round.

However, auditions are not governed by empirical guidelines. When coaching students for competitions, we are able to look up the “rules.” Auditions are a bit trickier, because there is rarely concrete feedback to be had beyond “good” (possibly suggesting further callbacks or casting calls) and “thank you very much” (an ironic platitude only in our industry).

An audition may literally end up an evaluation of your appearance, personality, age, attitude, accent, or even these variables in relation to another actor. I quasi-joke to my voice students about how I transform from an all-loving-hippie-type to a ruthless, judgmental tyrant at cattle calls, where in interest of time I might label candidates “anemic” or “nail-bitingly obnoxious” in my notes, or simply scrawl “Hallelujah!” so I remember why the essence of the candidate was right or wrong.

Unfortunately, in an effort to appear supportive, teachers inadvertently encourage students to project emotionally on a situation that may or may not be outside of their control rather than help them to tell the difference. After all, what kind of monster would say, “You know why you weren’t called back, dear? Because a lot of other girls were better for the part than you yesterday.” Instead, out of kindness, we state with authority that they have “too legit a sound,” that the director in question will only tall brunettes, and they should forget and move on.

Then, armed only with our well-intentioned sympathy, this student trudges out to have a Frappuccino with theater friends to identify the REAL reason she’s constantly overlooked… because, of course, the director plays favorites, four other girls sang the same song (and all of the blogs say this is certain death), or because she wore boring black Capezios instead of the LaDucas that clearly won her friend the part.

Urban Audition Legends

Perhaps a savvy friend, in an effort to be helpful, then posts a link to the first friend’s Facebook wall to with “top 6 things they are doing to totally screw up their audition.” Some of my favorite “Urban Audition Legends,” which I see in some manifestation almost every day on the Internet:

The exact number of measures matters. Audition proctors care about overall time; sixteen bars equates roughly forty-five seconds, thirty-two bars about sixty seconds, but even this guideline is approximate. Like the adage “if you’re looking at their shoes, they’re not acting”- if they notice that the student’s selection is two bars too long and cut them off before a climatic high note that would have added three seconds of time, there is a more pressing problem.

The exact song choice is of critical importance. The song is merely to put the actor’s talents, emotions, physical presence, and preparation on display. If it’s the right range, genre, and feel, it should be a contender for the “right” song.  Look to sources like as valuable resources to search for the right song, right now.

There is a definitive of body songs/composers to avoid. I would happily hear the best “On My Own” in the world when casting a Wedding Singer than an obscure work in the wrong style. Casting directors have so much to consider that they would prefer not to be distracted by an unfamiliar piece; besides, familiar songs that we know the melody to help inform us of the student’s musical skills.

Students can outsmart trial and error by following any particular school of advice. The best auditoners I know have spent years if not decades honing skills; you simply must go out there and see what works for you. If it gets you callbacks, it’s a good piece for your book, period. If it doesn’t after many attempts, despite how the song seems like it SHOULD work for you, look for a better fit.

Although it can be a bitter pill to swallow, an actor just simply is or isn’t the right contender for a role. The right person walks in, the team is paying attention. The right sound comes out of their mouth, they will write something down. They capture the essence of what we need on some level, they usually get a callback. They capture our imagination, they get the gig.

I am well renowned among my students for (surprise, surprise) giving out long, wordy handouts. However, I have found the best solution to this quandary requires only four lines:

  1. Learn lots of different types of songs
  2. Learn what you sing better than anyone else through careful study, trial and error
  3. Follow directions to help make strong educated guesses
  4. Be prepared

We over complicate this process for students, giving them pages and pages of instructions on how “industry” vets audition selections, when the truth is that there is no secret rulebook. Not even being the best necessarily guarantees you the role. Recall Michael Shurtleff’s rather painful retelling of Bette Midler’s audition for “Jesus Christ Superstar,” where her layered, mature reading of Mary Magdalene would simply not be an organic fit with the rest of the ensemble, whereas Barbara Streisand’s famous, rule-defying antics won her international stardom at the “Funny Girl” call. The painful truth is that the conventional rules don’t always apply…unless, as in the latter case, you were born to play the role.

The audition itself is the critical step in the life cycle of a new piece; we must try it several if not several dozen times to see if a given excerpt takes on the same life at Ripley-Grier as it does in the lesson studio. A callback? A clue you are on the right track. Within a few repetitions, the “bugs” should be worked out and a student should be able to feel if they are successfully able to enter the zone with the piece in audition condition.

If ten or twenty auditions go by without that feeling- the piece is not serving the student and needs to be re-considered. And this, my friends, is where our power as actors actually begins: setting our sights on being the most skilled, most interesting, most unique creature they’ve seen in years. But that lesson is for the next installment!

Preparing for your TYA Audition

TYA or Theatre for Young Audiences is full of misconceptions. Understanding what you are auditioning for is key for is key to a successful experience. So, as with any audition, do your homework. Make sure you clearly understand the following:

  1. Roles: What character(s) are you auditioning for? a 4 year old? a sloth? the keeper of nightmares? Does that track play multiple parts? TYA is often done with small casts which means the list may get long!
  2. Venue: TYA companies perform in many venues from tiny blackbox theaters, to school cafegymatoriums, to thousand plus seat amphitheaters. Inside, outside, mic-ed, or not.
  3. Type of Contract: While some TYA may be amateur opportunities (and possibly even worthwhile ones), there are a surprising number of professional TYA contracts available and many may offer one of the HUNDREDS of TYA Equity contracts available each year.
  4. Type of Performance: Even within the same company, some contracts are for in-house performances, some for national tours, some for small local tours.
  5. Hours of Rehearsal/Performance: Most TYA rehearses and performs during the day. Don’t be the one who auditions and then realizes you can’t also have a day job.
  6. Terms of the Contract: Some contracts, especially in TYA, may have additional requirements you weren’t expecting. Daily setup/strike, running your own tech, lifting heavy equipment, 5am call times, daily audience talkbacks, four-show days, etc. It’s not for everyone, so make sure you know what is expected and that the theatre knows you’re aware.
  7. Target Audience: While most TYA is happy to perform for the whole family, TYA usually is targeted to a specific age group. Knowing this can greatly help you decide how to approach your audition. DO audition like you’re performing for that age, but DO NOT belittle them, the top TYA companies never talk down to their audience. And PLEASE don’t treat the audition panel like kids.
  8. You must be trusted: The largest factor in getting cast in a TYA show is TRUST. Even more than adult theatre, you are more likely to get cast when the company knows and trusts you. Not just because of the morning call times, and cast morale, but because there are LOTS OF KIDS around. I get sick of hearing, “TYA is a boys club, I’ll never get in.” The truth is, it’s not exclusive, it just requires a lot of trust. Someone in the company will have to vouch for you, so you might have to get to know a few people in the company to get your “in.”

TYA auditions don’t have to use TYA specific songs.  I always stress to performers, it’s better to pick a song you know that doesn’t fit the character, than to go into an audition unsure you know every note and word of a song. BUT, if you have time to learn something new check out my list of TYA Audition Songs or do a quick search on!

TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) Audition Songs

It’s really unfortunate that so many great TYA shows don’t have sheet music easily available. Of course is a great resource to find places where songs are available. I’ve included links below to the songs found in the database on this site. Still, there is so much out there and yet even many of the most popular appear to only offer sheet music through a fully licensed production. If you’ve seen a TYA show you loved, I encourage you to find contact information and ask the writing team for hard to find sheet music. Some of my all time favorites aren’t on this list because the sheet music isn’t easily available.

This list is some suggestions of great TYA songs that ARE easily available. Don’t stop here though, there’s so much good stuff out there. Take a look at other works by these composers. Reach out for that unpublished sheet music. Find something you love!

And remember, you can also just sing your normal audition songs at a TYA audition, as long as the content would be ok to sing in front of your 7 year old niece. But just in case your entire book is pulled from Oh! Calcutta:

All for You” from Seussical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty

The Age of Not Believing” from Bedknobs and Broomsticks by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman

My Party Dress” from Henry & Mudge by Brian Lowdermilk and Kait Kerrigan 

“Captain Louie” from Captain Louie by Stephen Schwartz 

“Play With Your Food” from Honk! by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe

“Madness of King Scar” from The Lion King by Elton John and Tim Rice

Middle of a Moment” from James and the Giant Peach by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Sing Your Own Song” from Dear Edwina by Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler

20 Years of Disney on Broadway: 10 Lesser-Done Audition Songs to Consider

Last year marked the 20th anniversary of Walt Disney’s first Broadway musical endeavor, Beauty and the Beast.  Over the past two decades, Disney’s presence on The Great White Way has grown exponentially.  As of 2015, the company has produced a whopping TWELVE Broadway shows (with more on the way).  Now seems like a good time to shine a spotlight on some great, lesser-known Disney solo songs you may want to consider adding to your musical theatre audition book.

One important thing to remember about Walt Disney is that the company’s legacy extends all the way back to the 1920s.  As a result, you have access to almost a century’s worth of Disney tunes to browse through and choose from.  Remember, most directors and music directors don’t want to hear “Let it Go” from Frozen for the millionth time!  If you’re serious about auditioning for professional-level Disney productions, take the time to sift through the company’s huge catalogue of songs in order to find the perfect selection(s) for your voice, age, ‘type’, etc.  In the mean time, here are ten of my personal favorite Disney tunes to give you some ideas!

1. “Will the Sun Ever Shine Again?” from Home on the Range (2004)
Home on the Range, one of Walt Disney’s last hand-drawn animated films, probably wasn’t the commercial hit the studio was hoping for in 2004.  However, long-time Disney composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater were certainly up to the challenge of writing the film’s songs (the two songwriters would later collaborate to bring The Little Mermaid to Broadway in 2008).  “Will the Sun Ever Shine Again” is a touching, country/folk-inspired ballad that could easily be sung by either a man or woman (the recording below is sung by American blues singer, Bonnie Raitt).  The song’s range is very manageable, and the melody is simple enough that the actor/actress can focus on expressing the heartbreaking sentiments presented in the lyrics.

2. “The Age of Not Believing” from Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
Remember that 1970’s Disney classic where Angela Lansbury single-handledly fights an army of Nazi troops (and WINS)?  Bedknobs and Broomsticks is one of Disney’s greatest live-action/animated hybrid films, and it features several fantastic tunes (some of which were cut from the film and restored in recent DVD releases).  One of those tunes is “The Age of Not Believing”, a Sherman Brothers composition in which Lansbury’s character explains to the children in her care that adults often become skeptical and lose their childhood sense of wonder and imagination as they get older.  However, that magic isn’t necessarily gone forever, and it can sometimes be found again simply by looking inside rather than out.  Yes, it’s a very Disney-esque notion, and it works quite well in this song.

3. “Le Jazz Hot” from The Aristocats (1970)
A few years ago, Disney began their Lost Chords Project.  The idea behind the project is to showcase lost and/or forgotten songs from Disney films over the years.  These new Lost Chords albums feature original demos of forgotten songs along with new, fully-orchestrated versions as well.  Below, you’ll find a brand new recording of “Le Jazz Hot”, a deleted song from Disney’s The Aristocats.  It’s a sultry, jazz and blues-inspired piece written by The Sherman Brothers, and it would make a great audition selection for both Disney and Jazz enthusiasts.  Warning: you may be humming this song all day after listening!

4. “Written in Stone” from Mulan (1998)
Did you know that Broadway composer/lyricist, Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, PippinWicked), was originally hired to write songs for the late 90’s Disney animated film, Mulan?  It’s true!  However, Schwartz had a falling-out with Disney and left early on into the film’s development.  Fortunately, a few songs he wrote for Mulan have surfaced over the years, including this absolutely stunning piece titled “Written in Stone” (sung below by Broadway-veteran, Lea Salonga, of Miss Saigon and Les Misérables fame).  Sidenote: Lea provided the singing voices for two 90’s Disney animated film princesses: Mulan and Jasmine.  Although “Written in Stone” never made it into Mulan, the song is currently featured in the film’s stage adaptation for children, Mulan, Jr.

5. “I’m Still Here” from Treasure Planet (2002)
Your first thought might be, what the heck is ‘Treasure Planet’?  Treasure Planet was Disney’s sci-fi adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure novel, Treasure Island.  The film received lukewarm reviews upon release, and, like many Disney animated films released between 2000-2009 (excluding Pixar flicks), Treasure Planet has fallen into relative obscurity.  However, the film’s songs, written by Goo Goo Dolls frontman, John Rzeznik, are really pretty thrilling.  “I’m Still Here” (aka Jim’s Theme) is a great story-driven, pop/rock power ballad that would work well in auditions for Disney’s soft rock stage musicals like The Lion King, Aida, Tarzan, etc.

6. “Never Again” from King David (1997)
King David is sometimes described as a modern oratorio, with music by Alan Menken and book and lyrics by Tim Rice.  The show was written to commemorate the 3,000th anniversary of the city of Jerusalem.  In 1997, a limited-engagement, concert version was produced by Disney Theatrical Productions at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York City.  Since then, King David has mostly fallen under the radar (though NYU Steinhardt produced a concert version of the show in 2008).  Though largely forgotten today, the show’s score features some great tunes, including “Never Again”, a heart-wrenching ballad originally sung by Broadway legend, Judy Kuhn (Les Misérables, Chess, etc.).

7. “He’s a Tramp” from Lady and the Tramp (1955) / On the Record (2004)
After the Broadway success of Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Aida, Disney began brainstorming new ways to showcase their wide catalogue of songs from throughout the company’s history.  Eventually, they developed On the Record, a musical revue which features new arrangements of Disney tunes from the past and present.  One of the most exciting songs from the revue is this arrangement of “He’s a Tramp” from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp.  It’s a great jazz-y duet for two female belters, but it could easily be reworked to function as an audition solo as well.

8. “Everything That I Am” from Tarzan: The Musical (2006)
Not all of Walt Disney’s Broadway efforts have been successful.  In 2006, the company adapted their 1999 animated film, Tarzan, into a full-scale Broadway musical.  The show featured a book by David Henry Hwang and included several new songs written by the film’s composer and pop/rock legend, Phil Collins.  The original Broadway production received mixed reviews and closed relatively quickly, but a few of that production’s original songs have endured.  One such selection is Tarzan‘s eleven-o’clock number, “Everything That I Am”, a great male solo that is perfect for a performer with killer acting and vocal chops.

9. “One Dance” from The Little Mermaid (1989)
There are many cut/deleted songs from Disney films and stage shows floating around out there, but you’d be hard pressed to find one as gorgeous as this ‘I Want’ song originally written for the character, Ariel, in Disney’s The Little Mermaid.  Actress Jodi Benson, who provided the singing voice for Ariel in the film, even recorded a demo of the song (which you can listen to below).  As you might guess, the song was ultimately replaced by “Part of Your World.”  Another fun fact about The Little Mermaid: both Jodi Benson and Sierra Boggess, who played Ariel in the original Broadway stage adaptation, attended Millikin University in Illinois.

10. “Made of Stone” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame musical (1999/2014)
Back in 1999, Disney premiered a German-language stage adaptation of their animated film, The Hunchback of Notre Drame, in Berlin, Germany.  The production featured several new tunes written by the film’s songwriters, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz.  The show’s development was stalled for almost a decade afterwards, but Hunchback recently received an English-language, pre-Broadway try-out at La Jolla Playhouse in California last year (and then transferred to the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey).  Although the show will not transfer to Broadway right now, we will get a cast album this year.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of Disney’s most ‘adult’ efforts to date, and both the film and stage musical feature some of Alan Menken and Steven Schwartz’s most ‘mature’ songs.  Below, you can hear an early version of one of Quasimodo’s songs from the stage version, titled “Made of Stone” (around the 27:00 mark).  The song ends with a stunning High C- though the piece has been reworked somewhat in recent productions.

– Kevin Michael Jones


Audition Songs from 1950s/60s Rock & Motown Style Musicals

The 1950s and early ’60s were an exciting time for popular music in the United States, with the advent of rock ‘n’ roll and the rise of music artists like Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others.  Over the past several decades, many musical theatre writers have incorporated these early rock and motown styles into their shows.  Some of these musicals feature original scores written to evoke music styles from that time period (Little Shop of Horrors, Hairspray, Memphis, etc.), and others feature jukebox scores made up of songs originally performed by period artists themselves (Jersey Boys, All Shook Up, Million Dollar Quartet, etc.).

Below, you’ll find several recommendations for audition songs from 1950s-60s Rock & Motown Style musicals.  Remember, you can also search the database at using keywords like “50’s Rock and Roll Style” and “60’s Pop/Rock Style” to find many more options!  For more information about finding and performing period-appropriate pop/rock musical theatre songs, make sure to pick up a copy of Sheri Sanders’ book, Rock The Audition.

“How Can I Say Goodbye?” (ZOMBIE PROM)
“It Takes Two” (HAIRSPRAY)
“Cry for Me” (JERSEY BOYS) *originally performed by Frankie Valli
“Girl, Can I Kiss You?” (CRY-BABY)

“I Can Hear the Bells” (HAIRSPRAY)
• “Fools Fall in Love” (ALL SHOOK UP) *originally performed by The Drifters
“Fly, Fly Away” (CATCH ME IF YOU CAN)
“Hopelessly Devoted to You” (GREASE)
“Easy to Say” (ZOMBIE PROM)

– Kevin Michael Jones

Audition Terminology Explained

After my last post, I had several people ask some basic questions about the kind of things an audition notice will say. So without further ado, here is an informal glossary of some of the terms you’ll run into in Backstage, Actors’ Equity, or Playbill Jobs:


accompanist: a professional piano player hired by the theatre to “sight-read” your sheet music. This means they may have never seen your music before and are relying on you to give them clean, legible sheet music and tell them enough information to help you have the best audition possible. Be very very VERY nice to them, because they work hard and have to deal with stressed-out performers all day (and sometimes, they might even be the music director)!

Actors’ Equity Association (AEA, or just “Equity“): the union for professional actors and stage managers in the United States. Membership can be obtained a few different ways, usually by working at Equity theatres for a certain minimum number of weeks, or by getting a special contract with the theatre that gives the actor membership right away. Equity helps their members in many ways: for instance, they require safe working conditions and minimum wages for each kind of theatre. But once you take your Equity card, you are no longer allowed to perform in or stage-manage a non-union show.

book (or audition book): a three-ring binder of music that you bring with you into the audition room in case they ask for a second song. Each song in your book MUST be memorized, polished and performance-ready! Ideally, it should be organized by genre and have a list of your songs at the front so you can quickly access the one you want.

breakdown: a list of roles available in the show, including a basic description of each character.

bring sheet music“: photocopied or print-at-home music of the song you want to sing, organized in your audition book and clearly marked with your cuts to make sight-reading as easy as possible on the accompanist. See Logan’s excellent blog post for information on how to do this.

callback: if the casting team thinks you are right for a role, they’ll often ask you to return at a later date to sing and/or dance again. You may be asked to prepare another piece, or specific material for the role you’re being considered for. Sometimes the callback will be held later the same day, sometimes it will the next day, or it may be weeks or months away. Remember what you sang for your initial audition, and even what clothes you wore. It’s a good idea to present yourself in the same way you did at the audition, because it worked the first time or your wouldn’t have gotten a callback!

casting director: a person or team of people hired by the producers of a show to help them find the right actors for each role. There are several casting offices in New York City, and the associates at each one have their own specialties and styles of musical that they like to cast. Get to know them and what they expect from you! Take classes when they offer them at places like Actors’ Connection and One on One, and keep detailed notes about their preferences.

contract: the audition notice will contain some details about how much you’ll get paid and how long the show will run if you get the job. Equity contracts have specific rules regarding pay and working conditions which you can find on their website.

ensemble: a non-principal performer (sometimes also called “chorus”) who supports the story of the show. These roles may have “features,” which include featured solo singing, dancing, or acting parts. Sometimes the audition listing will indicate that the ensemble will be “as cast,” meaning that the director will use the performer in multiple roles to fill out the situation for each scene. Visit The Ensemblist website for stories about these hard-working performers on Broadway!

Equity Chorus Call (ECC): an audition, either for dancers or singers, in which groups of 20 or more performers are lined up at a time. Dancers usually learn the dance together and then present it in small groups, while singers usually go in one by one. Time is limited, so you probably won’t get to sing more than 16 bars. Non-Equity members may be allowed to audition after all Equity members have been seen.

Equity Membership Candidate (EMC): a program for actors working toward their Equity card that requires working at an Equity theatre and paying a small fee. This allows the actor a few of the benefits of full Equity membership, including priority over non-Equity members at auditions.

Equity Principal Audition (EPA): an audition for leading or featured roles in a show. Actors sign up for time slots at the beginning of the day and then return at their assigned time to sing a short song. If the audition isn’t too busy, you can show up without a time and wait for an opening. In my experience, it’s more likely that non-Equity will get to audition at an EPA than an ECC, but if the show is new or very popular, sometimes they won’t even have time for all of the Equity members.

future replacements only“: sometimes a show will already be cast even before the first posted audition notice. This is often because they’ve had a private workshop of the show and found people for the roles that they knew already or through agent submissions. In this case, they might be required by Equity to hold a call, and will indicate that all roles are cast and they’re seeking people for the future, or possible understudies only.

headshot and resume, stapled together“: The industry standard is an 8×10 color headshot with name at the bottom, stapled back-to-back with a one-page resume of theatrical credits and other pertinent information. Make sure you trim your resume to match the size of your headshot! Two staples is best, one in the center of each short edge. If you want to get fancy, use small circles of scotch tape in between the sheets on each corner for a smooth, staple-free look.

lead sheet: a type of simple sheet music that only has a melody line with lyrics and chord symbols above it. Some pianists will be comfortable playing from a lead sheet, but many won’t, and several audition listings will even say “no lead sheets.” For best results, buy sheet music that has a written piano part AND the chord symbols above it.

monitor: a person either hired by the theatre or provided by Equity to streamline the audition process for the casting team. They sit at a table, usually in a “holding room” outside the audition room, and organize who will go into the room in what order. At an Equity audition, the monitor also makes sure that the theatre follows the rules provided by the union for each type of audition. These people pay attention to how actors behave, and if you act like a diva in the hallway, there’s a good chance the casting team will hear about it. So mind your manners at all times!

open call: an audition that everyone can attend, regardless of their union status. These can be the busiest of all auditions, so be patient and prepared to spend several hours in cramped conditions. This is why they’re sometimes known as “cattle calls.”

principal role: a leading or featured performer that only plays one role in the show, as opposed to “ensemble,” which can play many roles. Equity shows will often have separate auditions and contracts specifically for these principal roles.

required call: an audition that Equity requires the producers to hold before a new show opens, or on a regular basis for long-running shows. Certain shows, such as Broadway or national tours have these auditions even if there are no roles currently available. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, because casting directors say they often discover new talent at these required calls.

sides: a few pages of dialogue from the script or sheet music from the score given to actors so that the casting team can hear you read or sing parts of the role. Sometimes these are given to you on the day of the audition, and sometimes they will be emailed to you in advance of your callback. You don’t have to have them memorized, but it’s a good idea to be as “off-book” (memorized) as possible so you have the freedom to make acting choices and take adjustments from the casting team.

submissions: when a show is not required to have general auditions, sometimes they will request that you email or mail a headshot and resume along with a cover letter if you feel you are right for the role. If you have an agent, he or she may “submit” on your behalf, or you can “self-submit” directly to the casting director’s email or office.

transposition: changing the key of your sheet music. If an audition says “no transpositions,” it means that the pianist will not “sight-transpose,” or change the key on the fly for you. You CAN, however, change the key on or to match the key you want to sing in. Be aware that changing the key too much from the original may make the music look terrible or make the song sound really different. Use discretion, and make sure your music is printed in the key you want to sing it in!

typing may occur“: a “type” or a “type-out” is allowed at auditions where there is not enough time to hear every actor sing. The casting director will bring groups of people into the audition room and then send some away based on their headshot and/or physical type. Sometimes this will happen at a dance audition by asking each dancer to perform a basic step, such as a double pirouette or a time step.

What to prepare“: this section will contain instructions for the performer that the casting director uses to help you decide what to sing for the audition. Look at my last blog post if the audition asks for a song that “shows off range and personality,” and keep an eye out for a future post that explains what to do if the instructions are more specific.


Break a leg!






Great Sondheim Audition Material

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.

Honorable Mention

“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.

Honorable Mention

“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.

Honorable Mention

“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.

Honorable Mention

“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 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!

Happy auditioning!

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 database while writing theatrical history articles for

The Case of the Mysterious Audition Song: What’s a SORAP?

Have you ever looked at an audition listing and thought to yourself, “What the heck do I sing for this?” If you’re like me, I ask myself that question for EVERY AUDITION. Do I have to go out and find, buy, learn, cut, and coach a brand new song just for this particular audition? The answer of course is… it depends.

First of all, you must carefully read the audition notice. Some listings will be extra-specific in the kind of repertoire that the casting director wants to hear. Others (many many others, actually) will request something along the lines of  “a short musical theater song that shows off range and personality.” Does this help you AT ALL? Surprisingly, it does:

“A Short Musical Theater Song That Shows Off Range and Personality”

  • Short” – 16 to 32 bars at the most (exceptions can be made for faster-tempo songs)
  • Musical Theater Song” – something written for the stage, and probably more on the traditional side (depending on the time period of the show you’re auditioning for)
  • That Shows Off” – pick the most interesting part of the song that allows you to demonstrate variety in your vocal choices
  • Range” – your comfortable range, not the extremes of it. For instance, could you sing this song sick as a dog and still sound great?
  • Personality” – what does the fact that you chose this song say about you?

In general, you should have a few trustworthy songs that you can trot out when an audition requests the “Show Off Range And Personality” test. These are officially called SORAP songs. And by “officially,” I mean that I just made that up. Ideally you’d have SORAPs in a variety of different tempos, styles, and time periods.

If something doesn’t already spring to mind as your go-to SORAP song, you may need to search the database again! Use the link marked “song details” to narrow your results to songs that fit comfortably in your range. Show the search results to your voice teacher or coach, or share them with your friends and see if any sparks of inspiration strike them. Visit the links to listen to the song on Spotify or buy it on iTunes, then get to work on finding the best cut that suits you. We’ll chat about how to cut a song in a future post…

If an audition asks for a SORAP, you know that casting directors aren’t looking for you to sing a specific type of song. So just do what you do best— be you!