Broadway musicals are more stylistically diverse today than they’ve ever been, and the walls between musical theatre and pop music continue to grow thinner and thinner. I understand it can be overwhelming for some when trying to choose appropriate audition repertoire for yourself and/or your students. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be. Contemporary pop and rock-influenced musicals can, in fact, be categorized by musical style(s). Knowing these categories/musical genres can make things MUCH easier for all involved. For example, if an audition listing asks for a 1950s/60s rock ‘n’ roll-style song, that is exactly what the audition committee wants to hear. They don’t want to hear a song from Hamilton or Spring Awakening. Although those shows are pop/rock musicals, their scores sound virtually nothing like 1950s/60s rock ‘n’ roll. Committees also don’t want to hear a song by Adele or Adam Levine in that situation. It’s important to know these stylistic distinctions in order to be successful in the professional musical theatre world today. NOTE: Inappropriate repertoire choices show audition committees you haven’t done your homework right off the bat.
Before I go any further, I need to acknowledge the wonderful Sheri Sanders. Although I handpicked the show and artist examples below, Sheri is the brain behind many of the categories listed. If you want to learn more about auditioning for pop/rock musicals, I highly recommend picking up a copy of her book, Rock the Audition, and checking out her new website/training program, Rock the Performance.
Once you’ve reviewed the genres below, feel free to view my full list of categorized pop and rock musicals here. If you need help selecting appropriate audition songs for auditions, check out my new repertoire consulting business, The Repertoire Guru.
(ex. Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Titanic, The Secret Garden, Jekyll & Hyde, A Tale of Two Cities)
These shows are mostly sung-through and feature large casts and ‘lush’ orchestrations. The type of singing utilized in these musicals combines elements of traditional, classical vocalism with some contemporary musical theatre and pop influences.
1950s/60s Rock ‘n’ Roll & Motown
(ex. Hairspray, Grease, Jersey Boys, Little Shop of Horrors, Million Dollar Quartet, Memphis, All Shook Up, Dreamgirls)
These show scores emulate popular music styles from the 1950s and early ’60s, including rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, motown, rhythm and blues, doo-wop, and others. Popular music artist examples from that time period include Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, and Johnny Cash.
1960s/70s Folk Rock
(ex. Hair, Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, We Will Rock You, The Who’s Tommy, Love Janis, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical)
These show scores emulate popular music styles from the 1960s and ’70s, including folk pop and rock, beat music, psychedelic rock, and others. Popular music artist examples from that time period include The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, The Who, Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Hendrix, Queen, and Carole King.
1970s Disco Pop
(ex. Mamma Mia, Xanadu, The Wiz, Sister Act, Boogie Nights, Saturday Night Fever, and Hot Feet)
These show scores emulate certain popular music styles from the 1970s and early ’80s, including disco, R&B, funk, soul, and others. Popular music artist examples from that time period include Donna Summer, The Bee Gees, ABBA, KC and the Sunshine Band, Gloria Gaynor, The Village People, and Barry White.
1980s Pop & Rock
(ex. Footloose, Fame, Taboo, Rock of Ages, Kinky Boots, The Toxic Avenger, Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark)
These show scores emulate popular music styles from the 1980s, including pop, soft rock, glam metal, alternative rock, synth-pop, and others. Popular music artist examples from that time period include Bon Jovi, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Prince, Whitney Houston, and Boy George.
(ex. Brooklyn, Bring It On, Lysistrata Jones, Wonderland, Legally Blonde, Altar Boyz, Waitress)
These show scores emulate certain American popular music styles from the 1990s and 2000s, including pop, contemporary R&B, light rock, boy/girl bands, alternative pop, and others. Popular music artist examples from that time period include Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, Alanis Morisette, The Backstreet Boys, Destiny’s Child, Boyz II Men, and Celine Dion.
(ex. American Idiot, Rent, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Spring Awakening, Next to Normal, Bare, Once)
These show scores emulate certain popular music styles from the 1990s and 2000s, including alternative rock, grunge, punk rock, pop-punk, indie rock, and others. Popular music artist examples from that time period include Nirvana, Green Day, Matchbox Twenty, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Liz Phair, Goo Goo Dolls, and No Doubt.