Nailing Your Musical Theatre College Audition

Nailing Your Musical Theatre College Audition

Sometimes as an actor or actress, you have to sing a song that you don’t particularly love, but an audition should not be one of those times! If you relate to a song, and if it really resonates with you, you will bring something special to that piece. Here are a few tips:

Don’t perform songs or monologues written for characters that are FAR older than you.

No “Rose’s Turn” or Willie Loman monologues! You do not have the life experience to perform those pieces authentically, and there is plenty of age-appropriate repertoire out there. Stick to material for characters in their teens or early twenties. Also avoid singing in dialect or character voice. The panel wants to hear your genuine vocal instrument. The general rule of thumb is that you should audition with songs or monologues that are written for characters that you could actually get cast as right now at your current age.

If you are not a person of color, please do not sing a song that was written to be sung by a person of color.

It is important to respect authorial intent and the cultural identity of the characters in a show. For example, if you do not identify as Latinx, please do not sing “Breathe” from IN THE HEIGHTS for college or professional auditions.

Avoid pieces from shows that have been on Broadway in the last 3-5 years.

HAMILTON, MEAN GIRLS, DEAR EVAN HANSEN, and WAITRESS, etc… are great shows, but please don’t sing from them for your audition. Songs from these shows are wildly overdone, and singing them will not work to your advantage. Do some research and find songs from older shows. Many schools will require you to audition with at least one song that is pre-1960, so this is a good time to learn about the Golden Age of Broadway (1943-1959) and American Songbook repertoire (popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20 th century).

There are decades of wonderful material to choose from! An amazing resource for finding new material is; this site is comprised of free streaming radio stations, spanning over 50 musical genres. If you need further ideas, here is a short article I wrote for CS Music about avoiding overdone audition material:

Stay away from overly sexual or profanity-laden songs and monologues.

You are still young people, and these pieces can make the faculty you are auditioning for very uncomfortable. One or two curse words is not a big deal, but some pieces with a lot of expletives, particularly shouty pieces, can really turn auditors off. This is particularly true if you are auditioning for a faith-based institution. Why take the chance of offending the very people you are trying to impress?

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Do not choose songs with extremely difficult piano accompaniments.

If you are auditioning with a live accompanist, really consider the difficulty level of the accompaniment. Stephen Sondheim, Adam Guettel, Jason Robert Brown, Michael John LaChiusa, and Andrew Lippa are all wonderful composers, but they are notorious for writing extremely difficult piano parts. Audition accompanists have a very demanding job; don’t make their lives harder by giving them a wildly challenging accompaniment to sight-read.

Be certain that your sheet music is in the right key and that your cuts are clearly marked. 

Do not ask accompanists to transpose on sight; they will not appreciate that. Practice giving your tempo and communicating your cuts to the accompanist. Often students get nervous in auditions and give a tempo that is way too fast! It’s not a bad idea to write in a “beats per minute” (bpm) marking. Make your sheet music as neat as possible, and put your music in a binder with the pages back to back. Do not use single-sided copies or put loose sheets of music on the piano.

Ensure that your songs and monologues express some kind of journey of thought and feelings.

You don’t want to play just one emotion in an audition cut. Even though you are singing 16-32 bar cuts of songs and performing short monologues, try to give your pieces a beginning, a middle, and an end. Make discoveries along the way. You want your character to end up in a different emotional state than where they started. Try to avoid pieces where you just yell or cry the whole time; that doesn’t show a lot of nuance. The same rule applies to dynamics in a song cut. Try to avoid audition cuts where you are singing at top volume or belting the whole time; give the piece some shape, and show a variety of vocal color and dynamic choices.

We want to see your face, so practice your eye focus for each of your pieces.

The eyes are the windows to the soul, so we want to see yours! Make sure that you are not looking at the floor, performing in profile, or closing your eyes too much. By the same token, don’t stare down the audition panel while you are performing; that makes people very
uncomfortable. Place your eye focus just above the heads of the audition panel, and feel free to have a few points of focus on that plane. You might consider videotaping your audition cuts as a practice tool. Also, make sure your hair is out of your face!

Last piece of advice. Be yourself and let your unique voice, personality, and enthusiasm win the day!


Nadine Gomes

Nadine Gomes has spent her career exploring the genres of musical theatre, jazz, and opera as a singer and voice teacher. She is a full-time Lecturer in Voice in the Theatre Conservatory in the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, where she has been on faculty since 2004. Nadine received an M.M. in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy from the Music Conservatory in CCPA at Roosevelt University, she earned a B.S. in Performance Studies from Northwestern University, and she was a Vocal Jazz Performance Major at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Her students sing on Broadway, in national tours, in regional theatres, and throughout Chicago.