Musical Theater Song Choice by Camiah Mingorance

Song choice isn’t everything. It doesn’t make up for bad technique. It won’t cancel out poor auditioning skills. It cannot cover up a lack of acting ability. However, song choice can do a few great things for singers:

  1. Helps the singer appear informed about the work they do and the show for which they are auditioning.
  2. Highlights the vocal quality that is the singer’s strength.
  3. Creates an emotional reaction in the auditors that makes them want to see more of the singer.
  4. Demonstrates the nuts and bolts of their voice and that their instrument can get the job done required by the show.

If those are the goals that we focus on as teachers when choosing songs, we have a much better chance of finding fantastic audition material for singers. In order to reach those four goals, here’s a few tips I use and teach to my associate teachers:

Choose a song based on the singer’s Type

  • Their physical quality and their vocal quality should match the songthat they use to audition with and the character they are auditioning for in the show. If they are auditioning for Mabel in Mack and Mabel, you are not going to choose an ingenue song. You’re going to choose a song that an older, more mature woman could sing. Look up the composer of Mack and Mabel and research what other shows he/she has written. Listen to those shows and see if there’s something similar in terms of character type and emotional quality.
  • If your singer is auditioning for Curly in Oklahoma, look up actors that have played that role on Broadway or the West End, then research what other shows those actors have played. Chances are they have played similar roles to Curly and there’s a song from one of the shows on their resume that would work well for a Curly audition.
  • If your singer doesn’t know their type or is resistant to what their type is, then you have an uphill battle on your hands. Without a clear understanding of how they present to a casting team, they will audition for shows or characters for which they are not good fit and will constantly feel frustrated with the “no”s they receive. It’s especially hard for high school singers, who think they are a certain type because that is the way they were cast in high school. What they don’t realize is that casting in high school is based off a very small pool of auditioners and frequently people are cast in roles that are not their true type.
    Have a local director or acting teacher come in to your studio and offer a “What’s My Type?” workshop for your singers. They’ll be able to make smarter song choices once they know and market their type.
  • This book is a basic intro to determining Type (and I believe the Kindle Version is free if you have Kindle Unlimited) Impress-Auditioning-ebook/dp/B019LAPVUS

Choose a song that highlights Vocal Quality

  • I have a singer who has a beautiful “mix” voice and “legit” voice. While she’s working on a healthy “belt” coordination, it’s not her strength yet. She wanted to use a Pat Benatar song for a recent audition. Her voice is more suited to a Whitney Houston, Kate Bush or Sinead O’Connor sound. Pop rock is not her forte. She ended upsinging a great cover of Whitney Houston’s How Will I Know with a strong mix voice.
    • On the flip side, I have another singer who wants to sing the Whitney Houston songs, but she is much more suited vocally to a little rock and roll. Her go to pop/rock audition song is Since You’ve Been Gone by Rainbow (not Kelly Clarkson). She naturally has a little more edge sound to her mix.
    • I believe that cross training a singer in the studio is extremely important. However, in auditions we only show what they are good at, never what they are working on being good at.

Avoid songs that are over done

  • We always hear this advice, but how do you know what’s over done? There are fantastic lists online of overdone songs. Matt Edwards from Shenandoah University has a great list that is pretty thorough (Here’s a link: lists/)
    • If it’s in an anthology book, it’s probably over done.
    • If auditors have listened to the same song forty one times that day, it’s hard to feel an emotional reaction by the forty second time. Not only is the singer compared to every other singer who used the song that day, they have a nearly impossible job of getting people in the audition room emotionally interested in what their about to sing.

Pop/rock songs from the 70’s and 80’s

  • When musical theatre singers are asked to bring in a pop/rock song for an audition, look to the 70’s and 80’s to help you find a spectacular song.
    • First of all, the music was just better. You can fight me on this if you want, but you’re gonna lose. The music is just better.
    • Secondly, the people auditioning them will more likely have a memory connected to a song from the 70’s or 80’s. That memory will trigger an emotion and they WILL talk to the singer about it. So a song from this era, makes the auditors feel something and then it triggers a conversation which makes the singer more interesting and memorable.
    • There’s lot of flexibility here. Women can sing men’s songs. Men can sing women’s songs. Change the tempo up a little or play with the key of the piece. Make a whole new arrangement if you like, as long as the song suites the singer.

Choose a song that shows the first passagio 

  • Singers don’t need to sing in the rafters to be impressive. In fact, unless singing the high notes is flawless and effortless, it’s best to not sing in the rafters.
    • However, most musical theatre roles will sing into and through the first passagio of the male or female voice. Unless you’re auditioning for Charity in Sweet Charity, you’ll need to show the control and coordination required to navigate the first passagio or bridge.
    • If a singer doesn’t demonstrate this range, it may be assumed that they cannot demonstrate it.

      While song choice doesn’t make or break audition, it certainly has the potential to support the singer’s goals or undermine them. Hopefully, these tips are helpful to you as you guide your singers in finding the best audition material!Happy singing! Camiah

Related Articles