What Songs Should be in your Musical Theatre Audition Repertoire

“I have a musical theatre audition coming up! What song should I learn?” The short answer is, you shouldn’t if you can avoid it. Preferably, you should already have a repertoire of go-to songs that you can pull out at the last second and know they’re appropriate and polished. Of course, if the musical, workshop, or program you’re auditioning for gives you a specific song to learn for the audition, you should just use that. But if not, here’s a guide to to selecting the songs that should be in your musical theatre audition repertoire before you get that audition notice. As always, common sense audition song rules apply for these selections: don’t pick something too overdone (Wicked, Hamilton, etc.) and make sure to pick a song that you sing well and that isn’t too hard to sight read on the piano.

1. Contemporary Ballad and Uptempo

What Is It

While there’s no strict definition of what constitute each of these categories, a ballad is a slower song, often about love, and an uptempo is more upbeat song. “Contemporary” can mean any number of things, but it’s usually pretty safe to prepare something from the least twenty years or so. Sometimes the term can even refer to the 1980’s on. There are several different “types” of contemporary musical theatre songs, including legit ones like The Light in the Piazza, pop ones like The Last 5 Years, and rock ones like Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

When to Use It

First and foremost, use this one when the audition notice says, “prepare a contemporary uptempo” or “prepare a contemporary ballad.” You can also use this one to audition for contemporary shows, but just make sure that the song you choose is appropriate for the show. You would not want to be that guy showing up for a Hedwig audition with Light in the Piazza.

2. Classic Ballad and Uptempo

What Is It

Like contemporary, the word classic can have a wide range of meanings, but it’s safest to assume Golden Age Broadway, 1943 to 1959.

When to Use It

This should go without saying, but pull this one out when you see an audition asking you to prepare a “classic Broadway” or “traditional Broadway” song. You can use this to audition for older shows that are being revived (or put on locally), and it’s also a good choice when it works stylistically for a modern show you’re auditioning for (think legit songs for legit modern shows).

3. Legit Song

What Is It

A legit Broadway song is one that uses technique that’s more classically based. Think “If I Loved You” from Carousel. While you may find more of these in classic Broadway, you’ll find these songs in contemporary Broadway as well.

When to Use It

Use this one when auditioning for a legit role. This could be anything from Julie in Carousel to Christine in The Phantom of the Opera Love Never Dies.

4. A Broadway Belt

What Is It

A belt song is one that uses a more chest-dominant, brassy sound. In older shows, you’d often find belters playing the character roles, but nowadays, the romantic lead is often a belter as well.

When to Use It

Unsurprisingly, you should use this when auditioning for a character who’s predominantly a belter. This can be anything from Rose in Gypsy to Kim in Miss Saigon or Elphaba in Wicked.

5. Disney Song

What Is It

Obviously, this is a song from a Disney movie or musical. Disney songs are fairly stylistically specific. They’re often sung with very bright, forward tones.

When to Use It

Use these for a Disney audition.

6. Character Song

What Is It

Character songs are often comic and sung with less pristine-sounding vocal technique. You’ll often hear them sung nasal.

When to Use Them

Use character songs when you’re auditioning for character roles. They’re prevalent in such shows as Avenue Q, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

7. Non-Musical Theatre Songs

What Are They

This spans a wide range, everything from pop, to rock, to country, to hip hop. Learning a few different genres from a few different eras is ideal.

When to Use Them

Often, auditions will call specifically for a certain genre other than musical theater: i.e. a 90’s rock song. These are important for jukebox shows, like Beautiful, American Idiot, and We Will Rock You. They can also be pulled out for rock shows like Rent.

8. Musical Theatre Pop and Rock Song

What Are They

While it’s good to have some non-musical theatre pop and rock songs under your belt, you should also know some musical theatre ones from a variety of eras. Think Grease and Songs For a New World for pop and Rent and Hedwig for rock, just to give you an idea.

When to Use Them

Use these for pop and rock musicals, respectively, i.e. ones that are less “classic” sounding.

9. Jazz Standard

What Is It

Jazz songs from the 1920’s to the 1940’s (think George Gershwin and Cole Porter).

When to Use Them

Use these to audition for shows from the era. They can also sometimes be used for Golden Age Broadway and even more contemporary Broadway auditions as long as they’re stylistically similar.

10. A Great 16-Bar and 32-Bar Cut

This goes for any of these eras and styles, but it’s great to know in advance the 16 or 32-bar cut you’ll sound amazing on. Not every great song has a great 16-bar cut, so be selective.

This list may not cover every single audition base you’ll run across, but it’s a great start that’ll give you something to have on hand at most auditions you’ll run across.

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