Chances are, you’re more comfortable stretching your splits than stretching your vocal cords. But if you’re auditioning for a dance part in a musical theater production, you will probably be required to sing 16 bars (about 4 lines) of a song before the final cut for callbacks. Though directors aren’t necessarily looking for superstar vocalists when casting the chorus, you should be able to carry a tune. Whether you’re a confident triple threat or nervous about your notes, the following tips from NYC-based musical theater directors Bob Rizzo and John MacInnis will help you make the most of this short time in the singing spotlight.
Choose Your Tune
“The most important thing is to pay attention to the casting notice,” says Rizzo. “That’s where you’ll see what style of music the directors are looking for.” A casting notice may recommend you sing a particular style of song. However, notices often request you do not sing a song from the show, usually because directors do not want performers to have preconceived ideas about how to sing a particular song, or how to perform a particular role in their show. Ignoring or skimming over these instructions shows directors you don’t pay attention to details or take their requests seriously.
If the casting notice gives no guidelines, Rizzo suggests researching the show and selecting a song that corresponds to its style and time period. For instance, the judges will learn more about your potential in Chicago if you sing a 1920s show tune like “My Funny Valentine” rather than, say, “Pieces of Me” by Ashlee Simpson.
Even more important than the type of song you pick is your comfort level singing it, says MacInnis, who has performed on Broadway in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Kiss Me Kate and other shows. If you’re an inexperienced singer, rehearse one song and perform it for every audition, unless the style blatantly goes against a casting notice guideline. “You don’t want to try out something new in an audition—you want to be as secure as possible,” MacInnis advises. “Sing a song you know by heart, so if your piano accompanist makes a mistake, you can still go on.” Another tip if you’re a “Dance 10, Voice 3,” type: simple, up-tempo songs can cover a not-so-great voice, Rizzo says, whereas ballads do little to mask pitch problems.
Prepare Like a Pro
You are responsible for bringing sheet music for the pianist. Because the accompanist’s performance will affect yours, make sure the music can be read clearly. Don’t hand the pianist a pile of raggedy, flyaway sheets or a thick songbook. Putting each page of music in a sheet protector in a three-ring binder shows you’ve made an effort to look professional and don’t want to waste anyone’s time. MacInnis also warns that if you plan to sing in a different key than the original score, don’t expect the accompanist to transpose on the spot. It is professional courtesy to have the music transposed and recopied before the audition.
Usually, you will only be required to sing 16 bars, but—though the request is rare—the directors could ask you to sing the whole song. Be prepared by memorizing all the lyrics and bringing the sheet music for the entire piece.
Sell Your Song
Don’t be tempted to spice up your 16 bars with choreography—by this point in the audition, the directors already know you can dance. They want to see how you look and sound while singing. It’s most important to show a song’s emotional quality, says Rizzo. Know what the lyrics of your song mean and, if it’s from a particular production, what the character is singing about. This is the time to display your personality and acting skills.
If your voice isn’t exactly American Idol-worthy, you’ll find yourself in good company. “More often than not, dancers at musical theater auditions don’t sing well,” MacInnis says. “The breathing for each is totally different. Dancing teaches you to have a closed ribcage; for singing, you need to have an open ribcage.” Even if you know singing is not your strong point, don’t emphasize or make light of the fact by fidgeting or rolling your eyes. By making it to the singing portion of the audition, you’ve already impressed the directors with your talent. “If they’ve kept you for that long, you’ve already won them over,” MacInnis says. “They want to cast the show, and they want you to do well.”