UPDATED! – Picking the perfect musical theatre college audition song

What is type?

Type is one of the most troubling issues facing many young performers.  Type is a term the industry uses to define whether or not you physically look like someone who could realistically play a specific role.  In high school, students are asked to play characters of all different ages, looks, and socio-economic backgrounds.  The schools use costumes, make-up, and body language to make it work.  However, in the real world, there are so many actors available that its fairly easy to find whatever you are looking for.  If the casting director decides she wants a 6’1″ tall girl, with red hair, size 8 dress, and size 9 shoes – she will probably find her.  To help save time, casting directors use type as a way to describe what they want and eliminate what they don’t want before they waste time listening to people sing.  If you do not look like the type normally associated with the repertoire you will be singing, you will not be taken seriously.

Some examples:

Gaston in Beauty and the Beast:  Gaston is supposed to be a tall, strong, and manly.  When Disney is casting, the person has to be at least 6’1″.  When the audience comes to see the show, they have an expectation of the look and voice quality Gaston will have.  If you don’t fit the type, its fine to sing Gaston’s songs for fun, but don’t take them into an audition.  If you are 5’4” very skinny tenor and you take “Me” into an audition, you will confuse the panel and more than likely you will not be considered.  You may even get laughs, but not the kind of laughs you want.

Belle in Beauty in the Beast: Belle is supposed to beautiful, thin, and a soprano.  If you are a short, curvy mezzo, with short black hair and a nose ring, singing “Home” is not the best audition choice for you.  However, the material from “Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens” may suit you when many other girls can’t pull it off.

Type can seem limiting, but if you use it to your advantage, its liberating.  When you start targeting the roles you are good for instead of targeting every audition possible, you’ll more than likely find better success.

To find your type, read about the two different yet similar processes below and do the work yourself.  Once you have found songs that you think could work, take them to your teacher and acting coach.  Remember, even if you have the most beautiful soprano voice in the world, if you don’t look like a soprano no one will hire you.

Option One

#1:  Ask your friends/teachers what celebrities you remind them of and write down those names.  Ask your friends what words they would use to describe you and write them down.  Ask them if they were to cast you in their favorite movie, what character you would be, write it down.  After asking several people, you should hopefully start seeing some similarities.

#2:  Create a list with the most common terms your were given listed first.  Circle the 3 to 5 terms that feel most comfortable to you.

#3:  Research the celebrities your friends/teachers selected for you and write down the roles they have played in the past (TV, Film, Stage, and Musical).  After you have completed your list, cross of any of the roles that do not match the 3 to 5 terms you decided on in step #2

#4:  You now have a list of terms that describe you and a list of characters you could play based on the celebrities who are similar to you.  Begin looking through musical theatre synopses of the current Broadway and 0ff-Broadway shows online (start by using Wikipedia – this will require that you read, possibly a lot).  As you read, write down the names of roles that sound like they fit you based on your work in steps 1-3.

#5:  Look those characters up on YouTube.  Watch scenes and songs they appear in and start making a list of the roles that really interest you, and the songs that you like.

#6:  Using the book: The New Broadway Song Companion: An Annotated Guide to Musical Theatre Literature by Voice Type and Song Style by Michael P. DeVenney, look up the range, style, composer, date of composition, librettist, and songs of each character you could play.  Create a spreadsheet on your computer and begin filling in the information.  This is an ongoing list that you will refer back to for the rest of your career, so take a little bit of time to do it write.  If that idea doesn’t excite you, do it as you listen, it will make the time go by faster.  This is the list you will use anytime you need to choose a song for a lesson/class.  If the song does not appear in “The New Broadway Song Companion” you will need to dig around online for the information.  But you will eventually find it.

#7:  Using IBDB.com, look up each show and write down the names of the actresses/actors who played the roles you would play.  At the bottom of the page, select “Display Replacement Casts”.  Write down the names of all the other actresses/actors who played those roles.  Go back and search the name of each actress/actor and see what other roles they have played.  Go online and look up their personal websites and/or Wikipedia entries.  Write down the other roles they have played.  Go back to step #6 and repeat.  This process could repeat several times, so feel free to stop whenever you feel like you have enough to work with.

You will more than likely have too many songs to choose from rather than not enough after you have completed these steps.  This is not a bad thing.  You have the rest of your college career and early years in New York to sing these songs, pick the ones that seem most interesting to you now and start learning.  If you do this work, you will have a major leg up on your competition!

 

Option Two

 

First, answer the following questions:

What Voice Type are you?

What is your weight, height, eye color, hair color?

What age do you look (not what age you actually are)?

Who do people say you remind them of (celebrities)?

Then ask yourself and your friends which of the following descriptions they think fit you best (feel free to use others not on this list as well):

GUYS:  Bad Boy, Jock, Quirky, Nerdy, Brainy, Leading Man, Executive, Slacker, Poet, Artist, Effeminate Gay, Nice Guy, Blue Collar Worker, Con Man, Creepy Weird Guy, Salesman, Jokester, Criminal

WOMEN:  Princess, Bad Girl, Awkward/Gawky, Valley Girl, Girl-Next-Door, Ingenue, Little Sister, Brain, Psycho-ex-girlfriend, Moody Outcast, Leading Lady, Poet, Artist, Vixen, Woman in Charge, Lesbian, Trailer Trash, Airhead, Bimbo, Saleswoman, Criminal, Nun

Colleges and professional theatres are not interested in how well you can transform yourself; they’re most interested in how well you know yourself and how well you can sell YOU.  You may find that you can play more than one type and that’s fine, but for this project, let’s narrow it down to 3-5 choices.  Take your list of answers from above and create a summary using the examples below:

Belter, plays 18-25, 5’6″, 140lbs, Brown Hair, Green Eyes, look like an edgier Lea Michelle, fit Bad Girl, Vixen, Woman in Charge, Moody Outcast, Criminal type.

You now have an idea of where you do and don’t fit in.  While it may be hard to find the song that is absolutely perfect for you, it should be easy to see what’s absolutely NOT you.  You wouldn’t sing South Pacific, Beauty in the Beast, Elle in Legally Blonde, or Laurie in Oklahoma.  No matter how well you sing it, it’s not you.  Singing one of these songs will not represent who you are and will reflect negatively in your audition.

RESEARCH

Now that you know who you are and who you’re not, its time to do some work.  To start, visit http://www.stageagent.com  Select “PART FINDER”  Enter your age range “18-25″, choose F for female, for part size select “Lead, Supporting, Cameo”  for voice select “Belter and Mezzo” and under “Genre” select “Musical”.  For dance level start with N/A.

My search returns 12 pages of around 20 roles per page or almost 240 roles that fit your voice type.

If you decide you want to pay for a membership on this site, you can click on the character name and get a description for most roles.  Otherwise, make two lists:

1) Roles you know fit your type

2) Roles you don’t know at all – Be sure to include the name of the show next to the role name.

Next take the list of roles you don’t know and do two things:

1) Do a Yahoo or Google Image search for the name of the role, the show, and Broadway.  If you can’t find a Broadway production picture, then take off the “Broadway” and research for regional theatre photos.  Look at these photos to rule out obvious conflicts (i.e. Peppy Blonde Cheerleaders).  Remember the celebrity you looked up?  Think of that person while you’re going through this process and think to yourself, “Would I cast that celebrity in this role?”  If its a close yes, then it’s a role you should consider.  If the answer is a big NO, then you should probably skip that role.  The celebrity element doesn’t have to be the complete deciding factor, but it can help sometimes to take yourself out of the picture and put someone else in there who you can watch in various roles and has so far been successful at selling themselves as a type.

2)  Take whatever’s left and look up the show synopsis on Wikipedia and http://www.GuideToMusicalTheatre.com  While reading, you will get an idea if the character is close to your type or not.  If they are, highlight the role and write a short description next to it.  If the page on either of these sites includes songs that the character sings, write them down.  If the description mentions the name of the actress who debuted the role or other actresses who have played the role, write them down as well.  Also write down the year the show was written (some colleges ask for specific time periods to be represented).  If the character is completely wrong, cross it off.

RESULTS

You should now have a decent list of characters you could play.  If you’re lucky, you also have a decent list of songs that belong to each character.  For the roles you don’t have songs identified for, you have two options.

1)  Buy the Book “The New Broadway Song Companion” by David P. DeVenney.  This is a great resource you will use for years to come.  It lists most Broadway shows and many off-Broadway show telling you who sings each song, what vocal part it is, what the range is, and whether its a Ballad, Uptempo, Character, etc.

2)  Get on YouTube and type in the name of the Character and the Show and see what comes up.  As you do this, make notes on the songs you like and cross off the ones you don’t.  If its a duet or ensemble don’t necessarily count it out, you can always take a 16-32 bar cut from any song, your not only looking for strictly solo numbers.

If you chose #1 above, look up all the songs on YouTube, or do a 30-60 second preview on iTunes.  Either way, make notes on what you do and don’t like.

 

Still not having luck?

Go to http://www.ibdb.com. This site lists almost every musical and who played what part.  Take some of the names you wrote down above from Wikipedia and see what other roles they played.  You can also look up a show that has a role you like but maybe not the right song.  Click on the name of the actress who played that part and see what other roles they played.  Also scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on “Display replacement and/or transfer information”.  This will bring up a list of other actors/actresses who played the role.  Click on their names as well and see what other roles they’ve played.  Since this site only lists Broadway credits, you may also want to Google them, find their personal website, or look them up on Wikipedia and see what else they’ve done Regionally, on Tour, off-Broadway, and in concert.  Use the tools introduced above (looking up production photos, Wikipedia, YouTube, etc.) and see if this leads you anywhere.  It may take time, but you’ll find something.

Making a Choice

By this time, you should have a great list of possibilities.  You are looking for something that grabs the audition panel’s attention.  Think positive.  Audition panels hear too many ballads; after 10 in a row it gets depressing.  When someone comes in and lights up the room with a positive, upbeat, funny, or uplifting song it makes them standout (note: that does NOT mean to overact).  Try to pick songs that engage another character, try to avoid songs that are about memories.

Most auditions will ask for an up-tempo and a ballad.  If you’re a female, I suggest showing both your belt and mix or head voice.  Up-tempos tend to be easier to belt and ballads tend to be better for mix/head.  I do however hear women who can do the opposite and it works great as well.

Try to avoid anything that seems overdone.  If there are 10,000 results on YouTube for one song and 250 for another, I’d suggest doing the 250 song.  Its less likely to be heard that day.  You don’t want to be confused with 10 other girls who sang the same song, you want to be the person with the great package that was really different.  At the same time, do not do something so rare that there is hardly a chance anyone in the audition room will know what it is.  They’ll spend more time trying to figure out if they know the song than playing attention to you.  Yes – its difficult, can be irritating, and often confusing.  Sorry, if it was easy, everyone would be a star.

Remember: most of all we want to like you.  So keep it simple, fun, and be real.

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