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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.

Soprano
Ballad

“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!

Up-Tempo

“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.

Belter
Ballad

“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.

Up-Tempo

“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.

Tenor
Ballad

“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.

Up-Tempo

“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.

Bass
Ballad

“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.

Up-Tempo

“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 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!

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 PlaybillVault.com database while writing theatrical history articles for Playbill.com. http://www.loganculwell.com

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 musicaltheatersongs.com 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!

-Warren

Auditions

Prepare Your Sheet Music Carefully and Maximize Your Audition Success

So, you’ve picked the perfect song (using MusicalTheaterSongs.com, of course) and worked on it with your vocal and acting coaches — and now it sounds wonderful. The next step toward audition success is properly preparing your sheet music for a sight-reading accompanist.

 

Unfortunately, singers often forget this step and end up making their accompanist’s job harder. This can lead to confusion and errors during the audition. Even more important, it conveys a poor image to the creative team, which wants to gauge what it’s like to work with you.

 

In a recent episode of “The Ensemblist,” a backstage musical theater podcast, composer-lyricist Lynn Ahrens described what she looks for when she auditions actors. She said it’s “hard to separate the vocal from the person and the actor.” In other words, the energy the actor brings into the room — and what that tells the creative team about the actor as a co-worker and collaborator — is every bit as important as skill and talent. And one of the ways Lynn judges this is by checking whether “they’re organized and have their book in order.”

 

In other words, your audition book and the preparation of the sheet music it holds demonstrates the level of professionalism the creative team can expect you to bring to the production process.

 

Below are some best practices when for preparing your audition binder and sheet music. I chose methods that I think will work in most cases, but always remember to research the preferences of the people you’re meeting and use common sense.

 

Your binder: Limit the number of songs you carry on any given day. I often see actors come in with thick binders filled with sheet music. An audition book is not a repertoire book. You don’t need to carry every song you’ve ever sung. I seriously question whether actors with overstuffed books are actually prepared to sing all of those songs at a professional level. I’ve heard some casting directors and creative teams say that it also conveys desperation: “I can sing anything you could possibly want, I swear!”

 

Over-filling your audition binder also makes the pages hard to turn for your pianist. And while we’re talking about page-turns, please don’t bring your music on a tablet. Sure, it’s convenient. You can have as many songs as you want. It’s not practical or appropriate for an audition. Using an iPad is a different experience for your pianist, and it takes some adjusting when you’ve been playing from printed music all day. Do you want your 16-bar audition to be the pianist’s adjustment period? Page-turns can also be problematic on an iPad.

 

To me, the perfect audition binder is no wider than an inch and is not filled with music past the point of easy page-turns. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but let’s two inches is definitely too thick.

 

The condition of the binder also matters. If the teeth on the rings aren’t flush, it’s time for a new binder. Otherwise, pages can fall out as your pianist attempts to turn the page.

 

When you take songs in or out of your binder, always double check to make sure every page gets added or removed. You’d be shocked at how many times I’ve played an audition for someone who had pages missing. (I had to improv on the spot, with varying degrees of success).

Your pages: I’m about to tackle one of the most divisive issues in auditioning: sheet protectors. Some people swear by them. Some detest them. But here’s the thing: I have yet to meet anyone who totally hates bare paper. After all, no commercially produced sheet music is published in sheet protectors. You’re better off not using them.

 

That’s said, make sure your paper is clean. It shouldn’t be folded or torn, and the holes for the binder rings should be in good shape. Reinforcement stickers will help, but when all holes start to wear out, a quick trip to the copy machine will give you a clean page for a few pennies.

 

If you must use sheet protectors, for the love of all that is holy, please get the anti-glare kind. Many auditions are held in rooms that feature harsh fluorescent lighting, and if you don’t have anti-glare sheet protectors, your music can be difficult to read.

 

Your pages should be double-sided, with music on the front and back of each page. Copying or printing songs single-sided forces your pianist to make twice as many page turns and doubles the opportunities for error.

Your copies: Clean is the name of the game. Find the best-quality edition of the song that’s available. You might be able to find a free PDF of the song online, but those copies are often extremely poor in quality, in addition to being illegal.

 

If your music is faint, distorted, cut off, covered in rehearsal marks or annotated by hand, seek a better option. There are websites that make downloading single songs easy and inexpensive (musicnotes.comsheetmusicdirect.comnewmusicaltheatre.com). Physical copies of scores, vocal selections and song collections are available from a number of sources (Amazon.com is a good one) and are a good investment for anyone making performance a profession. Libraries are also a good place to find books of sheet music and scores. I promise it’s worth the effort and money to get the best-available edition of your music. It will make your audition more successful.

 

When photocopying published sheet music, reduce it to fit 8½ x 11 paper. With most published books, a 93-percent reduction will do the trick. Make sure that you have captured all of the music on the copied page. If the left hand is missing at the bottom of the piano part, it’s going to be a real problem for your accompanist.

 

Be sure your sheet music is in the key in which you want to sing. You shouldn’t expect your accompanist to be able to transpose on sight. Many of the online sheet music sources I listed above can transpose the song for you before printing, and there are many musicians who will transpose songs for you for a fee. If you are going to transpose a song more than a whole step in either direction, it is advisable to hire someone to generate a new arrangement for you. The online sheet music sources mentioned above are ideal for many things, but don’t have the technology to make the necessary musical adjustments for a larger transposition. It’s also a good idea to avoid lead sheets (sheet music that provides just a melody line and chord symbols) unless the audition notice specifically allows for them.

 

Your cuts: Chances are you’re preparing a cut off the full-length song, and cleanliness is important here too. I have seen a lot of crazy ways of marking cuts, but the best approach is to physically cut out any music you don’t want played. “Extra” music, even if it has been crossed or scribbled out, can be just as distracting to your pianist as unnecessary marks and writing can be.

 

If you’re making cuts to your music, make a copy of the song that is single-sided. Physically cut out the pages, systems or measures that you don’t want played. Remember to include key and time signatures. If you have several smaller bits of music that need to be combined, grab a sheet of blank white paper and some tape. Tape your music to the sheet of paper (taking care to make it neat and straight, of course), then make a new copy of this page.

 

If your cut starts in the middle of the song, make sure the title and any tempo information are visible at the top of the first page. I also think it’s a good idea to always have the lyric you will actually be singing printed in your music. Sometimes actors elect to sing a different verse or version of the printed lyric, and this can lead to your pianist getting out of sync with you.

 

If you don’t play piano, find a friend who does and have him look over your music while you prepare. He’ll be able to point out anything a pianist would need that you may have missed.
You can’t control everything at an audition. Focusing ahead of time on the things you can control will help audition confidently. Making your music clean and clear gives you the best shot at being perfectly in sync with your audition accompanist, and that’s going to help you give the kind of audition that’s will book you the job.

Logan Culwell is a NYC-based musical director, vocal coach and audition accompanist, with experience playing for many Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional and film auditions. He is also the manager of PlaybillVault.com. For more information, visit www.LoganCulwell.com.