A billboard from the show Phantom of the Opera covers the corner of a building.

4 Expert Tips for Choosing College Musical Theater Audition Material

BY MARNI RAAB

Let’s face it. Choosing material for college auditions can seem daunting. What are they looking for? What styles make the best impression? What does “just be yourself” really mean? 

At the end of the day, the ideal school for you is where you can see yourself growing as an artist and a person. An audition is a step toward finding your best match. Although they have a different vantage point, each school’s audition panel plays the same match-making game. It’s in everyone’s best interest to have an awesome college experience where each student is well-positioned to learn and thrive over the next four years. So, how does choosing material get YOU where you want to be?


Be Yourself 

Have a connection to your selection. If you connect to the material, you give your panelists the best chance of connecting with you. Since musical theater is a storytelling art form, all of the skills you are working hard to develop – singing, dancing, acting – come together to tell a story. Choosing material you love and using it to tell a story is a powerful strategy for a successful musical theater audition. Individual panelists may have strong opinions on repertoire, and it’s tempting to try to make choices based on what you think they will like. The thing is, it’s impossible to know everyone’s likes and dislikes. If your connection to a piece is genuine, the panelists will see that regardless of whether your song or speech is among their favorites. That said, if a school provides a list of pieces they specifically don’t want you to do, follow their directions. 


Do Research 

Research the musical theater audition material. 

Knowing what’s out there will only help you. Check out shows, albums, and playlists. Read librettos and plays and biographies. See all kinds of theater online and in person. Stay humble and have fun. There is always more to learn!

Research the musical theater programs. 

A trove of information is available online. Most musical theater programs offer audition guidelines. The guidelines are there for a reason and it is essential to follow them. Adhering to them helps the panelists and shows them that you can follow directions. The prompts will leave you plenty of room to be uniquely you. 

Research the faculty. 

Who is on the faculty? Are they, or have they been, active practitioners in the business? Are they VERY active in the business and regularly on leave for outside contracts? Are you choosing to sing a song from a role they originated on Broadway? Are you performing a monologue from a play they wrote? It’s better if you know that in advance. It may present a nice small-talk opportunity, or it may cause you additional nerves, knowing they likely have a deeply informed point of view on the audition piece. 


Consider Style

Can you sing rock or pop? Golden Age musical pieces? New Broadway show selections? 

Yes, musical theater today blends styles. If you’re a versatile artist, go with that! Consult the audition guidelines for each program. Then, start with a connection to the material. Take care not to imitate someone else’s performance, and always tell a story.

If you are asked to choose multiple contrasting selections, use that prompt to explore contrasting styles as well as contrasting sides of yourself. Ask yourself, what sets of circumstances do I get to explore in this song, dance, or monologue? If you’re naturally drawn to serious high drama, be sure to also check out upbeat options so the panel can see various sides of you.

Students often wonder how and whether to pick material that involves controversial subject matter. Many plays and musicals explore controversial topics. There is no need to shy away from them. That said, if you are drawn to a piece that takes on an especially grim subject, ask yourself whether your connection to it is authentic. Are you satisfied with what the selection of that particular piece communicates about you? If all material on your list is highly controversial in similar ways, consider bringing in more variety.


Be Prepared 

Don’t underestimate the positive impact of total memorization on every piece you present. Be rock solid.

Be on time. Bring what they ask for – resume, photo, forms, etc. 

Be polite. If a panelist gives you direction, listen. An adjustment given after you’ve presented your piece is a gift. If you get a gift, say thank you! If you’re confused by the note, ask for a clarification. Otherwise, dive in and show them how directable you are. 

Doing your research and being prepared are essential tools that help you be at ease and fully present when it counts. Choosing a repertoire that you have a connection to and that allows you to tell a story is the best way for the audition panelists to see and connect with you. This way, you help the panelists effectively identify whether you and the program are a good match. Choosing repertoire may seem daunting at the start. Keeping these important tips in mind will take away the mystery and hopefully inspire you to get started. 


About the Author

Marni Raab is a veteran of Broadway and international stages, best known for her extended run as Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera. Additionally, Marni is an active director and producer, a faculty member at Institute for American Musical Theater, and a founding board member of Palm Springs Young Playwrights Festival. She holds a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from Oberlin Conservatory and a Master of Arts in theater History and Criticism from Brooklyn College


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