Interview by Carol de Giere for MusicalSingers.com.
Question: As a director, what would you advise kids who are auditioning, or what are some of the biggest mistakes?
Meridee Stein: One of the biggest mistakes I see a lot is singing out of your range. You need to present yourself in the best possible light. If you have a more limited range, find a song that highlights that range.
Also I would say, 12 year olds should not be singing sultry, very mature adult songs and lyrics, which sometimes they do. It’s very off-putting in a way, because it really doesn’t come from them.
Question: So would they pick songs from musicals where there was a child part?
MS: They could. For example, we had some little boys come in and sing from Oliver, “Where is Love” that shows off their beautiful boy’s soprano. We had a girl come in and sing “Popular” from Wicked. That was fine. She was great. She even had the little Kristin Chenoweth sound. Anything that they can really understand themselves and stays within their vocal range would be fine. Otherwise it’s a little off-putting and they don’t sound as good as they could.
Question: Do children come in with an up tempo and a ballad like adults would?
MS: Yes. In our case [for Captain Louie for the York Theatre production in the spring of 2005] we told them to bring a legitimate theatre tune and a pop tune. So some were ballads and some weren’t but they were two different modes. They get 16 bars but they should prepare the whole song because we will sometimes let kids sing all the way through.
Question: What else do you expect of them going into a show?
MS: …We expect them to be prepared, and when they are out there, that they behave like professionals. They are going to have to balance their school work and their performance schedule.
Question: Do you expect them to act a song when they are auditioning?
MS: I do. The more an actor or actress (kid or not) can get across a character in their song, the more I am interested. Songs in musicals aren’t sung without the context of the show they’re in. I’m looking for people who will do a good job in my show, not for cabaret performers. When I audition, during call backs I run scenes with them. I let them read the scene first and I give them directions to see who can follow. And sometimes I give line readings to see if they can get what it is that we want. The ability to take direction, to change what they are doing based on suggestion, is more important to me in the audition than whether they actually nail the specific character or part.
It’s hard to find kids who can act and sing and dance at the same time. We kind of put the dancing on hold, but you can tell whether kids are stiff or can move. And our choreography tends more to be movement than actual dance. In the end, I’ll take more of a chance on a kid who can sing and needs work on the acting side because you can help people with line readings but you can’t give them a good voice. It’s a matter of balance. And the nature of the particular role, as well.
Question: When they perform at an audition, do they look at the director?
MS: When they are up there, they have a reader and they are working with the reader….[So they are looking at the reader]…
Question: For your professional off-Broadway production, what’s the relation of the number who audition to who gets the part?
MS: I would say there were at least 200 people that auditioned and I think we picked six or seven. That’s a pretty tight ratio. It’s a tough business, and these are young starting out with great talent. Not a whole lot of experience, so I’m going to have to work a lot to get the performances. Some of them have great voices but it’s not just about learning the music, it’s about performing the song in context– about making the musical moment work within the show.
Question: So what does that mean to you – the difference between singing and performing.
MS: All songs are performed when they are on stage. Signing is learning the notes and what you have to sing. But for performing it, there are the lyrics, it’s what it says. It’s the context in which you are performing this number in the show itself. And what it’s supposed to be doing and what you want the audience to feel and what part of the story are you telling when you sing this song, and how does it move us forward from point A to point B, what does it serve, and why is it here? It’s the actor’s job to tell that story of the show through the song. So it’s just as big an acting job as it is when you’re talking to somebody in a scene.
For nearly two decades, Ms. Stein has produced and directed family entertainment including new musicals by Charles Strouse, Stephen Schwartz, and others. Her productions have been performed nationally at such venues as the The Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, and internationally. [The photo is from a recording session for one of her productions.]