Audition songs are a lot like outfits: You want to find something that makes you look good yet manages to display a certain personal flair. Everyone, for the most part, is shopping at the same mall, so it's important that it works for you better than it works for someone very much like you. And it has to avoid the pitfalls of being so trendy as to be ubiquitous or so dated it makes it look as if you're limited to the one style. As in life, there are precious few Chanel jackets--items you can securely trot out for any occasion.
If somebody asks for 32 bars at an audition, he or she means 32 bars. No matter how stirring you feel your rendition of "Bring Him Home" is, in an audition situation, it's too damn long unless they're asking for entire songs. It's also important that you pick the right 32 bars. Starting at the top and stopping at the 32nd bar will win you no kudos. Try to find something that will convey the arc of the song: the verse, the chorus, the high second ending, and out.
If a song is in your age- and vocal range and you can absolutely nail the vocals and the character, then by all means do it. But just because it's new and you like it doesn't necessarily make it the best choice for you. Unless you are particularly suited to what's going around this season, it's usually a good idea to avoid current shows. "Defying Gravity" from Wicked is speaking to an awful lot of young women out there, so it may not be the best way to make yourself stand out. For men, songs from Disney's Aida are still being trotted out frequently. It might also be a good idea to think twice before selecting from the Andrew Lloyd Webber or Frank Wildhorn canons, as such numbers seem to inspire knee-jerk antipathy in many. And make sure the song is appropriate for your age range. Seasoned hands also suggest you avoid Sondheim songs unless you're auditioning for a Sondheim show, as you run the risk of encountering the accompanist who isn't up to the demands of the music. Jerry Herman cautions, in Mame, the actress who would "try to be Peg O' My Heart, when you're Lady Macbeth."
If pre-Rent Broadway holds no allure for you, there's always the Great American Songbook--those standards that have stood the test of time through their winning melodies, lovely lyrics, and an ability to communicate an astonishing range of human emotions. Also, there's no law that says you can't choose a pop song. A lot of music directors would much rather hear you sing something you connect with that shows your voice to advantage than listen to you wander through "Satin Doll."
The classic way to hunt down music is at a sheet music store. Hollywood Sheet Music, 7777 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 850-1075, has many songs in stock, as does the Hollywood branch of Samuel French, 7623 Sunset Blvd., (323) 876-0570, and, to a lesser extent, its Studio City branch, 11963 Ventura Blvd., (818) 762-0535. If you prefer the convenience of cyberspace, then check out www.sheetmusicdirect.com and www.musicnotes.com, two sites where you can not only hear the music but also have it transposed before you purchase it and print it out. The impecunious, of course, can always turn to the L.A. Public Library. The downtown, 630 W. Fifth St., L.A. (213) 228-7000, and North Hollywood, 5211 Tujunga Ave., (818) 766-7185, branches are good resources, or you can take your search online to the library website, www.lapl.org. If you need an excuse to go to the pricier districts, check out the Beverly Hills Public Library, 444 N. Rexford Dr., (310) 288-2200, in person, or access it online at www.bhpl.org. The Brand Library, 1601 W. Mountain St., Glendale, (818) 548-2051, is famous for its music collection. Friends and teachers can also be a valuable resource, though there's probably nothing that can touch the collection of a bona fide musical theatre queen (no website available) for scope and access. You may, however, have to put up with a few anecdotes as part of the process.
Whatever you choose, make sure that it's appropriate to the show you're auditioning for when you use it. Displaying your soaring, screaming rock mix with your dynamite number from Tommy will probably be of no help to the director of Anything Goes.
Sometimes approaching a standard from a different direction is all it takes. Is it normally sung as a peppy, perky little ditty? See if you can find what's dark in it--assuming you're not auditioning for Maria in The Sound of Music of course. This is not a casual undertaking, as it will most likely involve changing the arrangement. But if you can find a way to connect to the song on a uniquely personal level, it will make for a memorable audition, as well as give you a sense of proprietorship. And isn't owning the song what it's all about?
One Size Doesn't Fit All
Make sure the song you choose is in your key. If you're stressed about going for that big note, it will show in your performance. If you have to, bring the song down so it fits your voice and the note comes off as high and brilliant within your range. It's important that you are comfortable and confident when you go in to sing.
Back in the day, one had to pay a copyist to transpose music, an undertaking that begins at $5 a page and escalates according to how much arranging is needed. Now there is composition software on the market (Finale, for one), which is considerably more affordable. It's worth it.
You're creating an island of self-contained theatre. The intro is not there so everyone can admire your outfit while you're waiting for the first note; it's when the performance begins, so be sure to connect to that moment before the song, be it another person or an interior dilemma. If you can create that moment-to-moment reality, the song comes to life as you communicate on that emotional level that feels like theatre magic and gets you remembered.BSW