Indisputably, the most-heard song at auditions for about a decade and a half has been "Gimme Gimme", by Dick Scanlan and Jeanine Tesori from the Broadway hit, Thoroughly Modern Millie. There are reasons why it’s so popular. And there’s a ton of reasons why nobody – and I mean nobody – should be auditioning with this song. I’ll go into those in a moment. But, since nothing I say is going to stop the steady parade of role-seekers essaying this epic, I thought I’d talk about how it could be done better.
Thoroughly Modern Millie, as a whole, and Gimme Gimme in particular, made a star of Sutton Foster. And she’s certainly an admirable triple threat performer. Each of the first ten years of this century you could find her on Broadway, lighting up a musical. I get that you want to be like her: Who wouldn’t?
But are you like her? Really? It’s here where a certain self-delusion commonly sets in. Many young belters believe that the best thing they can do in an audition is to show off high notes, in chest, as loudly as possible. They think presenting a Sutton-esque sound will land them a role, and 99 times out of a hundred, or more, it doesn’t. That’s because the people behind the table are rarely, if ever, interested in who can belt the loudest. And, please consider: You’re watching auditions and a procession of aspirants keep screaming at you: “Give me fat boy’s famous arrow!” over and over again, all day long. If that doesn’t get you running for ear plugs, nothing will.
There’s a fun term for the screaming belt, and it seems like it could have been coined specifically in response to the Gimme Gimme phenomenon: screlting. Nobody ever got a job by screlting at an audition. It’s not only unpleasant, the show being cast rarely calls for it. Sure, there are roles like Evita and Elphaba that require a lot of strength at the top of the chest range. And yet people screlt all the time going up for parts that don’t require a high belt.
And even if they did. Remember that Sutton Foster is a triple threat. She acts, she dances, she sings. Now, dance ability is assessed at a dance call, but too many forget that acting ability must be revealed when you’re singing your song. It’s the intriguing, interesting and true-to-life take on what a character’s going through that gets people callbacks. It’s not about the voice. I’ve suffered through countless screltings of Gimme Gimme that showed vocal power but not a whit of acting. Or not a whit of wit, which is particularly important.
Wit is what lyricist Dick Scanlan is all about, and bringing out the drama in any situation is what makes Jeanine Tesori such a brilliant composer. Now you, young actress, need to play the conflict for all its worth. A first step might be to think about how the writers chose that title. Who, in your experience, ever says “Gimme Gimme?” Usually it’s some greedy little kid, who really wants that candy or cookie or toy. So, the title refers to that gotta-get-it desire.
Your first sung line is “A simple choice” and you’d be amazed how many auditioners would be unable to tell you what the choice is between. On the one hand, we have the stereotypical flapper girl ambition, to marry a rich businessman. As Millie considers this, she says “clever girl” as a kind of commendation to those who marry into money. But then there’s the other hand: “Or pin my future on a green glass love.”
What in the world is a green glass love? Read the play. Scanlan defines the term: a man who is too poor to give his honey jewelry substitutes green glass, like a piece of a soda bottle, shiny but worthless. But there’s true emotion behind the gift, whereas a rich man who doesn’t have similar feelings for a desired lady might give a real gem but it doesn’t mean anything.
The published sheet music changes the line to something more understandable but less interesting to play. I suggest you stick with green glass and really see those two different men, one a little right of center, one a little left a center. One holds a diamond ring, but you don’t love him; the other pitifully presents a bit of green glass, and you find him hard to resist.
Play up the conflict: Consider these suitors without knowing whom to choose. Then, as the chorus begins, with six gimmes in a row don’t forget that you’re now using the terminology of that greedy little kid. Make the audience believe that you’re about to say “gimme that thing called wealth” and surprise us with the word “love.” Surprise yourself with love, even, as if you didn’t know you were going to say it before you did.
Once you’ve made that not-so-simple choice, the song keeps building up more and more elation. There’s many a burst of joy to play, and you might want to think of different components of a wonderful life-long love that excite you. Embrace that there can be euphoria during poor time. And don’t forget about sex. The music slows down after “I need it!” and “I want it!” and if the music’s getting sexy, you better too.
It’s the playing of these lines, these dramatic bits that win you parts. It’s not the voice. It’s almost never the voice. Show acting ability, or hear an uninterested “Next!”
And, for God’s sake, do something other than Gimme Gimme. Everybody’s doing it, you know.