Maria Solves Your Problems: Announcing NMT’s Audition Help Column

Hi there, NMT readers!

My name is Maria, a longtime user of and reader of the blogs. I’m also a music director in the wonderful community theatre sphere of Boston. Community (or the kinder euphemism “local”) theatre doesn’t get a lot of love sometimes, but it should – it’s how most people get started, it teaches you how to work in a bunch of different kinds of situations, and most importantly, it’s often how we meet our nearest and dearest friends.

As a local MD and accompanist, I’ve been to a lot of auditions. A lot. Still, auditions are my favorite part of the entire process! There’s so much hope and potential in the air, and as an accompanist, I get to see and hear new songs all of the time. I love auditions, so it makes me incredibly sad when I see someone with so much talent singing the completely wrong song for a part. It’s important to remember that the creative team so badly wants you to succeed—they want you to be perfect for this role, too!

"Why'd I pick these shoes? Why'd I pick this song? Why'd I pick this career?" ...We can help. (Photo: The Toledo Blade)

“Why’d I pick these shoes? Why’d I pick this song? Why’d I pick this career?” …Maria can help. (Photo: The Toledo Blade)

So I wanted to launch a little series for all of you folks out there who might be without a vocal coach/acting teacher or who might just want to go out for your first high school show to be Farmer #17 in Oklahoma by doing a sort of “Dear Abby” for audition help, with some especial love to choosing a great audition song. Whenever my friends go in for an audition, we huddle for weeks before trying to pick the right tune. Here are some of my basic guidelines:

  1. Don’t go for the obvious choice or overdone songs. The best example I have here was during a set of auditions for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. In a pool of 50 women vying for 2 roles, 26 of them either sang “Home” from Beauty and the Beast or “What It Means to be a Friend” from 13. By the end of the night, I couldn’t differentiate the actresses, and weird comparisons happened when the songs were sung back-to-back.
  2. Pick a key that you can *comfortably* sing it in, and the pianist can easily play it in. That seems somewhat obvious, but you sound better when the pianist can keep up. Unless you know your accompanist can swing “Moving Too Fast” from The Last 5 Years, don’t bring it.
  3. Pick something that will remind the director of the role. This is really the big black box to me that I spend too much time dissecting. Sometimes it’s picking a song the actor known for the role also sang. Sometimes it’s picking a song in the same time signature or key as the role’s big song. Sometimes it’s picking a song that has the same money note. Most recently, a friend went in for Jo at a Little Women audition. After a long brainstorm, we picked “Watch What Happens” from Newsies, because it inherently reminded us of “Astonishing” and really fit into the sweet spot of her voice. She got the callback!
  4. Pick a cut that shows off your acting skills as well as your vocal prowess. Hint: it’s almost never the first 16 bars of a song.
  5. No Les Mis. (Ok, that’s just a personal rule…unless you’re Lea Salonga.)

So leave some ideas in the comments or send them by email, either about shows or roles you’re going in for or general questions about auditioning, and I’ll be happy to answer or call up some other subject experts (directors, choreographers—who will immediately tell you to never wear a tight-fitting skirt to any dance call). I’ll look forward to sharing some of my most interesting audition stories with you, too, including a handful of my own completely embarrassing auditions.

Have an audition problem for Maria to solve? Comment below or email us, and your question will be the subject of a future column!

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