There are so many lists warning you what songs you shouldn't audition with, I thought I'd switch things up and list a few that I'm always glad to hear. Songs not to avoid. But this is just to get your mind going. The best audition song highlights the things you do best, better than others. That's going to be different for every person.
1. Home from Phantom, music and lyrics by Maury Yeston
No, I don’t mean Home from The Wiz or Home from Beauty and the Beast. This is the lesser-done number from the lesser-done Phantom. A casting director I know (in the biblical sense – I’m married to her) gets a bit frustrated by aspirants who appear to hate being in the audition room. Here’s a song that conveys an ingénue’s love of performing. And so it brings a smile to my face. I’m not saying you have to love the audition process, but convince me of something you don’t really feel: That’s acting.
2. Way Ahead Of My Time (The Caveman Song) from The Taxi Cabaret, music and lyrics by Peter Mills
Besides the quality of looking like you want to be there, it’s quite often important to show you have a sense of humor. Think of dating. Aren’t we attracted to people who make us laugh? So your book better have a solid comedy song, and this playfully rhymed portrait of the world’s first coming out has won over many a room.
3. Why Can’t I Kiss You? music and lyrics by Jeff Blumenkrantz
You want them to love you at an audition, and here’s a song in which the character singing is so human, so inherently adorable, I find myself falling in love, a little, with anyone who sings it.
4. Now I’ve Seen You from Honk, music by George Stiles, lyrics by Anthony Drewe
Often, they’d rather hear your up-tempo than your ballad. Imagine, if you can, what it’s like to sit through a steady procession of 200 balladeers. Here’s a love song so brimming with energy, it’s impossible to be bored by it.
5. Some Girls from Once on This Island, music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
When a guy does Some Girls well, he’s showing me what he can do, acting-wise, with vivid and specific lyrics. Meanwhile, the voice essays the peaks and valleys of a wide-range tune with many tough intervals. I think of this number like ice skating’s triple lutz: very impressive if you can pull it off; if you can’t, you’re flat on your face.
6. Stop and See Me from Weird Romance, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by David Spencer
So many search for a song that shows range. This usually refers to some low note to some supposedly-impressive high note. I’m much more interested in emotional range, and if I need to hear specific notes, I’ll ask to hear them. They need not be in your song. Stop and See Me shows another kind of range: It’s a delicate ballad that breaks out into energetic rock in the bridge. Sixteen bars revealing totally different sides of you.
7. It’s Only a First Date from Nine Wives music by Douglas J. Cohen, lyrics by Cohen and Dan Elish
While I urge everybody to have a comedy song in their books, at times you might want to go in and make people cry with something sensitive, revealing your humanity. I’m surprised I don’t hear this plaintiff masterpiece more often than I do.
8. “Murder,” He Says, from Happy Go Lucky, music by Jimmy McHugh, lyrics by Frank Loesser
Females looking for funny songs naturally turn to my favorite songwriter, Frank Loesser, who understood that a woman cracking wise is inherently irresistible. If you’re auditioning for a show that isn’t contemporary, this send-up of old style slang terms of endearment might be the ticket.
9. I Keep It Hid, music and lyrics by Jimmy Webb
You’ve seen the countless casting calls asking for rock or pop, and when they say “no show tunes” they mean it. Problems arise with some accompanists sight-reading difficult rhythms; if they’re unfamiliar with your song, you’re taking a risk. I Keep It Hid’s sheet music makes its wild change-in-feel clear and comprehendible. And you can do it as a gospel or countrified rock, or many other colors of the pop spectrum
10 I Want You Back, music and lyrics by Berry Gordy, Alphonzo Mizell, Freddie Perren and Deke Richards
Come in with a rock song that everybody knows and everybody likes and everyone’s happy. The Michael Jackson classic, equally fine for a man or a woman, has an infectious energy that can brighten any room.
Probably none of these are going to suit you, in particular. They’re just generically wonderful. As a Boston musical director once put it, the best auditioners “are clearly showing a natural sense of who THEY are, with a piece that fits THEM well, as opposed to someone who seems to be trying to “impress” with a song choice or who is trying to “be a character” too much. Sing something that simply shows who YOU are.”
There’s little chance, then, that it’s something on this little list. But as I said in my first piece for OnStage, if you gimme Gimme Gimme, you’re saying you’re exactly like everyone else: Not such a good thing to relate in an audition.