Choosing an audition song can be a daunting task. Most of the time, you only get 32 bars (sometimes only 16) to impress the casting team, so those 32 bars need to show you off in your best light. You need to tell a story in a short period of time, with a beginning, middle, and end. And that’s where you show off some of your acting chops as well.
Pick a show-appropriate song
Let’s say you’re going to be auditioning for a guy’s role in “Oklahoma.” Singing a Sondheim song is not the best idea. Consider choosing a song from a musical that is similiar to “Oklahoma” in style, time period, etc. “Annie Get Your Gun” or “Will Rogers Follies” both offer good guy audition songs with a “western feeling.” Or, choose a song from another show by the same composer. Rogers and Hammerstein wrote several other musicals, such as “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” and “The King and I” — all of those offer audition options that will allow you to show off your ability to sing in the style and feeling of “Oklahoma.” And that’s a good way to get the thumbs up from the casting team that you’ve got what it takes to sing the part.
Stay away from songs that are overdone
The worst offenders seem to be songs from “Les Miserables,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Annie,” “Phantom of the Opera,” and recently “Wicked.” It’s all great music, but it seems to be the first choice new people to go to when looking for audition songs. Using the ideas above, look around on Amazon.com at soundtracks from musicals by the same composer or in the same genre, and listen to the free sound samples. If you find a few you like, look for them on youtube to see if you can hear the whole song. And if you really like one, call your local music store and see if they can get it for you (please support local businesses when you can!).
Be wary of super-difficult piano parts
Your accompanist on the piano is human, and makes mistakes. Unless you know who is going to be playing the piano on the day of your audition (and you’re sure he/she can play your piece without errors) don’t pick an audition song with a super-difficult piano part. You can be doing your best up there, and if the pianist can’t play the song, you’ll still end up looking bad. It’s not worth picking a difficult song to show off your patter skills and risk a bad audition unless the show itself calls for challenging vocal parts. In that case, it should be expected that the theatre company will provide someone with enough skills to play piano for the show’s music, and auditions. But try to find out in advance
Have a backup song(s) and a professional binder
Have you ever been sitting in open auditions, and the person who auditions in front of you sings the song you were about to sing? Not a good situation, but it happens more often than you’d expect. Better to pull another song out of your bag of tricks and not sing the same song back to back. Get yourself a plain black binder with plastic sheetmusic sleeves, and fill it with a few songs you feel comfortable singing. A couple of ballads and a couple of uptempo songs. Give the whole binder to the accompanist, so they can easily turn the pages while playing (they will thank you for it). Don’t take them a long set of six pages of music taped together with scotch tape that stretches over the whole piano (they will glare at you).
With these few simple rules in place, you’ll help to minimize mistakes, and maximize your chances of having a memorable (in a good way!) vocal audition!