Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell, Pippin) has been involved with Broadway and film casting decisions for over thirty years. Although he no longer witnesses the early stages of auditions, he always participates in final casting decisions for new musicals or prominent revivals.
He also sees dozens of shows every year on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in developmental readings. He’ll sometimes choose cast members for his own developmental readings based on performances he has seen, as was the case with Kristin Chenoweth whom he chose as “Glinda” for an early Wicked reading.
Here he answers questions from performers about auditions. (Used with Stephen Schwartz’s permission). [Photo – Stephen Schwartz in concert with Debbie Gravitte, Scott Coulter, and Liz Callaway)
I’m an aspiring music theatre actress and I have an audition for a performing arts university and I really want to be accepted. This sounds naive but I was wondering if you could give me some advise as to what you would look for if you were auditioning people? Are there any things I could do to make my audition stand out? Do you know anything that would be helpful? Thank you so much, Sera
In his answer, notice that he emphasizes being natural and appropriate.
The art of auditioning is, as you know, not something that can be fully discussed in a brief email. There are books written and classes taught about it. But briefly, I would say the following…what you most want to do is to present who you truly are and to show your skills to their best advantage. Here are some ways to do that:
- Know something, if you can, about the role or roles for which you are auditioning, and pick appropriate material to show. For instance, if you’re auditioning for CAROUSEL, don’t sing a rock song from RENT, and vice-versa. The same holds true for what you wear to the audition — you don’t want to come in a costume, obviously, but you want the auditioners to be able to envision you in the show. Thus, you wouldn’t wear a punk “streety” outfit to an audition for THE SOUND OF MUSIC, nor look like a cheerleader if you go in for HAIR. I know these things seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t consider them.
- Beyond the above, don’t try to second guess the auditioners. Just go in and do your piece to the best of your ability. Be focused and as in-the-moment as you can.
- Be REALLY well-prepared with your material, if possible. Remember, you’re likely to have an accompanist who can’t play it perfectly, and you will be nervous, which will be distracting. So be ready to the extent you can.
- Don’t try to sing beyond your range or riffing ability. You would be surprised how many good singers decrease the effectiveness of their auditions by adding a higher note than they can hit comfortably or a riff that they are not good at, when they don’t need to do either. Know what you’re good at, and stay within it.
- Never apologize for anything. As I said before, try to seem (and feel) as relaxed, confident, and focused as you can. Just be true to yourself, and you will impress people, at least in my experience.
I hope you find these tips helpful. Good luck, Stephen Schwartz.
Tips for Stephen Schwartz Musicals
Questions and answers from his forum at stephenschwartz.com.
Question: What audition song should I use for a part in Godspell?
Answer: I would think any pop song that shows off your voice would be a good choice. If you must do something from a musical (and I don’t know why that would be necessary), it seems obvious you should choose something from one of the more pop-oriented scores, of which there are several: for instance, RENT; TICK, TICK, BOOM; AIDA; LION KING; JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR etc.; all the way back to THE ME NOBODY KNOWS. But as I say, unless the people doing the show are insisting on a theatre song, any rangy pop song ought to do. Good luck! Sincerely, Stephen Schwartz
Question: I’m trying out for my high school’s musical Working in about two weeks. … I don’t really know what to sing style-wise.
Answer: The music for WORKING runs a pretty wide gamut (if a gamut can be said to be wide.) This is because the composers tried to stay as close as possible to a musical tone that would be appropriate for the individual characters. Most of the music is pop-oriented, so if in doubt about which characters you’re auditioning for, I would err on the side of pop-appropriate material. But the older characters, such as the teacher, waitress, or retired man, have more “theatrical” music. The ethnic characters have music appropriate to them — the older parking lot attendant has a kind of Harlem-in-the-40’s number, the cleaning woman sings a Gospel-tinged song. And for narrative purposes, there are more folk oriented numbers written to be accompanied by guitar. I realize this isn’t very helpful in narrowing it down, but my best advice would be to ascertain what characters might be appropriate for you and try to sing something that suggests them, or as I say, if you have no advance knowledge, go with something pop-oriented that shows off your voice. Good luck, Stephen Schwartz
Question: Any audition song suggestions for Pippin?
Answer: Check the Pippin forums at www.Musicals.net
Using Wicked Songs: Wicked Songbook . You are welcome to use the songs for auditions, mentioning the source as the Broadway musical Wicked.