Over the next few months, many high school-aged students will be auditioning for collegiate musical theatre programs. I know there are always concerns about what type of songs students should sing at these auditions. My main two pieces of advice are: keep things simple and make sure to read each school’s guidelines. In general, high school students don’t need dozens of songs in their audition books, and most colleges aren’t expecting that. Five solid selections can go a LONG a way.
I put together this quick post with musical theatre song type recommendations for high school-aged performers. Some universities may request other types of songs not listed below, but compiling an audition book with these five song types will be very beneficial in any situation. If you or or your student need help selecting individual songs for college auditions, please check out my new repertoire consulting business at www.therepertoireguru.com.
1. Traditional Musical Theatre Ballad
Choose a musical theatre ballad from the Golden Age of Broadway (c. 1943-1964) or earlier. Most songs from shows by Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe, Leonard Bernstein, Bock & Harnick, etc. will qualify. Earlier selections written by songwriters like Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and other Great American Songbook writers could also work. However, be aware that those selections aren’t always character-specific. If you do a lot of acting and character-work, Golden Age selections may prove to be more practical. In terms of vocal performance, Traditional Ballads provide an opportunity for performers to showcase a warm, ‘legit’ tone quality (aka classically-influenced).
2. Traditional Musical Theatre Uptempo
The same general show guidelines as above apply here. Choose uptempo songs that show off your personality and acting strengths. Many uptempo songs from Jazz Age and Golden Age musicals are comedic ‘character’ songs, and those are usually what colleges expect to hear. This type of rep is great for displaying your acting abilities. In terms of vocal performance, traditional uptempo pieces often provide an opportunity for women to showcase their belt voice (if it has been developed). At the very least, both genders should perform these pieces in a more speech-like manner than they would Traditional Ballads.
3. Contemporary Musical Theatre Ballad
Contemporary musical theatre songs combine characteristics of traditional musical theatre styles with certain pop and rock influences. Many musical theatre ballads written from the late 1960s-present that are intended to be sung with electronic amplification will qualify here. However, you should ask colleges what they mean by ‘contemporary’ if they don’t specify. That term can mean many different things. There aren’t strict vocal requirements for this type of rep, but the tone quality should be ‘bright’ and speech-like (straight tone singing may be desirable here as well). Also note: contemporary musical theatre songs may require higher belting than traditional repertoire.
4. Contemporary Musical Theatre Uptempo
Contemporary musical theatre uptempo songs are often modern selections with a driving, pop and rock-influenced rhythm/pulse. Note: these songs aren’t always brisk and ‘quirky’ like traditional musical theatre uptempo selections. In fact, they can be quite serious and dramatic. The line between musical theatre and radio pop/rock is blurred quite a bit with this type of rep. Think of contemporary musical theatre songs as being the Broadway version of radio pop. Vocally, performers should implement ‘bright’, speech-based, mostly straight-tone production. Storytelling is KEY. Audition committees don’t want to see you thinking about your technique while performing.
5. Pop/Rock Song
Not every college will request a pop/rock song, but it is becoming more common. The reason for this is because the walls between the musical theatre world and the pop/rock industry continue to become thinner and thinner. Performers should choose a radio pop or rock song from the 1950s-present. This selection should be a Top 40-type hit (there is no reason to choose a super obscure song). Keep in mind that this type of rep was not originally written for characters in musicals, so it is the actor’s job to create a story for each piece. Also, be careful with arrangements. Pop/rock songs don’t always translate to piano well, and there are a lot of poor arrangements out there.