Not living in the world of musical theatre, I am happy to hear from anyone with experience in that arena.  Mr. McLellan shares his thoughts on auditioning with music.  Please feel free to chime in if any of you folks out there have anything to add.  For those of you singing at the Milwaukee Generals, know that you are blessed to have the talents of Richard Carsey at your disposal.



Hi Fletch,

I was recently helping some actors prepare for the upcoming generals audition and I thought I might add a few ideas to your advice column from January 9th.  I should quickly note that I am on board with everything you already mentioned.  The thoughts I wanted to add were in regard to this year’s new addition of an accompanist and the option to sing.  I have broken my thoughts down into “Song Choice” and “Working with the Accompanist.”


Your song choice will quickly give information to the auditors about your experience and professionalism.  There are lots of rules out there about which songs to avoid.  I recommend googling “musical theatre audition songs to avoid” and scan the different lists out there.  Everyone has varying opinions on what is good and what isn’t, but you will definitely see common themes.  Don’t pick a composer that is too taxing on the accompanist (Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown, Etc.).  Don’t do a song from the current “hit musical” (i.e. Wicked, Phantom, Next to Normal, Shrek, etc.)  Avoid “signature” songs such as “Don’t Rain on my Parade” or “Over the Rainbow.”  The rules go on and on.  I am not saying a song choice has to be perfect.  Just make sure you are aware of the red flags.

The length of your audition song should be 16-32 bars or no longer than 1 minute.  For this type of audition, 16 bars is more than enough time for the auditors to learn what they need to know about your voice.  I always recommend starting at the end of a song, then count the measures backwards.  You will probably find a good starting place somewhere around 20 measures from the end of the song.

Make sure to pick a song that is comfortable for your voice and shows your range.  There is nothing worse than hearing someone sing a song that is outside their abilities.  Sing a song that feels great on your voice.  If you enjoy singing then we will feel it and enjoy your audition.


For approximately 2 minutes the accompanist will be your best friend in the whole world.  Please be nice to him/her.  Keep in mind that he/she has been sight reading all day, so a great way to be nice is to be prepared in how you present your music.  Make sure the pages are either double sided in a 3-ring binder or taped together as one long page.  DO NOT hand your accompanist a bunch of individual pages.  Avoid handing your accompanist an entire bound book of music.  Also make sure to clearly note where you want to start and finish, any cuts in between, and any big key changes.  If there is anything weird that happens in the music, then you will want to briefly point this out to your accompanist as well.

Know your desired tempo and practice how you will tell the tempo to your accompanist.  Sometimes nerves can get the best of an actor and the tempo they tap out for the accompanist is much faster than they intended.  If you are going to hum a few bars to set the tempo, make sure you are honoring rests in the music.  If you barrel over the rests then you will misrepresent your needs.

If you start your audition and the tempo doesn’t seem right, just keep singing the exact tempo that you want.  The accompanist will be able to follow you and play at your pace.  DO NOT stop your song to fix the tempo.

This probably goes without saying, but I will say it anyway.  Make sure you have practiced with an accompanist.  Don’t assume that you will be able to sing with the piano if your only preparation has been to sing with the Original Broadway Cast Recording.

You might be planning to sing a capella.  In this case, I can’t predict how each auditor will react.  For me, I am not that interested in a capella singing.  It just doesn’t tell me much.  I would prefer to see two great monologues.  If you are a great actor and I see that you have some musical theater experience, then I will probably call you back anyway.  I am interested in hiring “actors who sing,” so I don’t expect everyone to be a trained singer.  I have yet to see an a capella audition go well.  But this perspective is specific to my own casting needs.  Other auditors might feel differently.


Please keep in mind that all of these suggestions are only my opinion.  Each auditor will have a different perspective and I encourage others to chime in if they feel differently about some of these points.  Also remember that everyone behind the table wants each actor to be the best they can be.  We want you to feel comfortable so you can be great.  So prepare for this audition as much as you can, but once you walk into that room you just need to take a deep breath, be yourself, and perform the audition to the best of your ability.  Everything else will fall into place.

Dave McLellan

Theater Coordinator

Zoological Society of Milwaukee / Kohl’s Wild Theater