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Well, yesterday was another day when I had to deal with the Least Fun Thing about being an actor: auditioning.
I have friends who say it doesn’t bother them. I even have one who says he treats an audition like a command performance and actually enjoys them. Alas, I’ve never been able to see it that way. I pretty much detest the whole process.
I especially hate the auditions where you have to provide a monolog and (if there’s a musical) a song. Especially the song. At least with a monolog the only variable I have to deal with is my own readiness. When you’re also auditioning for a musical, though, you have to take the pianist into account—which can be difficult.
Consider: you don’t want to pick a very familiar song for your voice and character type because you don’t want to be (say) the 100th guy to sing “Try to Remember” that day. They’ll just tune you out and the other 99 guys were probably better anyway.
On the other hand, if your song is too obscure, the pianist may look at your music with blank incomprehension and you’ll still wind up as “Try to Remember” no. 101.
I seem to have found a number that hits the happy medium: “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”, written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer (!) for The Marx Brothers at the Circus (where it provides one of the few moments of genuine humor in an otherwise rather tedious movie). There aren’t that many people singing it and the key (C) is an easy one for most pianists.
Groucho in one of the few funny moments
from At the Circus
The value of having an audition song in a relatively familiar key like C, G, or D is something I had to learn in the School of Hard Knocks. Some years ago I thought I had a great audition number: “The Mikado’s Song” from The Mikado. There won’t be that many actors using it, I reasoned, and it’s an easy fit for my vocal range (bass-baritone). What I failed to take into account was that the key (A) and the number of accidentals in the score made it challenging for someone not familiar with the piece to play along. The first time I used it, pianist was totally lost and the audition, as you might imagine, did not go well. Other G&S songs have had to be discarded for similar reasons.
Adding a layer of complication is the fact that not all audition pianists are equally competent and/or equally familiar with musical theatre. I’ve had, for example, a couple of rough experiences using “Reviewing the Situation” (from Oliver) that have led me to believe I should shelve it as an audition piece, even though it’s a good fit for me.
So what has your experience been with musical theatre auditions? What would you pick for your “best sixteen bars”? Leave a comment.