Songs to include in your musical theatre audition rep

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Songs to include in your musical theatre audition rep

Please note that this is an updated version of an article I wrote for our Molly’s Music Blog.

“I have a musical theatre audition coming up! What song should I learn?” Preferably, you should already have a repertoire of go-to songs that you can pull out at the last second and know they’re appropriate and polished. Of course, if the musical, workshop, or program you’re auditioning for gives you a specific song to learn for the audition, you should just use that. But if not, here’s a guide to selecting the songs that should be in your musical theatre audition repertoire before you get that audition notice. As always, common sense audition song rules apply for these selections: don’t pick something too overdone (Wicked, Hamilton, etc.) and make sure to pick a song that you sing well and that isn’t too hard to sight read on the piano.

If you need to go back to the basics on choosing your musical theatre audition song, check out this video. Otherwise, feel free to skip ahead!

“WHAT ELSE DO YOU HAVE IN YOUR BOOK?”

Before we continue, let’s cover what it means when someone on an audition panel for a professional musical asks what else you have in your book. Your “book” is your collection of musical theater audition repertoire, preferably all with you at your audition. It should be sheet music you’re ready to sing and ready to hand over to an accompanist. Let’s talk about what should be included in your book.

1. CONTEMPORARY BALLAD AND UPTEMPO

Chaplin, an Example of Contemporary

What is It

While there’s no strict definition of what constitute each of these categories, a ballad is a slower song, often about love, and an uptempo is a more upbeat song. “Contemporary” can mean any number of things, but it’s usually pretty safe to prepare something from the least twenty years or so. Sometimes the term can even refer to the 1980’s on. There are several different “types” of contemporary musical theatre songs, including legit ones like The Light in the Piazza, pop ones like The Last 5 Years, and rock ones like Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

When to Use It

First and foremost, use this one when the audition notice says, “prepare a contemporary uptempo” or “prepare a contemporary ballad.” You can also use this one to audition for contemporary shows, but just make sure that the song you choose is appropriate for the show. You would not want to be that guy showing up for a Hedwig audition with Light in the Piazza.

2. CLASSIC BALLAD AND UPTEMPO

Classic Broadway

What is It

Like contemporary, the word classic can have a wide range of meanings, but it’s safest to assume Golden Age Broadway, 1943 to 1959.

When to Use It

This should go without saying, but pull this one out when you see an audition asking you to prepare a “classic Broadway” or “traditional Broadway” song. You can use this to audition for older shows that are being revived (or put on locally), and it’s also a good choice when it works stylistically for a modern show you’re auditioning for (think legit songs for legit modern shows).

3. LEGIT SONG

What Is It

Like contemporary, the word classic can have a wide range of meanings, but it’s safest to assume Golden Age Broadway, 1943 to 1959.

When to Use It

Pull this one out when you see an audition asking you to prepare a “classic Broadway” or “traditional Broadway” song. You can use this to audition for older shows that are being revived (or put on locally), and it’s also a good choice when it works stylistically for a modern show you’re auditioning for (think legit songs for legit modern shows).

4. A BROADWAY BELT

Broadway Belt

What Is It

A belt song is one that uses a more chest-dominant, brassy sound. In older shows, you’d often find belters playing the character roles, but nowadays, the romantic lead is often a belter as well.

When to Use It

Unsurprisingly, you should use this when auditioning for a character who’s predominantly a belter. This can be anything from Rose in Gypsy to Kim in Miss Saigon or Elphaba in Wicked.

5. DISNEY SONG

Disney Song Broadway

What Is It

Obviously, this is a song from a Disney movie or musical. Disney songs are fairly stylistically specific. They’re often sung with very bright, forward tones.

When to Use It

Use these for a Disney audition, along with anything stylistically close to Disney, like Anastasia.

6. SONDHEIM

What Is It

Sondheim is one of the most revered musical theatre composers of all time. He lived between 1952 and 2021. His style is iconic, not easily definable, and it heavily influenced his predecessors. It’s lyric-driven and includes everything from melodic ballads like “Anyone Can Whistle” to frenetic streams of consciousness full of dissonance and even occasionally bordering on atonal.

When to Use It

You usually want to reserve Sondheim songs for Sondheim auditions, unless it’s one of the more melodic ones. They’re risky audition pieces because they’re notoriously hard for accompanists to sight read. But if you’re auditioning for a show written by Sondheim, the audition panel will usually want to be able to see that you can carry a Sondheim piece.

7. CHARACTER SONG

Broadway Character Song

What Is It

Character songs are often comic and sung with less pristine-sounding vocal technique. You’ll often hear them sung nasal.

When to Use Them

Use character songs when you’re auditioning for character roles. They’re prevalent in such shows as Avenue Q, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

8. NON-MUSICAL THEATRE SONGS

Alanis Morissette - Alternative Rock Song from the 90's

Alanis Morissette at the Saban Theatre

What Are They

This spans a wide range, everything from pop, to rock, to country, to hip hop. Learning a few different genres from a few different eras is ideal.

When to Use Them

Often, auditions will call specifically for a certain genre other than musical theater: i.e. a 90’s rock song. These are important for jukebox shows, like Beautiful, American Idiot, and We Will Rock You. They can also be pulled out for rock shows like Rent.

9. MUSICAL THEATRE POP AND ROCK SONG

Rock Musical Theater - Hedwig and the Angry Inch

What Are They

While it’s good to have some non-musical theatre pop and rock songs under your belt, you should also know some musical theatre ones from a variety of eras. Think Grease and Songs For a New World for pop and Rent and Hedwig for rock, just to give you an idea of what they might sound like.

When to Use Them

Use these for pop and rock musicals, respectively, i.e. ones that are less “classic” sounding.

10. JAZZ STANDARD

Jazz Singer - Ella Fitzgerald

What Is It

Jazz songs from the 1920’s to the 1940’s (think George Gershwin and Cole Porter).

When to Use Them

Use these to audition for shows from the era. They can also sometimes be used for Golden Age Broadway and even more contemporary Broadway auditions as long as they’re stylistically similar.

11. A MEGAMUSICAL SONG

Megamusical Phantom of the Opera

What Is It

Think Les Mis, Miss Saigon, Jekyll and Hyde, Phantom and the like. You know, those epic shows that you usually don’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole when they’re too current because they’re everyone’s favorite.

When to Use Them

You can use these songs when auditioning for another “megamusical,” of course, preferably one not currently on Broadway or touring, and preferably not that song from the show that everyone’s constantly doing at that moment (when I grew up in the 90’s, it was “Someone Like You” from Jekyll and Hyde).

12. A FOLK OR COUNTRY SONG

What Is It

Just what it sounds like. It can be a country song not from a musical, or it can be something country-inspired from an actual show, like Frank Wildhorn’s Civil War.

When to Use It

Use these for country-inspired musicals (or shows with country-inspired musical numbers) or for jukebox musicals in the genre.

13. A REALLY SAFE SONG

What Is It

A song that you know you could sing well lying down, with a sore throat, or in general, on your most off day. It usually has less range than some of the other songs you might have on hand and doesn’t have any of those notes you have to be really on it to nail. You should preferably have this type of song as a backup for anything in your book that’s particularly risky.

When to Use It

Let’s hope you don’t have to use this one too often, but you should have it ready for emergencies. If you have a song prepped, and you’re just having one of those days in which there’s no way it’s going to come out well, it’s nice to have a backup.

14. A SONG YOU LOVE SINGING

Joyful Woman Singing

What Is it

Just what it sounds like! A song you love, preferably something that expresses something about yourself.

When to Use It

Look, this one probably isn’t going to come up very often unless, of course, it’s stylistically appropriate for whatever show you’re auditioning for. But occasionally, you’ll be at an audition, and they’ll want to see you come to life and not just be the polished version of yourself you’re showing. Be ready to show something you feel passionate about.

15. A GREAT 16-BAR AND 32-BAR CUT

This goes for any of these eras and styles, but it’s great to know in advance the 16 or 32-bar cut you’ll sound amazing on. Not every great song has a great 16-bar cut, so be selective.

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