Excavating the Song:
Tools for the Modern Singing
Neal Richardson
Fall 2013
Neal Richardson
Professional Information
BM Piano, Belmont; MM in piano performance, Baylor, MM in music theory, Baylor;
Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Doctoral work in piano performance with a
cognate in music theory. I have been teaching musical theatre for the past 17 years––Northern
Kentucky University for 2 years and Webster University for 15 years. I entered the world of
musical theatre as a music director/pianist/conductor/vocal coach.
At Webster I teach all four levels of musical theatre, sometimes in collaboration with my
cherished colleague, Lara Teeter and sometimes alone. I’ve described my teaching duties
below. In addition, I teach the sophomore advanced theory and musicianship for the musical
theatre majors.
I also work with each of our majors as vocal coach on a regular basis, working both on
their voice studio material and their classroom material. The goal for these coachings is to
bridge the divide that we have found sometimes occurs between the voice studio and the
classroom. It consists of equal parts of musical theatre vocal styles and acting work.
For the last 10 years, I’ve worked freelance for Hal Leonard publishing as an arranger,
working primarily in musical theatre. I was the arranger for the vocal selections of Spamalot,
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Brooklyn, Jersey Boys, The Drowsy Chaperone, Grey Gardens, The
Color Purple, The Pirate Queen, Young Frankenstein, The Little Mermaid, Passing Strange,
Legally Blonde, Memphis, 9 to 5, Women on the Verge…, People in the Picture, Newsies,
Ghost, A Christmas Story, NOW.HERE.THIS among others. The newest project for Hal
Leonard is The Broadway Singer’s Edition which are new, exhaustively researched editions
of shows along with a piano performance CD. The first batch of shows is Les Miserables,
Rent, Sound of Music, Wicked and Annie.
Other professional work
• Principal arranger for Gateway Men’s Chorus, Men Alive (Orange County), The Gay Men’s
Chorus of Washington D.C. Others include Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, Twin Cities Gay
Men’s Chorus, San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, Buffalo Gay Men's Chorus, Huntington
Men's Chorus and many others.
• Musical Director at The Muny, St. Louis. The nation’s oldest and largest outdoor musical
theatre venue.
• Church music and composer for the last 30 years.
• Principal Composer and Musical Director for The St. Louis Repertoire’s Imaginary Theatre
Company. Original shows include The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Tortoise and the Hare,
Robin Hood, A Peter Rabbit Tale, My Father’s Dragon and Hansel and Gretel: The Next
Generation. Shows licensed through Playscripts Inc.
• Music published by Yelton-Rhodes
• Paper presented at the International Musical Theatre Educator’s Conference, January 2013.
Song Analysis as a Key to Interpretation.
Neal Richardson, Webster University Conservatory of Theatre Arts Teaching Duties
• Freshman Intro to Musical Theatre, Fall (Musical theatre and actors are combined). In this
class, we focus on learning the musical theatre literature from the 20s to today. It’s not so
much a history class as a crash course in what musical theatre is, the most important
composers and shows, the changing styles, and how to listen with better understanding.
• Freshman Intro to Musical Theatre, Spring (Musical theatre and actors are combined)
Introduction to singing on stage.
• Sophomore, Fall (Musical theatre and actors are combined). Song study continued.
• Sophomore, Spring (Musical theatre only). Advanced song study looking at more difficult
literature such as Sondheim, Rock styles, music from the 20s and 30s, and preparing a role.
• Junior, Fall (Musical theatre only) Scene study with Neal and a director, currently Tim Ocel
• Junior, Spring (Musical theatre only) Neal and Lara teach audition and ensemble work with a
large unit on the integration of song and dance.
Senior, Fall and Spring. These last two semesters are focused on Showcase, Senior cabaret,
Introduction to
Excavating the Song
auditions and various other finishing touches.
Excavating the Song is a multifaceted guide to modern musical theatre performance and
repertoire. It is intended for the modern musical theatre singer. I believe it is a unique book. It is
not an acting book, an audition book or a book about singing. Instead it is about all of these skills
and about the ways that you can integrate your acting, your singing and auditioning skills as you
reach your career goals. It is my hope that it will help you in many different ways to become
more secure in your craft.
It is a companion to great new books for the serious musical theatre singer which I highly
recommend. At the top of my list of recent must-reads are Acting in Musical Theatre: A
Comprehensive Course (Routledge), Get the Callback: The Art of Auditioning for Musical
Theatre (Scarecrow Press), The Enraged Accompanist's Guide to the Perfect Audition (Hal
Leonard), Rock the Audition - How to Prepare for and Get Cast in Rock Musicals (Hal Leonard),
and The New Broadway Song Companion (Scarecrow Press). Each of these books should be on
your reading list. It’s my hope that you will keep this book with your audition book and refer to
it when you are stuck or in need a bit of inspiration and encouragement. Put in your audition bag
and peruse it as you’re waiting for an audition. Each topic discussed is presented in a way that
can be easily read and digested in one sitting.
Some of the topics include:
•Introduction to acting songs
•Creating actable situations
•Choosing songs that suit your unique gifts and personality
•Song Analysis (that helps you perform the song better)
•Critical Listening skills
•Riffing in Pop/Rock music
•Cabaret Styles
•Qualities of a Great Musical Theatre Performance
•Learning from Other Singers
•Expectations of musical theatre singers today
•Using Vocal Colors in Your Work
•Memorizing Music
The book will contain many repertoire lists and reference guides. I want to help you to find great
songs that you don’t know yet. Many great musical theatre songs are unpublished or rare and I
can help you find them.
Excavating the Song: An Introduction to Song Performance
Even if you dance beautifully and have strong acting skills, in musical theatre, in most cases, the
skill that will make you stand out more than anything else is your ability to sing a song honestly,
with a strong objective and other, with a clearly devised and actable situation and sing it well. If
you can do that and make us believe the song is being created by you in the moment, you can
create a bit of magic in a small, poorly lit audition room. Of course, it doesn't guarantee you will
get cast, but it will go a long way toward getting you in the "Yes pile" more often. Your dancing
and acting skills matter a great deal, but being able to sing a song with these attributes is the
secret that will help you more than anything.
The exercises discussed in Excavating the Song were created to provide a structure and process
to insure that you leave no stone uncovered when you sing a song. It is more than a worksheet or
a "by the numbers" process, but instead, it is a tour guide to the work that can be accomplished
when studying these great songs. The word, excavating, connotes the image of an archeologist
digging deeply into their chosen subject while being curious and scientific about her work. As
singers, it is too easy to think of a great performance as something mysterious and illusive. It is
too easy to think of a great performance you admire as something like alchemy. Like magic. It is
not. It can be understood and achieved with practice, time, and thoughtful consideration.
I begin using some of the ideas in this book when I started teaching musical theater over 20 years
ago. I would notice that often I would see strong acting in scenes from actors who could sing
well. But when called upon to sing, the character, which the actor had presented in a clear and
truthful manner, disappeared once the singing started. The quality that is so special and unique in
musicals is that you can have something highly realistic combined the something that can't be
quite explained with mere words––music. When someone sings in the middle of a scene,
something special happens. The audience is allowed inside the character's mind and we are privy
to a life that goes beyond words. Songs can go deeper than words because music allows a
character to express things that he would not say aloud.
Much of what I discuss when preparing a song is influenced and inspired by David Craig's "On
Singing Onstage," published in 1978. This important book was the first to explore what it means
to sing a song in a theatrical context. I have tried to clarify, simplify and update his work to aid
in mastery. There is a progression to the steps with one step building off of what has been gained
I wanted to take a moment to talk about the word in the title––excavate. We can use the image of
the pyramid when talking about great works of art to connote and suggest that it takes a great
deal of effort and time to build, step-by-step, block-by-block something significant and lasting.
In the process discussed in this book, we are looking at the building blocks of creating a
meaningful and significant song performance.
But stepping back for a moment, now think of the song itself as the pyramid––as something that
a composer and lyricist worked very hard to get just right. Most likely, the lyric has rhyme, has a
syntax that strikes a balance between prose and poetry, and has meanings and associations that
go beyond the surface of the words. In addition, the composer has crafted a melody and
harmonic framework that supports the lyric and helps to make its point even more clearly. Good
songs and especially good theater songs are more than just nice tunes. They support the allimportant lyric while providing a structure that the audience can take in and make sense of.
These songs deserve, even demand, to be excavated thoroughly.
Excavating the Song: A Guide to Repertoire
Considering the vast numbers of Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals not to mention theatrical
songs from un-produced or unfinished works, knowing the repertoire can be overwhelming.
Finding the right song for the right situation is daunting. In my work on the faculty of Webster
University for the past fifteen years, I’ve made discovering great under-sung songs a high
priority as well as matching songs from this literature with the singer. This book will help
everyone, no matter their voice type or character type, to find songs that suit them and get them
What Does It Take?
We all have favorite singers—ones who inspired us and helped us to decide to follow the
dream of musical theatre. Some of your favorites may include Judy Garland, Idina Menzel,
Sutton Foster, Liz Callaway, Audra McDonald, Alfred Drake, Marc Kudisch, Brian Stokes
Mitchell or Gavin Creel. These singing actors are unquestionably great, but what makes their
performances so compelling? Is it simply their voices? Their acting skills? Their personality? Or
is it combination of these?
And what do they have in common? Did they attend one of the great musical theatre
training institutions? Do they share similar interpretative styles? Did they coach with great
coaches? Each of their journeys to greatness was different and so was their training. Your path
will be your own too.
You may say, “I am a good singer and a good actor, what else do I need except the
chance for a breakthrough role?” You may have many skills in your back pocket but there are
probably still some things you have difficulty with. You may struggle with do with your hands
when you sing, or where your focus should be, or difficulty in auditions. The resource you hold
in your hand will address these things and many others.
There is a great chance that some of the things discussed here will be things you already
know well. There may be, however, other things that will inspire an “ah-ha” moment. Some
things may frustrate you. Some things may thrill you. Some things may bore you and some
things may just be the break-through you need in your performance. I encourage you to engage
with the tasks detailed here and give them a chance to work.
Without a doubt, the skills required of the modern singing actor pose an enormous
challenge. The objective of this resource is to simplify and clearly articulate some of the tasks
you will be doing on a daily basis during your career.
Throughout the book, there will be a need for the reader to do dig up a recording of the song
being discussed. Nowadays, people generally go to YouTube if they don’t have the cast album.
Take the time to find the song and listen to it.
Rules or Guidelines?
Do we need rules for something as ephemeral and specialized as singing a song on stage?
Judy Garland breaks many of the so-called rules. Does that mean she’s not a good performer? Of
course not. The guidelines here will simply give you a starting point from which you can employ
your unique creative gifts. Let me restate that, it is a starting point only. Some of the activities in
this resource may not work for every singing or acting opportunity, but, as the saying goes, you
can’t break the rules unless you know what rules you’re breaking. If you go into each singing
opportunity without a process, you’ll be reinventing the wheel with each song.
In your career you will be asked to sing many different kinds of songs. Some of these
songs will be classics. Some will be clunkers. Some songs you will “get” immediately and some
may have you throwing up your hands in despair. With these resources however, you will have
tools in your tool chest to tackle many issues you will face.
Three Things
There are three things that make up a great performance of a song: singing , acting
(including physicality) and musicality. Singing pertains to the vocal sound and may include
things such as vocal color, pitch and breath support. When we speak of acting in a song, as
opposed to acting in a straight play, we mean things like, does the singer communicate the story
of the song clearly, do they inhabit the physical life of the character, and is there a connection
between singer and material? It is unquestionable that when you add the subjective, sensuous
element of music, the situation is elevated and complicated. When studying the recent musical,
Legally Blond, I was struck by how often exclamation points appear in the lyric. This is because
the writers had fashioned the book, music and lyrics to express moments of elevated emotion or
need in the songs. Omigod!!!
Musical theatre acting isn’t exactly naturalistic. And yet, in the today’s productions of
new shows and in revivals of classics, naturalism, or maybe more specifically, realism, is the
style of our time. Audiences today want “real.” If it’s not real then it’s fake. If it’s fake then they
are out! But naturalism and musical theatre aren’t exactly compatible. The scale of musical
theatre is much bigger than our daily lives, not to mention that there is an orchestra
accompanying us as we sing about the things we want from life on stage. I do believe, however,
that realism and musical theatre are a perfect match. The humanity, the warmth, the pure
emotion of music is directly related to the kinds of things we think, feel and do on a daily basis.
The third element is one that is oftentimes the scariest for singers–musicality. You may
struggle with learning music or you may know that you are not taping into a song’s full potential.
The most exciting singers are the ones who can take what the composer and lyricist have given
them a make it extra-special. A part of this intangible quality is musicality. If we were suddenly
unable to see your performance, would we still be able to understand the moments from what we
were hearing? A great performance is more than correct notes and rhythm. Sometimes singing
the correct notes and rhythm lacks musicality. This may seem like a paradox. Music notation is
highly imprecise and it takes a great deal of sensitivity and study to sing stylistically.
The Challenge
There is no other kind of singer working today that has more asked of them than the
musical theatre singer. You are asked to belt, asked to sing so-called legit, asked to sing pop and
rock, asked to sing in jazz styles, and asked to sing in a style that can only be called the Golden
Age musical theatre style, something that is an amalgamation of many styles. You are also asked
to do the work of an actor: to be “in the moment”, to pursue objectives, and to embody the life of
your character. This is a Herculean task and I haven’t even mentioned dancing!
The objective of this book is to help the singing actor become more confident in their
work and to dig deeper into a song. Its aim is no less than to help you truly excavate all the
amazing things that are waiting for you and your audience. You are on your way to greatness!
Helpful Tools
As you read this book I would encourage you to keep a journal of your thoughts about exercises
and questions you might have. You might be able to answer them yourself in time. A computer
or smart phone will also be helpful as you will want to listen to examples I will discuss. Many
things are on YouTube but I will help you find them if they aren’t.
Acting the Song
Introduction to Song Study: First Song .......................................
Song Study: Introduction to the song out of context ..................
The Actor’s Homework ...............................................................
Guidelines for Different Types of Songs ....................................
Creating Situations .......................................................................
Qualities of a Great Musical Theatre Performance .....................
Cabaret Styles ..............................................................................
Post-millennium Style .................................................................
Musical and Vocal Considerations
Expectations of Modern Musical Theatre Singers .......................
Learning Songs ............................................................................
Vocal Colors ................................................................................
Riffing ..........................................................................................
Important Musical Terms .............................................................
Analyzing Songs ..........................................................................
Other Musical Considerations .....................................................
Critical Listening ........................................................................
Learning from other singers .........................................................
Memorizing Songs ......................................................................
Musical Style through History ....................................................
Choosing Songs
Creating your Audition book .......................................................
Audition Book Song Categories ..................................................
Choosing Audition Songs ............................................................
Choosing Songs for Cabaret ........................................................
Post-millennium Composers ........................................................
Guide to Repertoire ......................................................................
Repertoire Lists ............................................................................
The Perfect Audition Book ..........................................................
Glossary .......................................................................................
Bibliography ................................................................................
Acknowledgements .................................................. ...................
Repertoire sections:
Standard Ballads
Standard Uptempos
Movie Songs
Standard rep
Non standard rep
Sondheim songs
Operetta and Gilbert and Sullivan songs
Expectations of Modern Musical Theatre Singers
If you are someone wanting to work professionally in musical theatre, I'm sure you have
listened to cast albums, seen as many shows in New York and regionally as you can, purchased
DVDs, and spent hours on YouTube. If you haven't, what are you waiting for? All of this
research has surely inspired you, awed you and perhaps confused you. You might wonder, how
could I ever sing with such beauty as he does, or belt as high as she can? Or you might wonder,
how did he ever get that role?
So, just what are the expectations for musical theatre singers today? If you’ve listened to cast
albums from the past, you must have observed that there have been some great singers and some
singers who, let’s face it, were not great. Does that mean that anything goes. . .that you just have
to be in the right place at the right time? I can’t speak to the vocal standards of the past but today,
the standards are exceedingly high. But do not fret. This article will help you identify the
important guidelines for you to be aware of as you begin your training. No one expects you to
have all of these at this point.
Forty or fifty years ago, Musical Theatre performers usually were either Actors or Singers or
Dancers or Personalities. The ideal of the so-called Triple-Threat did not exist as it does today.
Performers from earlier generations might have been actors who could sing (Alfred Drake,
Barbara Cook, Mary Martin, Angela Lansbury) or dancers who could sing (Ray Bolger, Gwen
Verdon), or they might be personalities who could sing (Ethyl Merman, Carol Channing). But in
the last 20 years, the art of musical theatre has changed. In most cases, performers are expected
to be singer/actors/dancers at a high level. The expectations for singers has especially risen,
largely because audiences have easy access to recordings and because there are so many young
performers to choose from in auditions. Musical Theatre, as an art form, isn’t something that
people studied until about 25 years ago.
What are the expectations are for those younger artists entering the business today? First, you
must know the singing actors who are working and have worked in at least the last twenty years.
Their recordings and videos can be your guide. Become a student of live performances, cast
albums and video recordings. I hope to help you break down the expectations so you can know
what to work for.
Learning from the Other Singers
I’ve compiled a list of important musical theatre performers from today and from the past. This
is a tool for you to use as you develop as a singer.
Blah blah about how to learn from recordings. Give an example by dissecting a recording.
Youtube search: Obsessed Seth Rudetsky
Before we commence with the female singers you should be aware of, I’ll start with the singers I
assume everyone knows. These women have have long and significant careers on Broadway,
and/or in film and in television that a large majority of folks, in the theatre and out, know them.
Taken as a whole, their voices represent a wide variety of voice types and character types. If you
don’t know them, do yourself a big favor by spending an afternoon listening to them. It will
inspire you. These women are legendary.
Legendary Female Singers
Angela Lansbury
Audra McDonald
Burnadette Peters
Christine Chenoweth
Ethyl Merman
Idina Menzel
Judy Garland
Kelly O'Hara
Liza Minelli
Mary Martin
Patti LuPone
Shirley Jones
Sutton Foster
Other Female Singers You Should Know
include a short bio of each with a list of the things they’ve done.
Aisha de Hass
Mamma Don’t Cry
Alice Ripley
I Miss the Mountains
Alison Fraser
Hold On
Angela Christian How the Other Half Lives
Amy Spanger
Right In Front of Your Eyes
Andrea Burns What More Do I Need
Anika Noni Rose I Hate The Bus
Annaleigh Ashford Take Me Or Leave Me (She’s the blonde)
Ashley Brown I've Got The World On A String
Barbara Cook Chain Of Love
Barbara Walsh Stop, Time
Beth Fowler Patterns
Beth Leavel
As We Stumble Along
Betsy Wolfe
Betty Buckley
He Plays The Violin
Carolee Carmello Any time (I Am There)
Capathia Jenkins
Turn Back, O Man
Celeste Holm
I Cain't Say No
Celia Keenan Bolger Blue Hair
Chita Rivera
Kiss of the Spider Woman
Christiane Noll
Once Upon A Dream
Christine Andreas
When I Look At You
Christine Ebersole
Will You
Daphne Rubin-Vega Out Tonight
Debbie Gravitte
Mr. Monotony
Debra Monk
Everybody's Girl
Dee Hoty
Could I Leave You?
Dianne Pilkington
Pretty Lies
Dolores Gray
If You Hadn't But You Did
Donna Mckechnie
Music and the Mirror
Donna Murphy
I Read
Donna Lynne Champlin Lullaby
Dorothy Loudon
Fifty Percent
Eden Espinosa
Once Upon a Time
Elaine Paige
Elaine Stritch
The Little Things You Do Together
Elizabeth Stanley
Fever (Coming...)
Emily Skinner
Life With Harold
Erin Davie
The World She Writes
Erin Dilly
My Funny Valentine
Faith Prince
It's A Perfect Relationship
Florence Lacey
Ribbons Down My Back
Heather Headley
Elaborate Lives
Jan Maxwell
Could I Leave You
Jenn Gambatese
Love Me Tender
Jane Krakowski
I Want to Go to Hollywood
Jennifer Damiano
Superboy and the Invisible Girl with Aaron Tviet
Jessica Molaskey
Love Me
Jill Paice
How Will I Know?
Joanna Gleason
Moments in the Woods
Judith Blazer
Times Like This
Judy Kaye
Hey There (Reprise)
Judy Kuhn
Nobody's Side
Julia Murney
Maybe I Like it this Way
Karen Olivo
It Won't Be Long Now
Karen Ziemba
Thinking of Him
Kate Baldwin
How Are Things in Glocca Morra?
Kate Shindle
Legally Blonde Remix
Katie Rowley Jones The Life I Never Led
Kecia Lewis-Evans
Mama Will Provide
Kerry Butler
Somewhere That's Green
Kerry Ellis
I'm Not That Girl
La Chanze
I'm Here
Laura Bell Bundy So Much Better
Laura Benanti
Unusual Way
Laura Osnes
My Heart is Split
Lauren Kennedy Fly Into The Future
Lauren Ward
Lay Down Your Head
Lea Salonga
I'd Give My Life For You
Leslie Kritzer
One White Dress
Lillias White
Come Down from the Tree
Linda Balgord
The Role Of The Queen
Lindsay Mendez
Pretty Funny
Lisa Howard
Infinite Joy
Liz Callaway
The Story Goes On
Madeline Kahn
Mari Davi
Shimmy Like They Do In Paree
Maria Schaffel
Painting Her Portrait
Marin Mazzie
Back to Before
Marnie Nixon
Just You Wait
Marti Webb
Tell Me On A Sunday
Mary Testa
Megan Hilty
Backwoods Barbie
Megan Mullaly
Deep Love
Megan McGinnis
Find Her
Melissa Errico
Nothing Has Changed
Michele Pawk
Amayzing Mayzie
Montego Glover
Colored Women
Nancy Opel
It's a Privilege to Pee
Nancy Walker
I Can Cook Too
Natascia Diaz
My Death
Pam Myers
Patina Miller
Sister Act
Priscilla Lopez
What I Did for Love
Rachel York
Lost & Found
Randy Graff
Next Best Thing to Love
Rebecca Luker
My White Knight
Ruthie Henshall
How Did I Get To Where I Am
Sally Mayes
A Trip To The Library
Sally Murphy
What's The Use Of Wond'rin'
Sara Ramirez
Diva's Lament (Whatever Happened To My Part)
Sarah Brightman
Think of Me
Sarah Uriarte Berry The Joy You Feel
Sherie Rene Scott
Shoshana Bean
Bless The Lord
Sierra Boggess
Part of Your World
Stephanie J. Block
Get Out And Stay Out
Stephanie D’Abruzzo Like It Was
Susan Egan
Tammy Grimes
About A Quarter To Nine with Wanda Richert later
Teresa McCarthy
I Remember
Terri White
Tonya Pinkins
Lot's Wife
Vanessa Williams
Come Rain Or Come Shine
Victoria Clark
Dividing Day
Vivian Blaine
Adelaide's Lament
Vivienne Segal
To Keep My Love Alive (Parts 1 & 2)
People to watch
Natalie Weiss
Nikki M. James
Sal Tlay Ka Siti
Mandy Gonzalez
Stephanie Umoh
Average, Simple Mega Superstar
Male Singers You Should Know
Aaron Lazar
In Praise of Women
Aaron Tviet
I'm Alive
Adam Pascal
One Song Glory
Alexander Gemignani The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened
Alfred Drake
So in Love (Reprise)
Barrett Foa
God Save The People
Ben Vereen
Simple Joys
Billy Porter
Awaiting You
Bobby Steggart
Shallops and Scrubbing Brushes
Boyd Gaines
Tonight at Eight
Brent Carver
It's Hard To Speak My Heart
Brent Spiner
Is Anybody There?
Brian d'Arcy James
At The Fountain
Brian Stokes Mitchell
Yesterday, Tomorrow And Today
Brooks Ashmanskas
If I Ever Say I’m Over You
Chad Kimball
Memphis Lives In Me
Charles Kimborough
Cheyenne Jackson
Old Devil Moon with Kate Baldwin
Chip Zien
No More
Christian Borle
My Dogs
Christopher Fitzgerald You're There Too
Christopher Sieber
Issue In Question
Chuck Cooper
The Bus
Chuck Wagner
(Robert Westenberg)
Colm Wilkinson
Bring Him Home
Constantine Maroulis
High Enough with Amy Spanger
Danny Burstein
Madrid Is My Mama The Right Girl
Darius de Haas
Field Flowers
David Hyde Pierce
Coffee Shop Nights
Dean Jones
Dick van Dyke
Put on a Happy Face
Douglas Sills
Into The Fire
Eddie Korbich
Geraniums In The Winder
Euan Morton
Pretty Lies
Gavin Creel
What Do I Need with Love
George Hearn
I Am What I Am
Gordon MacRae
Gregg Edelman
A Quiet Girl
Harry Connick
Hey There
Harve Presnell
Colorado, My Home
Howard Keel
Where Is The Life That Late I Led
Howard McGillin
Hugh Panaro
Sail Me Away
Hunter Foster
Run, Freedom, Run!
Hugh Jackman
The Lives Of Me
James Barbour
As Good As You.m4a
Jason Danieley
I Miss the Music
Jason Graae
A Green and Private Place
Jeff McCarthy
Only At Night
Jeremy Jordan
Jerry Orbach
Half As Big As Life
Joel Grey
Mister Cellophane
John Cameron Mitchel
Winter's on the Wing
John Cullum
Come Back to Me
John Lithgow
Don't Look Now
John Raitt
John Rubenstein
With You
Julian Ovenden
Keith Byron Kirk
Ken Page
Kevin Chamberlin
The Moon And Me
Kevin Earley
I Thought That I Could Live
Kevin Kline
Larry Kert
Something's Coming
Lee Roy Reams
Len Cariou
Malcolm Gets
And They're Off
Mandy Patinkin
Finishing the Hat
Matthew Morrison My Girl Back Home
Marc Kudisch
I Met A Girl
Mark Jacoby
Matt Cavanaugh
Roberto's Eyes
Matthew Broderick
Michael Ball
Empty Chairs and Empty Tables
Michael Cerveris
Michael Crawford You Can Get Away with Anything
Michael McElroy Let It Sing
Michael Rupert
Live Alone And Like It
Nathan Lane
Norbert Leo Butz Moving Too Fast
Norm Lewis
You Should Be Loved
Raul Esparza
Marry Me a Little
Richard Kiley
The Impossible Dream (The Quest)
Robert Cuccioli
This is the Moment
Robert Goulet
C'est Moi
Robert Morse
I Believe In You
Robert Preston
I Won't Send Roses
Robert Westenberg Agony with Chuck Wagner
Ron Bohmer
Free, Easy Guy
Ron Raines
Hey There
The Road You Didn't Take
Shuler Hensley
No Other Way
Stephen Bogardus
You Got To Die Some Time
Stephen Buntrock The Voice Across the Moors
Stephen Pasquale The Streets of Dublin
Steve Balsamo
Steve Kazee
Terrance Mann
Theodore Bikel
Titus Burgess
The House of Love
Tom Hewitt
Quiet Life
Tom Wopat
I Stayed
Tony Yazbeck
All I Need Is The Girl
Tyler Maynard
Victor Garber
Will Chase
Top 5 Desert Island Breakups
Will Swenson
Zero Mostel
If I Were A Rich Man
Below are some of the most exciting singers working today. Listen for singing style, acting
through the voice and vocal color choices. I could have included Audra, Kelly, Idina, or Sutton
but I think you probably know them already.
Leslie Kritzer One White Dress
Erin Davie The World She Writes
Lauren Kennedy Fly Into The Future
Kate Baldwin How Are Things in Glocca Morra?
Jill Paice How Will I Know?
Rebecca Luker Lovely Lies
Brian D’Arcy James At The Fountain
James Barbour
As Good As You
Gregg Edelman
A Quiet Girl
Gavin Creel
What Do I Need with Love?
Cheyenne Jackson
Old Devil Moon
The Necessary Skills
Strong musicianship
In order to be a professional, you will need a solid understanding the mechanics of music and
have the ability to translate notation into a compelling performance. Of course, there have been
many examples of working professionals who didn't read a bit of music. But now with the rising
costs of mounting a production and the speed at which shows are rehearsed, things are much
different today. Although you are not expected to sight read music flawlessly, you are expected
to read music (and understand all the symbols and terminology) and to be able to learn music
independently. If you cannot do this, it is expected that you will hire a coach to help you. There
simply isn't enough time for a musical director to teach you every note. A good rule of thumb is
that you should be able to learn a new song, not memorized necessarily, in two days or less. If
you can't, you will frustrate yourself and the folks who hire you.
Pitch accuracy and intonation
Unlike recording studio singing, Musical Theatre is live. In the last 20 or 30 years, the quality
and accuracy of singing has risen to a very high level. Audiences, raised on television and
internet, are more sophisticated and demanding.
Vocal Range and Style
In most cases, the dividing line between soprano and mezzo and between tenor and baritone
which we have all grown up with are blurred in modern musical theatre practice. Don't
misunderstand me. People still ARE sopranos, mezzos, tenors or baritones but everyone is
expected to be able to sing nearly everything within reason. If you really want to be marketable,
everyone will need a very strong classical technique that allows the voice to move freely with
resonance and vibrancy. In addition, it is also highly desirable for you to be able to sing without
vibrancy as well as with minimal vibrancy. You will need this skill in passages that require a
more speech-like, parlando approach (as in Standard or some Golden Age verses) or in modern
pop-rock influenced music. It is also highly desirable to be able to transition from a non-vibrant
sound to full vibrancy as this frequently required in mix-belt songs on sustained pitches.
Sopranos should be able to sing comfortably from G to C, d in Bel Canto. They should also
have a very strong mix able to carry the chest voice up moderately high with volume and
minimum vibrancy but without pushing. If you are able to move over into belt, that's great but a
very strong, powerful mix that can sound like belt is the bread and butter for the modern
Mezzos should be able to sing comfortably from E to A, b in legit. They should also have a
very strong mix able to carry the chest voice up moderately high with volume and minimum
vibrancy but without pushing. Belt is expected with true mezzos but avoid pushing at all costs.
Tenors should be able to sing comfortably from G to C, d in Bel Canto style. The challenge for
tenors is singing above the staff. Work to be able to produce a variety of sounds here that would
include lyrical, soft/tender (approaching falsetto without being too flute-y) and powerful. This
powerful sound is sometimes called male-belt. Some reject this term. Whatever you call it, it is
what we most want to hear from tenors today.
Baritones should be able to sing comfortably from E to B-flat in legit. Okay young baritones,
are you sitting down? This might seem like bad news, but it doesn't have to be. Traditionally, the
baritone is either the anti-hero (Billy in Carousel, Sweeney in Sweeney Todd, Paul in Carnival,
Coalhouse in Ragtime) or the buffo (Trevor Greydon in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Ivan in
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown). These roles go to men in their 40s or older.
There are many working younger baritones but they have found a new, more youthful approach
that is closer to what we generally think of from tenors. Don't try to be a tenor but, unless you are
singing one of these older roles, lighten up as you go higher.
For most modern shows, the ensemble is required to have a wide range. And dance! In recent
years, ensemble singing in such shows as Wicked, In the Heights, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, vocal
arrangers are asking the ensemble to singer higher than in the past. Sopranos will need an easy C
or D, tenors are kept above the staff much of the time and baritones are treated like second
Part Singing
All singers should to be able to sing parts and hold down their part securely. Men should be able
to sing both tenor and bass depending on the range of the part and women need to be able to sing
soprano and alto. Creating a balanced ensemble can be challenging for musical directors since
casts aren't assembled with an eye toward equal forces on each part. Most of the time you won't
be asked to sing outside your range in an ensemble but you will be expected to be flexible.
Rock Styles
In most cases now, singers are expected to be able to sing in Rock styles and be able to riff.
Vocal Colors
In the chapter that follows, I discuss Vocal Colors in great detail. Vocal colors is a term I like to
use when describing the virtually infinite ways the voice can produce sound. The changes in
dynamics, vibrancy, resonance, intention and host of other things create dramatically different
versions of the song. In dramatic singing, vocal colors are an incredibly powerful tool in
communicating meaning and subtext.
In classical singing, there is traditionally a focus on unity across registers with a similar color
throughout that is fully vibrant and resonant. The better opera and art song singers are aware of
the power of changing the colors for the sake of communication in such ways a varying the rate
of vibrato, the brilliance, prominence of consonants and others ways. But, by and large, the Bel
Canto style is to obtain beauty at all costs.
But for the musical theatre singer, character, situation and text are more important than pure
sound. Beauty of sound is valued if the moment calls for it. More than anything, the singer must
sing in a manner that is consistent with their character's truth in that moment. If the character is
fearful, the voice can and should reflect that. If they are triumphant, the voice will reflect that.
Introduction to Song Study: A Step-by-step Guide to
Preparing Your First Song
Nearly every song you sing will already have been sung by countless other performers.
You may ask yourself, “How can I bring something new to this song?” or “How can I make my
interpretation of this song unique and interesting?” The things we do when preparing a song are
in response to these questions. Your interpretation of any song begins with a thorough
understanding of the music and lyrics as well as how these two are interrelated. A great
performance will also mean making smart choices that will lead you toward a nuanced, original
and specific final performance.
Always begin by reading the lyric. No matter how much you like the music, a song is not
a good choice for you if you do not connect meaningfully with the lyric. For this guide I have
chosen a great standard—“Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” by Cole Porter. Essentially, the lyric is
about the effect the other’s absence causes. While it is tempting to look at this as a sad lyric and
concentrate on the negative aspects, I will always encourage you to make an attempt to find the
positive in every song. While a losing arc or a serendipity arc are possible for this song, a
winning arc is nearly always preferable. To borrow from the cliché, it is like looking at the glass
half full rather than half empty. Details about song arcs will follow.
The reason a standard from the first part of the 20th century is such a good starting point
for song study is that the dramatic layout and form of the song is so clear. This particular song,
like many other standard ballads, begins with a verse followed by a refrain with an ABAB form.
We will discuss form in just a bit. The verse sets up the circumstances and conflict within the
song and then the refrain allows each performer who sings the song a wide variety of
interpretations of the basic story. Standards have a wonderful combination of specific action and
story mixed with a certain openness to interpretation.
Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye
From Seven Lively Arts
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
We love each other so deeply / That I ask you this, sweetheart
Why should we quarrel ever, / Why can't we be enough clever,
Never to part?
Ev'ry time we say goodbye / I die a little
Ev'ry time we say goodbye / I wonder why a little
Why the gods above me / Who must be in the know
Think so little of me / They allow you to go
When you're near / There's such an air of spring about it
I can hear a lark somewhere / Begin to sing about it
There's no love song finer,
But how strange the change from major to minor
Ev'ry time we say goodbye
Ev'ry single time we say goodbye
Context and Situation
It is traditional to take classic American popular songs from the first half of the 20th
century out of their show contexts, even when they were written for a stage musical or film.
“Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” first appeared in Seven Lively Arts—an interesting musical
revue that celebrated a variety of art forms including music, theatre, ballet and painting. The
context of this song in its original setting, while interesting, is of no real value to a modern
audience. It will be much more interesting and valuable to you as a student of song study to
create your own story. There will be, of course, times when you will need to sing a song using
the givens of the show that it is from. For now, let’s be more creative.
Begin by reading the verse carefully. Look for keywords and phrases. Also look for the
song’s conflict. All great dramatic literature has conflict and that conflict is the fuel for a strong
performance. Great lyrics are akin to poetry, and as such, they contain hidden treasures that you
must discover through thoughtful excavation. Failure to do the excavation to find these treasures
runs the risk of a performance lacking specificity and nuance. A few keywords or phrases in this
verse are “love,” “deeply,” “sweetheart,” “quarrel,” “clever,” and “never to part.”
While we are discussing verses, it is useful to think about how the Verse/Refrain song
form came about and how verses function in relationship to the refrain. A song that begins with a
verse comes out of early musical theatre as a way to transition seamlessly from dialogue to a true
song. Without the verse, the transition could be awkward or even laughable. We can understand
the verse as having a characteristic more closely aligned with speech—more rhythmically free
and less about melody and more about setting up the context for the refrain.
In the analysis that follows, I differentiate between objective observations and subjective
observations. The objective observations are based directly on meanings inherent in the words of
the lyrics. The subjective observations are the ones you, the performer, make about a song. You
must begin with the objective observations which are in black and white in the text. These are the
ones that any singer coming to the material, no matter their stylistic differences will or should
see. From the text, we can draw the conclusion that the singer has a significant love for the other,
enough to use the word “sweetheart.” But there is a conflict involving something that causes
them to be separated. With this separation comes quarreling. The singer wishes that the two of
them could be smart enough, or clever enough, to find a way to not be separated. This is the
objective observation. Next comes the subjective interpretation.
Subjective Interpretation
By the time you begin this step of the work, you should have written out the lyrics in
longhand and taken note of the punctuation. Punctuation is especially important later when we
choose where to take breaths. The commas in the verse after “this” and “clever” will be places
that cry out for a slight pause (if not a full breath) before the next word. The act of writing the
lyrics cannot be over emphasized. It is too easy to overlook details and slowing down to write the
lyrics will force you to take a deeper look.
Consider what questions remain that need to be answered and which answers will lead to
a more satisfying performance. Think carefully about what is not in the lyric. What is left
unstated between the lines? You may ask, “Why are these two separating?” and “What is the
nature of the relationship?” and “How long have they known each other” and “How long are they
separated?” There are other questions that may occur to you. The big question that is among the
first that must be answered is “Who is the other?” The answer to this question will inform nearly
every other question and answer.
I find that many, if not most, song study students choose the most obvious answers to
their questions. The conventional wisdom is that the answers with the most angst provide the
greatest fuel for a performance. There is a logic to this way of thinking and I applaud strong
choices. But “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye”, with its slow tempo and static melody, has a
musical and an emotional intensity that may lead you down the wrong path. Remember, the
positive choice is usually the better one. Some may choose a situation where the other is a
spouse and that the two are separating due to irreconcilable differences. Maybe there is a divorce
looming or maybe a lover is choosing to enter the military during a time of war to avoid a
marriage proposal. While these kinds of choices may result in a useful analysis leading to a
satisfying interpretation, I will ask you to make positive choices as you do this work for the first
Sample Interpretations
What follows are a couple of different possibilities for an original situation.
Situation 1: A 20-year old college student with a girlfriend of one year has to say goodbye to his
sweetheart, Grace, for summer break. Grace wanted them to stay at college during the summer
and take classes together and spend time at the beach. He needs to work to earn money for
college and the best place for him to do this is at home in his family’s business. They quarrel
over this repeatedly. The reason he needs to sing this now is because it is the last day before
summer break and his father needs him for a big project in the morning. He must catch the train
and convince his sweetheart that he will call her everyday, that he will miss her terribly and that
his love for her is real and lasting.
Lyrics such as “I die a little” are evidence of how enduring his love is for her. “The gods
who think so little of him” is perhaps not so much from a sense of desperation or sadness but a
somewhat comic hyperbole. Maybe he is using poetry and humor at the same time. It is an
excellent tactic. The lyric “They allow you to go” must be reinterpreted in the singer’s mind to
mean “They allow us to be separated.” You will need to do minor reinterpretations such as this
often in your work if it does not destroy the intent of the lyric.
Situation 2: A young mother must say goodbye to her 7-year-old daughter who is going
to summer camp. She must sing these words to comfort her daughter before she gets on the bus.
The daughter feels as if she is being punished by being sent away. The mother sings this song to
reassure her that she’s not being punished and that she will be missed terribly. She will be
coming back in a month and everything will be the same when she returns.
The benefit in choosing a situation like this is that the moment is quite rich. The mother is
upset about having to say goodbye but must put on a brave face to comfort the child and to keep
her from crying. While there is sadness and longing, it becomes more about the love the mother
has for the daughter than the separation. It has conflict, but it is more positive than negative.
As a side note, we are often told to make life and death choices in our acting. This is wise
advice, but can lead us to a morass of angst and “feeling sorry for one’s self.” This is a trap that
is to be avoided at all costs. Musical theatre songs are at their most powerful when they are about
working through a problem by making positive, life-affirming choices. “The sun’ll come up
tomorrow/bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun” and “Look for the silver
lining/whene’er a cloud appears in the blue” are two great examples. You may think these songs
are corny but they are great theatre.
Analyzing the Refrain
Once you have created the situation for your song, the real work of interpretation begins.
Often people make the mistake of stopping their exploration and asking questions once they have
created the situation. This is only the beginning of the process. You will need to analyze the
poetry, analyze the form, consider the ways that the music and the lyrics are related, then look
for ways to keep the song “in motion.” You must find ways for the song to progress through time
such that discoveries are made and that there is a clear beginning, middle and end. Remember,
lyrics are like poetry. Let’s look at the poetic devices in the refrain.
Ev'ry time we say goodbye / I die a little
Ev'ry time we say goodbye / I wonder why a little
Why the gods above me / Who must be in the know
Think so little of me / They allow you to go
Rhyme Musical
scheme form
When you're near / There's such an air of spring about it C A
I can hear a lark somewhere / Begin to sing about it
There's no love song finer,
But how strange the change from major to minor
Ev'ry time we say goodbye
Ev'ry single time we say goodbye
E Coda
The refrain falls into a traditional scheme of four pairs of rhymed couplets
(A,A,B,B,C,C,D,D) with a coda. The Coda, or tag, has two lines, each of which ends with
“goodbye.” The rhymes in each A section are notable because they are quadruple rhymes – “die
a little” rhymes with “why a little” and “spring about it” rhymes with “sing about it.” A good
rhyme emphasizes important words. The italicized words are made more important because of
their rhyme. You will need to consider why these rhymed words are important. The two B
sections contain the rhyming pairs of know/go and finer/minor.
The musical form of this song is ABAB with a tag. This means that the first section and
the third section of the refrain are closely related, or are an exact repetition (with different lyrics,
of course). The second section and the last section are also related. Note that we call this last
section a “B” even though it ends differently than the first B section. Cole Porter then adds an
additional 4 bars of music for the lyric, “Ev’ry single time we say goodbye.” Approximately 15
percent of standards have an ABAB form. The most common form, AABA, is found so
frequently that it is referred to as “Song Form.”
Most American popular songs of this period were composed first and the lyrics were
added later. But since Cole Porter was both the composer and lyricist for this song, we are not
sure which came first. According to at least one source1, Porter’s lyrics may have come first.
Whichever the case, it is clear that there is much word painting2 in the refrain. Each A section is
notable in that the melody stays fixed on a single note (eight repetitions!) before changing pitch
(figure 1). The note change always corresponds with an important word like “die” and “why.”
Figure 1
This static melody may suggest a sense of hesitation or a desire to make time stop. The B
sections are much more melodic and higher in pitch (see measure 19 and following in the full
song reproduced in figure 2, below). This musical change is in response to the lyric, “Why the
gods above me . . . Think so little of me” and “There’s no love song finer.” At the end of the
second B section, there is a remarkable musical moment when the lyric, “the change from major
to minor” is reflected in a change in harmony from A-flat major to A-flat minor. Other instances
of word painting are discussed in figure 2 (below).
You might wonder why this is important or how someone without an advanced degree in
music theory can find such connections between the music and lyric. The reason this is important
is that great songs work on multiple levels. When the art forms of music and poetry are
combined, the results are complex and subtle. If you are singing a great song, it is your
responsibility to understand it to the best of your ability. Finding these kinds of connections does
not take any special knowledge but it does take time and careful listening.
Digging Deeper into the Refrain
Now that you have a better understanding of the refrain’s structure, you can put your
“actor hat” back on. You have answered many of the questions from the “Actor’s Homework”
such as “Who is the singer?”, “Who are you singing to?”, “Where are you?”, and “Why do you
need to say these words?” We have not addressed the all-important question: “What changes
during the song?”
The refrain falls into 4 sections of approximately 8 bars each. There is no fixed rule about
this, but I encourage you to give each of these sections a difference action. It is possible to
combine sections into a single action but having 5 actions, the four from the refrain plus and
additional action for the verse, will give the song more shape, more variety and more colors.
Forte, Allen. Interview with Andrew Ford. The Music Show. January 4, 2003
Word painting is the musical technique of writing music which reflects the literal meaning of a song
I have chosen situation #1 from above: A college student with a girlfriend of one year has
to say goodbye to his girlfriend for the summer. Here is a reminder of the situation.
A 20-year old college student with a girlfriend of one year has to say goodbye to his
sweetheart, Grace, for the summer. Grace wanted them to stay at college during the
summer and take classes together and spend time at the beach. He needs to work to
earn money for college and the best place for him to do this is at home in his
family’s business. They quarrel over this constantly. The reason he needs to sing
this now is because it is the last day before summer break and his father needs him
for a big project in the morning. He must catch the train and convince his
sweetheart that he will call her everyday, that he will miss her terribly and that his
love for her is real and lasting.
The pertinent details of this situation are:
1. I need Grace to know that I will return to her after summer break if I can make money at
2. I need Grace to understand that I must earn money this summer or I cannot return to school in
the fall.
3. I know that Grace is very upset with the fact that I am leaving.
4. I don’t want to fight about this anymore.
5. I must catch the train.
6. I have to tell Grace all of these things carefully or I run the risk of leaving on a sour note.
7. I want Grace to be okay and to understand that I must leave. I need for her to accept this
8. I need Grace to know that my love for her is real and lasting.
These are the givens. They are the things that I must accomplish during the song. Writing
out these details help to give structure the song. Always phrase these statements as I have done,
beginning each sentence with: “I (action verb)___________”. Once you have done this work,
you can create the defining sentence: “This is a song about a college student who needs my
girlfriend to understand that I must work during the summer so that I can be with her in the fall. I
need her to understand that our relationship can stand three months of separation.” The defining
sentence is discussed in detail in a later chapter. For now, just know that essentially it
incapsulates your story in a concise way so that you can repeat it to yourself before beginning to
What follows is an example of how I might assign different actions, based on our givens,
to each section to give the song a clear shape.
Lyrics and Action Verbs
We love each other so deeply
That I ask you this, sweetheart
Why should we quarrel ever
Why can't we be enough clever
Never to part
Prepare. I know this could be very difficult so I must
prepare Grace for the words I need to say by assuring
her that I do love her and that I do not want to live my
life without her. The tone of this opening verse will
be very conversational and yet loving.
Ev'ry time we say goodbye
I die a little
Ev'ry time we say goodbye
I wonder why a little
Convince. I must convince Grace that I have to leave
or I cannot return in the fall. I will use logic. While
my action is to persuade, I have to be careful with my
words so as not to allow her to interrupt me. I must be
firm but gentle. This will likely prompt me to sing
this passage with a great deal of legato (connection
from note to note).
Why the gods above me
Who must be in the know
Think so little of me
They allow you to go
Tease. I need to bring in a little humor at this point
because she is beginning to get upset. I will cry out to
the gods about how unfair the situation is and do so in
an overly dramatic way to get her to laugh, or at least
smile. When I say, “They allow you to go,” I really
mean that the gods have created a situation where I
have to leave in order to work for my father. I hope
that by giving this a heightened tone that she will first
understand how hard this is for me and also laugh.
This will prompt me to make much of the fact that the
tune becomes much more melodic and higher. I will
“milk” this in a playful manner.
When you're near
There's such an air of spring about it
I can hear a lark somewhere
Begin to sing about it
Overwhelm. I will shower her with my affection and
the beauty of my words. I want her to know what her
presence does to me and how hard it will be for me to
be away from her. I need her to know that my love is
real and lasting. This will cause me to sing with a
great deal of warmth and expression.
There's no love song finer,
But how strange the change from
major to minor
Ev'ry time we say goodbye
Ready. I need to ready her for my departure because
the train is here now. I may want to speed up this
section a bit because I have to get on the train.
Ev'ry single time we say goodbye
Kiss. The last moment is a loving goodbye kiss.
These five verbs are just some that are possible. Work to achieve a sequence of actions
that vary in texture and emotion. The verbs will delineate beats and give structure to the song.
Notice that in my sequence of verbs there is a variety of actions and tactics. Creating this kind of
variety will give your interpretation distinctive qualities that will set it apart from other
interpretations. You will find a more detailed discussion of action verbs in the next chapter.
Putting your Choices into Action
All of this work is well and good but is only theoretical until we make the song “live” in
real time, moment to moment. The only way to do this is by building it layer upon layer. The
image of a pyramid is helpful. All the work we have done thus far has laid the foundation of the
pyramid. Now we must build upon this solid foundation by doing the “Song as Monologue”
exercises. These will be discussed in detail later.
1. Using a high level of vocal energy, speak the words without inflection with speed so that
the words form on your tongue without stops and starts.
The purpose of this is to aid in memorizing and getting the words securely into your muscle
memory. Do this until you can do it without any hesitation. Do not do this, however, so
quickly that the words have no meaning. You may also choose to speak the lyrics as a
dramatic recitation, savoring the images and biting into the words as you might bite into an
apple. In class, we refer to this activity as the “One-B.”
2. Physicalize the active verbs in each beat hearing the lyrics in your head but without
speaking them.
Once a section is finished, move on to the next verb. If it will be helpful, have a friend hold
up cue cards with that verb written on it to remind you. Start in a neutral position (focus
forward Center, weight on both feet and arms to your side) by saying to yourself the defining
sentence. Then when you see the inciting event, begin to hear the monologue in your head
while employing complete physical involvement. Don't plan what you are going to do. Let it
be spontaneous.
3. Physicalize the monologue while saying the lyrics.
Start in a neutral position (focus forward, Center, weight on both feet and arms to your side)
by saying to yourself the defining sentence. When you see the inciting event. begin to speak
the monologue with complete physical involvement. This is not a verbal exercise, it is
physical. Whisper or shout if you need to. Get down on the floor or stand on a chair if it is
appropriate. The lyrics are of secondary importance to the physical life.
4. Next, speak the monologue keeping in mind the active verbs you assigned to each beat.
The words to the monologue become more important than in the previous exercise but allow
your body to respond to the action of the monologue. You may use the cue cards again. Keep
your focus forward, center and on your partner. Have a friend stand in for you scene partner
if you find that helpful. Do an improvisation with a friend standing in for the scene partner to
clearly establish the moment before.
5. Having the pianist only play chords or a simple, out of tempo, accompaniment, sing the
song repeating step 4.
Take the same pauses you would take while doing the monologue.
6. Next, have the pianist play the actual accompaniment as you sing the song.
Physicalize each moment to the degree you feel is appropriate. Do not allow the
accompaniment to make your work less specific.
To help you remember these six components of song preparation, I’ve devised a pneumonic
E-Energized speech
X-EXplore objectives through movement
CAV-Combine action and verse
A-Act. True monologue
T-Tune. Accuracy of phrasing
E-Elevate your performance. Everything combined
Doing all of this work is crucial in making your performance more specific, detailed and
nuanced. It may seem time-consuming and maybe even frustrating. But if you do it, step-by-step,
and build it layer upon layer, it will show. You will find that the song will be shaped organically,
moment to moment with a clear beginning, middle and end. You will also find that being specific
will keep you from getting distracted with thoughts such as, “How am I doing?” or “Do I sound
okay? or “What do I do with my hand?” Your singing will be more effortless and your work
more specific.
Figure 2
Excavating the Song: The Actor’s Homework
Excavate [eks-kuh-veyt]—to expose or lay bare as if by digging
It is very exciting to begin work on a new song, but is can also be overwhelming when there are
so many things to think about and questions to answer. You may be confused as to where to
begin. For instance, you might understand the situation presented in the song because you have
seen the musical, but you may get lost in knowing how to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together.
Below you will find a detailed process for excavating and preparing your song for performance.
I will assume you know a least a little bit about the show your song is from but I will ask you, for
now, to take songs out of the context of the show. It is useful to approach new material this way
(when you are not preparing a role) as it opens up so many avenues for you as an actor. The
creative practice of imagining your own situation and defining your character will serve you in
all your work and awaken your mind to even more possibilities when you are preparing a role.
Some of this work may feel like playwriting. That is intentional. The questions ask you to think
creatively about the song and really explore its potential. If you get stuck someplace along the
way, consider taking a few steps back to see if one of your earlier answers is blocking you off
from a more interesting choice. It is my hope that you will find this fun as well as challenging.
1. Write the lyrics in prose form, carefully observing punctuation marks.
Song title: Dancing Through Life
Composer/Lyricist: Stephen Schwartz
Show Title: Wicked
The trouble with school is they always try to teach the wrong lesson. Believe me, I’ve been
kicked out of enough to them to know. They want you to become less callow, less shallow, but I
say, “Why invite stress in? Stop studying strife and learn to live the unexamined life’”…
Dancing through life, skimming the surface, gliding where turf is smooth. Life’s more painless
for the brainless. Why think too hard when it’s so soothing? Dancing through life? No need to
tough it when you can slough it off as I do. Nothing matters, but knowing nothing matters. It’s
just life so keep dancing through… Dancing through life, swaying and sweeping, and always
keeping cool. Life is fraughtless when you’re thoughtless. Those who don’t try never look
foolish… Dancing through life…Mindless and careless, make sure you’re where less trouble is
rife… Woes are fleeting, blows are glancing…when you’re dancing through life… Let’s go down
to the Ozdust Ballroom. We’ll meet there later tonight. We can dance till it’s light. Find the
prettiest girl…Give ‘er a whirl right on down to the Ozdust Ballroom–Come on follow me, you’ll
be happy to be there…Dancing through life, down at the Ozdust, if only because dust is what we
come to…Nothing matters but knowing nothing matters. It’s just life so keep dancing through.
2. What are the facts of the song? In other words, looking only at the lyrics without
adding your interpretation, what can we deduce about the character and situation? This
can be called the objective interpretation.
It’s about a guy who thinks that life shouldn’t taken too seriously and that just having fun is
the best way to live.
3. Once we have deduced the facts, now begin thinking about your interpretation of the
song by answering the following questions. This will will lead you to your subjective
interpretation of the song.
C. Who is the Singer? Describe your idea of the character using specific and precise
He’s not very bright. He is afraid of not succeeding. He is good-looking. For him, success is
having the best time with the prettiest girl. Underneath his exterior, he’s insecure.
B. Who are you singing to? Choose a person or persons that will create interest and
I am singing to the prettiest girl in my class, Samantha, who also happens to the best student
in school.
C. When is it?
At the end of last period. I’ve just seen her talking and flirting with my biggest rival, Roger.
D. Where are you? The more specific your location, the more real it will be for you.
Outside the library–she was flirting with Roger in the library just before this.
E. Why do you need to say these words? The stronger the need, the better.
I’ve just broken up with my girlfriend and the prom is this weekend. The idea of not going to
the prom is unthinkable and if I don’t go, I’ll consider myself a failure. So will all my friends.
F. What changes during the song?
I’m able to convince her to go with me.
G. What do you want? What will happen if you don’t get it?
I want her to say yes. If I don’t get it, my status as the most popular guy in school will be lost.
That is the most important thing to me and the thing that my self-worth is based on.
H. Why sing this song now and not yesterday or tomorrow?
My girlfriend just broke up with me. I can’t wait until tomorrow because she might go to the
prom with Roger.
Write a defining sentence. This sentence will be, in essence a shorthand for the actor’s
journey through the song.
This is a song about a boy (a girl, a man, Dr. Monroe) that _______________________.
These words should sum up in a concise sentence or two your version of what happens
during the song and what your objective is. Note that this sentence may include both the
objective observations about the lyric and your subjective interpretation.
This is a song about a Frank, me, that needs to hold on to his status as the coolest guy in school. I
must convince Samantha to go with me to the prom or risk losing that status.
Notice how different this sentence is from the one above: “It’s about a guy who thinks that life
shouldn’t taken too seriously and that just having fun is the best way to live.” This is the
difference between objective and subjective interpretation.
Being Specific
Now that the objective of the song has been explored, it’s time to get more specific with the
song’s moments. All novels, short stories, plays and films have an arc. Think of your song as a 3
minute one-act play that has been thought through from the beginning so that the ending is
satisfying. There are four possible arcs:
1. The winning arc
2. The losing arc
3. The “ending up where you started” arc or spiral arc3
4. The serendipity arc - ending in a place you hadn’t anticipated.
List films and novels that have these specific arcs. Wizard of Oz in a great spiral arc film.
The most common arc is the winning arc and it’s the one best suited for an audition. The arc of
our song, “Dancing Through Life,” is certainly a winning arc as the singer is able to get
Samantha to go to the prom with him by the end. You might want to choose a good place for her
to agree to go to the prom with you. This can be a powerful moment.
Defining Beats in the Song
Let’s move to a different song, one with a losing arc and get more specific.
“I Had a Dream About You” from Maury Yeston’s December Songs.
I had a dream about you, we were together again as we had always been. It was the happiest
dream I think I ever have had that you and I’ve been in. It was a dream I don’t need to explain.
We’re in the care and We’re driving in Maine. It’s so incredibly beautiful I don’t know where to
begin. We’re driving into the night and from a magical height we see two orange moons, they’re
hangin’ up in the sky like a pair of contented balloons. And as we stare into space in
astonishment, I turn to look at your face and you kiss me… All in an instant inside of a wonderful
dream. Oh, I remember two orange moons rise in the sky to sound of loons and you were there,
my dream. I had a dream about you, we were together again, an old familiar pair. It was the
kind of a dream so absolutely convincing you believe you’re there. The open road and the dotted
white lines, the crispy smell in the air of the pines, the overwhelming sensation you’re up and
awake everywhere… And when we look in the sky, they’re getting higher and higher, those two
orange moons. There’s one for you and for me and, impossibly, both of them gleam. And I am
holding your hand for eternity and you’re beginning to say that you love me. If only it really had
happened, if only it all really happened. I had a dream about you but, of course it was only a
dream…It was only a dream…It was only a dream…I had a dream about you but, of course, it
was only a dream.
What are the facts of the song?
It’s about a women relating her dream to her former partner. It starts nicely but by the end, she
knows that this dream is not reality.
Who is the singer? Describe the character using definite statements.
Joe Deer Acting in Musical Theatre: A Comprehensive Course
She is 28 years old and works in a bookstore that she owns. She’s very intellectual but has
difficulty in staying in a relationship.
Who are you singing to? Choose a person or person that will create interest and conflict.
I am singing to my boyfriend, Frank. We broke-up over our disagreements about having a child.
He wanted a child. I am not ready.
When is it?
It’s 11:00 AM.
Where are you?
We’ve run into each other unexpectedly at Starbucks. It’s like it was ordained by the stars!
Why do you need to say these words? The stronger the need, the better.
I’ve just come from my therapist where we were talking about my relationship with Frank. We
did not, however, talk about the dream because we ran out of time. The dream has been going
through my mind constantly though. I’ve been trying to figure out what the two moons in the
song mean. When I see him, I can’t help myself. I’m so happy to see him and without thinking
about the wisdom of it, I start into my dream.
What changes during the song?
I finally hits me for the first time that there is no chance for us. I see from his reaction, that he
wants to desperately leave. As I tell him the dream, I can see how uncomfortable he is. He was
never a fan of fact that I was so into my head. The meaning of “of course, it was only a dream”
changes during the song. The first time I say it, I’m trying to make fun of myself and make light
of the fact that I’m “in my head” again. By the end of the song, it’s as if I’m waking from the
dream of us ever being together.
What do you want? What will happen if you don’t get it?
I’m 28. I’m not ready to have a child but I am more than ready to have my “one great love.” I
thought Frank was it. I thought we could work through our issues with children. I’ve placed
everything, my hope for security, my dreams for a house and financial security on Frank. If I
don’t win Frank back, and this is my last chance, I will work in the bookstore all my life and
never fulfill my dreams of becoming a writer.
Why sing this song now?
Well, we are here together unexpectedly and I have to get back to the store.
Write your defining sentence. These words should sum up in a concise sentence or two your
version of what happens during the song and what your objective is. Note that this sentence
may include both the objective observations about the lyric and your subjective
This is a story about me, Janice, who needs to seize this opportunity to win back the man I love
in order to achieve the security I am lacking.
Basis Structural Music Analysis
An examination of the song’s musical structure will help you complete your work. Look for
verse and refrain in songs before 1970 and for verse, chorus and bridge in songs after 1970.
There is more about musical form in the next chapter. Also look for repeated musical sections.
Below are some additional guidelines for structural analysis that will help in breaking down the
song into beats. These places usually mark beat changes.
1. The change from verse to refrain.
2. The change between sections (i.e. from A to B or from B back to A). Most standards and
Golden Era musical theatre begin with a verse and progress to the refrain. In the refrain, there
are often at least four sections of music (i.e. A, B and possible C). In pop/rock inflected
musical theatre, this terminology is changed to Verse, Chorus and Bridge with the most
common form being Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus with a possible Bridge someplace.
3. Changes in tempo
4. Changes in style
5. Changes in accompaniment
Read the lyric again and mark places that seem like appropriate beat changes. You will also want
to take musical structure and changes into consideration. The form of this song is unusual:
The Song Broken Down into Beats
Having looked at the song structurally, we can break it down into beats.
I had a dream about you, we were together
again as we had always been. It was the
happiest dream I think I ever have had that
you and I’ve been in. It was a dream I don’t
need to explain. We’re in the car and we’re
driving in Maine. It’s so incredibly beautiful I
don’t know where to begin.
The first A section, rolling accompaniment.
She begins telling a story, a nice story about
her dream. She awakens him in order to get
his attention. She is successful.
We’re driving into the night and from a
magical height we see two orange moons,
they’re hangin’ up in the sky like a pair of
contented balloons. And as we stare into
space in astonishment, I turn to look at your
face and you kiss me… All in an instant inside
of a wonderful dream.
The second A section. Same accompaniment.
The dream gets stranger with the image of two
moons but concludes with a kiss. She seduces
him with this exotic story in order that he will
find her charming and kiss her. In the dream
he kisses her but in actuality, he does not. She
is unsuccessful.
I had a dream about you, we were together
again as we had always been. It was the
happiest dream I think I ever have had that
you and I’ve been in. It was a dream I don’t
need to explain. We’re in the car and we’re
driving in Maine. It’s so incredibly beautiful I
don’t know where to begin.
The first A section, rolling accompaniment.
She begins telling a story, a nice story about
her dream. She awakens him in order to get
his attention. She is successful.
Oh, I remember two orange moons rise in the
sky to sound of loons and you were there, my
B section, the accompaniment changes. No
new dramatic information. She is reminding
him of the image of the two moons. She
worries that she is losing his attention so she
chases him by reminding him that this is a
magical dream with two moons, one that
represents her and one that represents him.
She is successful in the objective which
heartens her, propelling the song to a higher
I had a dream about you, we were together
again, an old familiar pair. It was the kind of
a dream so absolutely convincing you believe
you’re there. The open road and the dotted
white lines, the crispy smell in the air of the
pines, the overwhelming sensation you’re up
and awake everywhere… And when we look in
the sky, they’re getting higher and higher,
those two orange moons. There’s one for you
and for me and, impossibly, both of them
gleam. And I am holding your hand for
eternity and you’re beginning to say that you
love me.
Key change! Back to the accompaniment of
the A sections. The situation intensifies with
the key change. With the key change, her
objective is to encourage him to kiss her and
tell her that he will love her forever. She is
unsuccessful in this objective.
If only it really had happened, if only it all
really happened. I had a dream about you but,
of course it was only a dream…It was only a
dream…It was only a dream…I had a dream
about you but, of course, it was only a dream.
New musical material. She realizes for the
first time that they will never be together and
this is less of a dream and more of a
nightmare, the repeated “It was only a dream”
is as if the singer is waking up to the reality of
the doomed relationship. She ends up in a
place she didn’t know she would end up. This
is not what she expected. She realizes that she
will never get what she wants from him. She
convinces him to say that everything will be
okay. She is unsuccessful.
Avoiding Traps
The danger in singing a song such as this with a loosing arc is to start with that in mind.
The actor, who knows how the song will end, needs to remember when beginning this song not
to give that ending away. The character doesn’t know how it will end. Playing the end of the
song from the outset is the trap of this song. Every song has a trap. It is your job to identify the
trap of the song and not fall into it. “Good Thing Going” from Merrily We Roll Along, has a
similar trap. In the song, the singer speaks of all the good things that were part of their lives
together. He tempers it with some clarifications that not everything was perfect. It is not until the
very last word of the song, “going, going, gone,” that the singer must face the truth of the end of
the relationship. If you play the end of the relationship at the beginning of the song, there is no
arc, only a straight line. How boring!
Finding Useful Action Verbs
It is important that you find verbs that are actable and will inspire your body to move. With so
many possibilities, it can be difficult to know where to start. You can begin by thinking about
what you are doing to you partner. Are you lifting them or crushing them? Are you reaching out
to them or drawing them to you? There are four broad categories of action verbs: two pairs of
opposing verbs:
Helping verbs vs. Hurting verbs
Reaching verbs vs. Gathering verbs
The diagram below can help you find related verbs in each category:
Helping verbs
Hurting verbs
Reaching verbs
Gathering verbs
to uplift
to destroy
to share
to invite
to build
to crush
to open
to welcome
to excite
to bombard
to push
to seduce
to support
to mock
to reassure
to pull
to overwhelm
to annihilate
to encourage
to caress
to celebrate
to belittle
to convince
to charm
to paint
to punish
to overwhelm
to prepare
to suppress
to inspire
Use a thesaurus to help you find others. Actions: The Actor’s Thesaurus by Marina Caldarone
and Maggie Lloyd-Williams is an especially good resource. Choose words that can be
physicalized easily.
Song as Monologue
Here are the suggested steps for doing the song as a monologue. The pianist is not brought into
the work until step 5. I’ve created a pneumonic device that will help you remember these steps
and their order.
The Six Components of Preparing a Song
E-Energized speech
X-EXplore objectives through movement
CAV-Combine action and verse
A-Act. True monologue
T-Tune. Accuracy of phrasing
E-Elevate your performance. Everything combined
1. Using a high level of vocal energy, speak the words without inflection with speed so that
the words form on your tongue without stops and starts.
The purpose of this is to aid in memorizing and getting the words securely into your muscle
memory. Do this until you can do it without any hesitation. Do not do this, however, so
quickly that the words have no meaning. You may also choose to speak the lyrics as a
dramatic recitation, savoring the images and biting into the words as you might bite into an
apple. In class, we refer to this activity as the “One-B.”
2. Physicalize the active verbs in each beat hearing the lyrics in your head but without
speaking them.
Once a section is finished, move on to the next verb. If it will be helpful, have a friend hold
up cue cards with that verb written on it to remind you. Start in a neutral position (focus
forward Center, weight on both feet and arms to your side) by saying to yourself the defining
sentence. Then when you see the inciting event, begin to hear the monologue in your head
while employing complete physical involvement. Don't plan what you are going to do. Let it
be spontaneous.
3. Physicalize the monologue while saying the lyrics.
Start in a neutral position (focus forward, Center, weight on both feet and arms to your side)
by saying to yourself the defining sentence. When you see the inciting event. begin to speak
the monologue with complete physical involvement. This is not a verbal exercise, it is
physical. Whisper or shout if you need to. Get down on the floor or stand on a chair if it is
appropriate. The lyrics are of secondary importance to the physical life.
4. Next, speak the monologue keeping in mind the active verbs you assigned to each beat.
The words to the monologue become more important than in the previous exercise but allow
your body to respond to the action of the monologue. You may use the cue cards again. Keep
your focus forward, center and on your partner. Have a friend stand in for you scene partner
if you find that helpful. Do an improvisation with a friend standing in for the scene partner to
clearly establish the moment before.
5. Having the pianist only play chords or a simple, out of tempo, accompaniment, sing the
song repeating step 4.
Take the same pauses you would take while doing the monologue.
6. Next, have the pianist play the actual accompaniment as you sing the song.
Physicalize each moment to the degree you feel is appropriate. Do not allow the
accompaniment to make your work less specific.
I think this needs a bit more explanation of what is involved in these steps. Fill this in.
Please go back and repeat earlier steps until you are secure with each activity.
Moment Before
I’ve mentioned repeating the defining sentence before beginning. This is in order to
create a shorthand that will quickly remind you of the objective of the song and its arc. Once you
have done that, there is another step before you can begin singing, The moment before consists of
three steps:
1. Seeing the event (what do you see?)
2. Taking it in (what effect does it have on you?)
3. Responding to it (what is your response?)
In “I Had a Dream About You,” the inciting event is the surprise of seeing Frank at Starbucks.
Janice has been “in her head” after coming from the therapists office. She is still trying to put all
the pieces together and she’s distracted. She sees Frank. She’s surprised and happy. Take this
moment in. Respond to it. This response is called the active first beat and this is the moment
when the pianist begins playing the introduction. In this song, the introduction is short but you’ll
need to fill this moment with an action. You must always remember to give some consideration
to the introduction of a song and the ride-out. The first verb in our analysis is “to awaken.” You
are awakening Frank during the first chunk of the lyrics but possibly the introduction is you
awakening from the haze you’ve been in.
We have found that doing an improvisation with fellow actor helps to make this first active beat
more solid. Choose a partner and explain the situation, giving them an idea of what you need for
them to do. Play the scene before the song begins. At the appropriate time, the pianist starts the
introduction and the scene partner can stay in the scene. Your focus is on them but, just as a
gentle reminder, we don’t always look at the person we’re talking to. Your focus, however, is
still on them. Once the moment before is secure and you are confident in knowing what this
moment is, repeat the exercise without the scene partner.
Further Exploration:
Choose a love song such as a standard that is open to many types of interpretations. “You’re
Nearer” or “Our Love is Here to Stay” are good choices.
Sing the song given these three following contrasting situations and compare the results.
Song: Love is Here to Stay by George and Ira Gershwin
Situation #1. I’m going away on a work assignment for 9 months and we won’t be able to see
each other during that time. The objective is convince my wife of 5 years that things will be okay
and our relationship will stay secure while I’m gone. (give 5 actions for this interpretation)
Situation #2. The other has given me hints that she’s going to end the relationship. The objective
is heal over any of the problems that we have and convince her that our relationship is meant to
last. (give 5 actions for this interpretation)
Situation #3. My fiancé and are having dinner in our favorite restaurant and this is a proposal.
My objective is to convince her that our love can withstand any problem that we face. (give 5
actions for this interpretation)
“Love is Here to Stay”
The more I read the papers the less I comprehend (Action 1)
The world with all its capers and how it all will end.
Nothing seems to be lasting. but that isn't our affair;
We've got something permanent, I mean in the way we care.
It's very clear our love is here to stay; (Action 2)
Not for a year but ever and a day.
The radio and the telephone and the movies that we know (Action 3)
May just be passing fancies, and in time may go.
But, oh my dear, our love is here to stay; (Action 4)
Together we're going a long, long way.
In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, (Action 5)
They're only made of clay, but our love is here to stay.
How did singing the song with these three differing situations change the vocal colors? The
tempo? The stakes? The transitions?
This process will help you to find your unique interpretation of a theatrical song taken out of
context. The process may seem long and arduous, but you will see the benefits in your work
because it will help you to personalize the material and to dig deeply into the emotional life of
the song. The more you apply this process to the songs you sing, the faster it will go. You will
discover that you will need to adjust your process with other songs in other contexts such as:
• preparing a song for a role in a full musical
• preparing songs that were not intended to be theatrical (such as pop songs)
• for a cabaret setting where you are singing as yourself
You will find worksheets for these other situations in the following pages.
Consider this process outlined above as a basic tool–a foundation to build your pyramid on. As
you grow in your artistry, you will develop other tools that you will find helpful. Doing this work
will lead you to a more fully developed, nuanced performance.
The Actor’s Homework: Worksheet
Write the lyrics in prose form, carefully observing punctuation marks.
Song title:
Show title:
Write lyrics in long hand
What is this song about objectively? In other words, looking at the lyrics and without adding
your interpretation, what is the song about and what happens? One or two sentences.
Subjective Interpretation
A. Who is the singer? Describe the singer using clear, definite statements.
B. Who are you singing to? Choose a person or persons that will create interest and conflict.
C. When is it?
D. Where are you? The more specific your location, the more real it will be for you.
E. Why do you need to say these words? Obviously, the stronger the need, the better.
F. What changes during the song?
G. What do you want? What will happen if you don’t get it?
H. Why sing this song now and not yesterday or tomorrow?
Defining Sentence
This is a song about_____________________ that (continue the sentence)
Being Specific
What is the arc of your song? Winning, losing, “ending up where you started”, or an serendipity
Looking at the sheet music, do a simple analysis of the form and describe below using lyrics as
structural markers. Look for verse and refrain in songs before 1970 and for verse and chorus in
pop/rock inflected songs after 1970. Also look for repeated musical sections, changes in tempo,
changes in style, and changes in accompaniment.
Read the lyric for where beat changes occur. Deciding where beat changes happen is a delicate
balance between musical understanding, dramatic understanding and intuition. Summarize the
beats below. You may want to include a few lyrics that indicate beat changes.
Give each of the beat a specific action.
Some of the actions that I find most helpful:
Helping verbs
Hurting verbs
Reaching verbs
Gathering verbs
to uplift
to destroy
to share
to invite
to build
to crush
to open
to welcome
to excite
to bombard
to push
to seduce
to support
to mock
to reassure
to pull
to overwhelm
to annihilate
to encourage
to caress
to celebrate
to belittle
to convince
to charm
to paint
to punish
to overwhelm
to prepare
to suppress
to inspire
Briefly describe the three moment before events: seeing the event (what do you see?), taking it in
(what effect does it have on you?) and responding to it (what is your response?).
Improvise the moment before with a friend. This will help you physicalize each event.
Guidelines for Different Types of Songs:
The Actor’s Homework
The three sets of questions which follow will guide you in preparing three different kinds of
songs for three different contexts. The first is for creating an original situation. It is
recommended that you do this for most of your songs, including songs for an audition. The
second is for preparing a role in a show. The story and situation is supplied for you and it is your
job to bring the character to life and for the song to make sense at that exact location in the show.
The last is for a kind of song I call the “I Am” song. The process described for this kind of song
is for such situations as a cabaret or simply when it is desirable for the character in the song is to
be YOU. This kind of work is especially beneficial when you need to personalize a song no
matter what context.
The Actor’s Homework:
A Song With a New Context and Situation
Song title:
Show title:
Write the lyrics in prose form, carefully observing punctuation marks.
Objective Interpretation
What is this song about objectively? Looking at the lyrics, and without adding your
interpretation, what is the song about and what happens? One or two sentences.
Subjective Interpretation
A. Who is the singer? Describe the singer using clear, definite statements.
B. Who are you singing to? Choose a person or persons that will create interest and conflict.
C. When is it?
D. Where are you? The more specific your location, the more real it will be for you.
E. Why do you need to say these words? Obviously, the stronger the need, the better.
F. What changes during the song?
G. What do you want? What will happen if you don’t get it?
H. Why sing this song now, and not yesterday or tomorrow?
Your Created Situation
Write the details of the situation you have created. If you are using the situation from the show,
use the next set of questions.
Defining Sentence
This is a song about_____________________that (continue the sentence below)
Song Analysis
What is the arc of your song? Winning, losing, “ending up where you started”, or a serendipity
Looking at the sheet music, do an analysis of the music making specific mention of it relates to
the lyric. Make mention of the song’s formal structure, changes in tempo, changes in style, and
changes in accompaniment.
Read the lyric from the first page of this worksheet and make decisions as to where beat changes
are to occur. Deciding where beat changes happen is a delicate balance between musical
understanding, dramatic understanding and intuition. Summarize the beats below. You may want
to include a few lyrics that indicate beat changes. Choose a strong, active verb for each beat.
Describe the three moment before events: seeing the event (what do you see?), taking it in (what
effect does it have on you?) and responding to it (what is your response?).
The Actor’s Homework:
Using the Givens from the Musical
Before you complete this sheet, it is assumed that you have read the libretto and are
able to sing the song in the correct style with the correct pitches and rhythms.
Song title:
Show title:
Year of the show’s Broadway opening:
List a few of the important musicals this team wrote:
Write the lyrics in prose form, carefully observing punctuation marks.
Character Analysis
1. List and briefly describe the significant relationships your character has with other characters
in the musical. (For example: Curley in OKLAHOMA!)
Laurie - the love of my life.
Judd - my adversary. He's the guy that stands in the way of my happiness with Laurie.
Aunt Eller
2. In one paragraph, write the essential story of your character from their first entrance to their
last scene. What is their story arch and super objective?
3. Describe the important details about the location and time period of the events in the musical.
Song Analysis
1. Why have the show's creators decided that this moment in the musical is better sung than
spoken? This question is, of course, subjective but nonetheless important to consider.
2. What information about the character and situation is revealed in the song?
3. What information do we get about the character and/or situation from the music (without the
lyrics)? You will want to listen just to the piano accompaniment.
Who, What, When, Where & Why
• Describe your character using clear, definitive statements.
• Who are you singing to?
• When is it?
• Where are you?
• Why do you need to say these words?
• What changes during the song?
• What do you want during the song? What will happen if you don’t get it?
• Why sing this song now and not yesterday or tomorrow?
Defining Sentence
The form of the defining sentence is slightly different for book musicals. Follow this model.
Soliloquy is the moment where Billy decides that he will do whatever it takes to provide for
his child.
The Bigger Picture
• What is the arc of your song? Winning, losing, “ending up where you started”, or a serendipity
• Looking at the sheet music, do a simple analysis of the form. What does the music
communicate about the character and the situation?
• Read the lyric where the beat changes occur. Look for musical changes as well as changes in
the lyric. Summarize the events of the song in one or two paragraphs making note of the beat
Considering what you now know about the character, situation and the song’s arch, choose a
strong, active verb for each beat and write that verb next to the beat in the section just above. I
would advise you to choose verbs that are what the character is actually doing with their words
and body for each beat. Actions such as caress are fine if that is actually what your character is
doing. In other words, don’t choose caress if it is a metaphorical caress.
Describe the three moment before events: seeing the event, taking it in, and responding to it. Also
consider your character’s history, story arch and super objective as you think about the moment
The Actor’s Homework”
The “I Am Song”
Define the I Am Song
When singing an "I Am" Song I suggest choosing a real-life situation you can sing about. One
caveat, please don't choose truly painful situations. This will likely lead to a performance that is
too inward looking and the discomfort it will bring up will not helpful to your work. Really
recent events are also problematic. An actor friend of mine calls this "picking wounds." When
working on this kind of song, you'll want to steer clear of playing mood or emotion. It's easy to
fall into the trap of thinking, "This song is sentimental" or "This song is sad." Instead, you will
be much more specific and the song will be more interesting if it has a conflict, an objective and
has a beginning, middle and ending.
But I am not saying that you should only use happy situations for an "I Am" Song. Tears may
come in your work and that is not a bad thing. But crying during a performance is not a good
thing for all the obvious reasons. Tears come either when we make a connection to something or
someone or a connection is broken. These things aren't necessarily bad. My best advice about
tears during a song is that you should allow the tears to come if you're singing about a lost
connection but only during your rehearsal. Let them flow freely because in doing so, you'll be
able to work through the situation in a healthy manner that will help the song. The feelings you
felt in your rehearsal will still be evident in the final performance but you'll be able to avoid
them. I like this image. Think of tears and situations that cause them as a fire. If you feel cold,
move toward the fire or the feelings. If you feel too warm, move away from them by thinking of
something less painful and more positive.
I want to share a beautiful cabaret video by Karen Mason illustrating this point beautifully.
Youtube: Karen Mason “We Never Ran Out of Love”
You’ll want answer the questions and do the associated activities keeping the work very
personal, so personal that you’ll want to keep it private.
This set of questions can be used when you prepare a song for a cabaret.
Song title:
Write the lyrics in prose form, carefully observing punctuation marks.
Beginning Questions
Why are you the perfect person to sing this song? What it is about you that makes this song a
good choice for you?
What do you need to say through this song?
What are the traps of this song?
Are there ways that the music, accompaniment or melody, could or should be adjusted for the
story you want to tell?
Describe the situation.
Who, What, When, Where & Why
• Who are you singing to?
• When is it?
• Where are you?
• Why do you need to say these words?
• What changes during the song?
• What do you want during the song? What will happen if you don’t get it?
• Why sing this song now and not yesterday or tomorrow?
• What is the arc of your song?
Describe the three moment before events: seeing the event, taking it in, and responding to it.
Defining Sentence
Write your defining sentence in a form that makes sense for your situation. You might begin
with: “This song is about . . .” or “This song is the moment where . . .”
Inner Monologue
“Power of Two” by the Indigo Girls
This is a song about me in which I must awaken my partner of 2 years, Francis, to the depression
she’s in that is affecting our relationship. We must both break out of the patterns we’ve been
following or risk having an unhappy life together. I’ve been under a lot of stress at work because
my job might be eliminated. I also have recently been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I’m
singing to Francis who is very distracted by the long hours at work and a rigorous travel
The trap of the song is that since it’s so positive I could just make this a straight ahead love song
and forget about the conflict. I had to remember a time where it would make sense for me to say
these words
It is the morning of our drive to her parents for Thanksgiving.
I need to say these words because we are stuck. We aren’t going to see each other for the next
two weeks. We both feel the weight of each of our lives impacting us to the point of despair.
When I woke up, I had a moment of clarity where I know we need to put everything aside for a
period so that we can get our lives figured out and make plans for a more productive existence.
During the song, I’m able to get Francis to admit to her depression and for us both to begin
making plans for our future.
I need real peace and happiness for us both and for us to spend more time together.
I need to seize this moment to confront the situation because I can’t continue in the way we’re
living. We’ve both been complaining about our lives but not doing anything about it.
The moment before is when I hear Francis say that he’s going to be traveling for 2 weeks and
when she gets back she has a huge project that must be completed. At first this makes me mad
but then it lights a fire in my heart to try to make some changes. My response is unlike my
typical response. Instead of being sad, I decide I have to take action. It’s a winning arc because I
am able to awaken Francis and create a space where we can talk about the changes we need to
I will ask my Musical Director/Pianist to make the song a little more gentle than the original
version. I also think it would be smart to simplify the accompaniment in both of the verses so
that I can tell the story and not feel like I’m just singing a pop song.
Now the parking lot is empty, everyone’s gone
someplace. I’ll pick you up and in the trunk
I’ve packed a cooler and a two-day suitcase.
Cause there’s a place we like to drive way out
in the country. And five miles out of the the
city limit we’re singing and your hands upon
my knee
Francis, I have
something serious that I
need to talk about. I
know you hate talking
about work but you have
to admit that it’s coming
between us. Can we use
this time to reconnect?
To paint
So we’re okay, we’re fine. Baby I’m here to
stop you’re crying. Chase all the ghosts from
your head. I’m stronger than the monster
beneath your bed. I’m smarter than the tricks
played on your heart. We’ll look at them
together and we’ll take them apart. Adding up
the total of a love that’s true. Multiply life by
the power of two.
You and made a
commitment to each
other 2 years ago that we
would stick together and
work our our problems.
In that time you’ve
helped me make more
sense of my life and I’m
happier with you. I often
feel like you’re the only
person who’s understood
To caress
I’m painting the
picture of how
our life is right
now and how it
needs to change.
I’m reminding
Francis of our
commitment and
telling her that
things will be
okay. Things
aren’t going to be
perfect but they
can be perfectly
fine. I need to
caress her in a
way that comforts
his heart and soul
and reaches into
her core.
Now we’re talking ‘bout a difficult thing and
your eyes are getting wet. But I took us for
better and I took us for worse. Don’t you ever
forget. The steel bars between me and a
promise suddenly bend with ease. And the
closer I’m bound in love with you, the closer I
am to free.
I don’t know what’s
going to happen with my
health. I don’t know how
it’s going to affect me
but through it all, I can
be strong with your help.
And I can help you with
your struggles too if we
could just talk about it.
You give me the
to lay bare.
So we’re okay, we’re fine. Baby I’m here to
stop you’re crying. Chase all the ghosts from
your head. I’m stronger than the monster
beneath your bed. I’m smarter than the tricks
played on your heart. We’ll look at them
together and we’ll take them apart. Adding up
the total of a love that’s true. Multiply life by
the power of two.
I love you and I want to
spend the rest of our
lives together.
to Celebrate
I’m laying bare
my heart and
saying I don’t
know what the
future is going to
hold for us and
that we have to
take hold of the
moment and
make our lives
into what we
truly want.
What am i doing?
Creating Situations for Songs
In a musical, songs exist in a specific context within the story. All the details about the character,
the situation, the character’s relationship to other people and the reason for singing the song are
given to you. Just because you are given this information doesn’t mean that singing the song is
easy. You will still need to do a great deal of excavation to make the song believable and you’ll
need to explore what is really going on with the character beyond the surface level. Great Pop
music also has an associated story but it’s not always as obvious or clear.
Why do we need to create situations for songs if most of the songs we sing are theatrical?
Creating your own story for a song will make it more personal and make it more as if you are
saying these words and making them up as you go. You will be telling your story and not the
story of character that someone else created. You’ll be better able to live in the moment because
you’ve made it personal. A great situation does a lot of the work for you. Work toward creating a
situation that gets your juices flowing.
What follows is a discussion of what makes a great situation for a song. There are a number of
traps you’ll want to learn to steer clear of. For instance, using a “best friend” as a partner is
usually a trap as it doesn’t have enough conflict. In addition, try to steer clear of making the song
and your story too negative. It’s very difficult if your situation has too much negativity in it.
What makes a good situation?
1. It has conflict.
2. It has interesting details (location and characters).
3. It has a strong other (the person you are singing to).
4. It must give your character a chance to change during the song.
5. It must have a why. It should give you a strong need to say these words.
Conflict is an important aspect of every good story. Without it, the story is without a reason to
exist. Conflict comes in many different forms. The conflict could be that your intended lover is
interested in someone else. The conflict could be that it seems that no one truly understands you
and you need for them to understand why you feel the way you do. Be aware that conflict does
not need to take your song into a negative space. Overcoming obstacles is wonderful and
something to be celebrated.
Interesting details
The devil is in the details. If you know where you are, who you are and what time of day it is, it
will be more real to you and easier to perform. You will sing the song differently if your
character is a hero than if they are cowardly. You will sing the song differently if the time is 3:00
in the morning than if the time is 3:00 in the afternoon. You will also sing the song differently if
you are in the street than if you are in your lover’s apartment.
It has a strong other
Choose a partner that will add great detail and stir your creativity. If your other is yourself,
something that is common in many musical theatre songs, you must, in a sense, separate yourself
into two parts and have one part sing to another part. Have the “intellect” sing to the “heart” or
the other way around. Or have the brave side sing to the more cowardly side.
Change happens within the character
Composers, lyricists and book writers create songs for moments of volatility. Change is always
in the air. The nature of songs, because they are exceptional, begs for emotional change within
It must have a “Why”
Because music is involved, the stakes will need to be high. If the situation is too prosaic or
ordinary, doing something as exceptional as singing is not required. You will often hear acting
teachers to say, “Raise the stakes.” This is why it is important. The moment where a song, any
song occurs, is intrinsically of great importance.
Throughout the preceding chapters you have read some situations for songs I have created.
Perhaps you are already getting the hang of it. Let’s look at a song specifically with the idea of
creating a situation that brings life to the song and stirs your creative juices.
“I Got the Sun in the Morning” from Annie Get Your Gun
Taking stock of what I have and what I haven't
What do I find?
The things I got will keep me satisfied
Checking up on what I have and what I haven't
What do I find?
A healthy balance on the credit side
Got no diamond, got no pearl
Still I think I'm a lucky girl
I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night
Got no mansion, got no yacht
Still I'm happy with what I got
I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night
Sunshine, gives me a lovely day
Moonlight, gives me the Milky Way
Got no checkbooks, got no banks
Still I'd like to express my thanks
I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night
And with the sun in the morning
And the moon in the evening
I'm all right
What is the song about objectively?
It’s about a person declaring their good fortune in life despite not having much of what people
might think makes them happy.
Who might say these words?
This is where things begin to get tough. Be careful to choose someone who can say these words
and mean them truthfully. It makes the most sense for your other to be someone who needs to
hear these words. Try singing to a family member who is wealthy, someone you love who needs
to enjoy the simpler things in life as you do. You are worried about the way their life is going. If
you don’t convince him to change his ways, he’ll continue to be a workaholic without deep love.
Or perhaps your other is yourself. You are very sad because you fear that you aren’t as
successful as you could be. The song affirms that success is measured by many standards and
that you don’t need money to be happy. Your “heart” could sing to your “head.”
A choice that isn’t as strong is that you are singing to your best friend who has lost his job. If you
aren’t careful these words could make him feel as if you think you are better than he is because
you understand life better.
For now, let’s choose the first situation and flesh it out.
The conflict is found in your fear that your brother is living his life without the rewards of love
and happiness.
Interesting details
You’ve invited your brother and his wife over for dinner. You’ve spent most of dinner hearing
him brag about how much money he makes even though he doesn’t have the opportunity to
spend much time with his wife or doing the things he used to enjoy. You are a visual artist who
tries her best to live life to its fullest in good times and bad times. He has criticized you because
you don’t have a retirement plan and only a small savings account. You want to convince him
that even through this is true you are as happy as you can imagine being.
It has a strong other
The other in this situation, your workaholic brother is strong because of contrast between the two
of you. He needs to hear these words and you need to say them because you love him and are
concerned about what might happen to him.
Change happens within the character
The change could be in your character because you understand your convictions in a deeper way
about what is important in life. In addition, perhaps you are able to change, if only in a small
way, how your brother sees his life in relationship to his work and the people he loves.
It must have a “Why”
This is probably obvious by now but the why is your need to change your brother’s mindset. It’s
vitally important because you fear he is headed toward a life of great unhappiness.
What have we learned by creating this particular situation?
•It’s important that we understand what the song is really about.
•It’s important to choose someone who can say these things and mean them truthfully,
•Its important to create details that flesh out the story and make it interesting for you.
•It’s important to have conflict.
•It’s important to have an other that intensifies the conflict.
•It’s important that change happens in the song.
•It’s important that there is a strong “Why” that these words are sung in this moment.
Now I’d like to talk about creating a situation that isn’t strong for a song. Discuss “I’m Old
Fashioned” and making it about “I don’t want to have sex with you until we are married.” This
story line is very modern and while I celebrate setting older songs in a modern story, this takes
the song in a very negative direction. The song is about reaching out to someone and celebrating
old-fashioned qualities.
I’m Old Fashioned
I am not such a clever one
About the latest fads
I admit I was never one
Adored by local lads
Not that I ever try to be a saint
Im the type that they classify as quaint
I’m old fashioned
I love the moonlight
I love the old fashioned things
The sound of rain
Upon a window pane
The starry song that April sings
This years fancies
Are passing fancies
But sighing sighs holding hands
These my heart understands
I’m old fashioned
But I don't mind it
That's how I want to be
As long as you agree
To stay old fashioned with me.
Here I would do some additional situations for other songs:
Johnny One-Note
This is a song about appreciating the quirky things in each of us—our special gifts. It’s about
loving the things that make us special. Maybe you’re singing to someone who feels that they
aren’t gifted in a way that makes them unique. Your job is to convince them that they are special
so that they will decide to do something extraordinary. You can’t make fun of Johnny, you must
love him. Decide that this is a story you are making up in order to give courage to your “other.”
What are some possibilities?
Create a situation for “I Remember.” This is a very good song to do because it’s such an unusual
song from an unusual show. You would never sing the song in the context of the show.
Further Exploration:
Choose a song to create a great situation for. Check to see that you can covered all the bases for
creating a strong situation.
Learning Music
The goal of this chapter is to give some helpful suggestions for preparing a song
musically for performance or audition.
The order of the steps you take as you begin exploring a new song is up to you but you
must find a process that you are comfortable with and one that leaves no stone uncovered. There
are those that advocate starting with music and those that say you must begin with the lyrics. My
preference is to begin with learning the basics of the song (pitches, rhythms and form) before
moving to the process outlined in the previous chapter. Then I like for singers to come back tothe
music and work on things such as phrasing and exploring how the musical information in the
song can inform the overall performance.
I will describe learning a song from two perspectives. The first is for those who do not
read music. The second is for those who understand basic music theory and have at least
rudimentary skills at the piano. At whatever skill level you are currently, do your best to improve
your skills and knowledge in music theory, musicianship and piano. It will benefit you greatly
and make learning a new song much easier.
Learning a new song for those who do not read music
Have a pianist record your melody on to a recording device at a moderate tempo and very
precisely. Then have the pianist record the accompaniment. Oftentimes sheet music is published
with the melody in the piano accompaniment. If that is the case, this accompaniment will be
easier to follow as you will be able to hear the melody. If this is not the case, they should record
the actual accompaniment or add some melody if they have that skill. Listen for a sense of style,
beat, rhythm and tempo. You may want the pianist to record just the introduction to the song in
addition so you can isolate the music you will hear before you sing.
1. On your own while looking at the sheet music, sing to the recording of the melody on a
neutral syllable such as “lah” or “dee.” Choose an open vowel with a preceding consonant.
We do this to separate music from lyrics and to concentrate solely on the melody. It is very
easy to move too quickly and miss a step along the way.
2. When you have mastered this, begin singing the lyrics with the melody-only recording.
3. Now move to the recording of full accompaniment. Sing with this recording on a neutral
4. Then sing the lyrics with the full accompaniment.
Additional activities with a pianist may include the following once you have done these steps:
1. Sing a word or syllable and have the pianist play the pitch on the piano after you sing it.
Move to the next word or syllable, gradually increasing tempo. We do this to check pitch
2. Explore singing the song at different tempos. Faster for ballads, slower for up tempo songs.
Don’t go too fast or slow. We do this to make sure you musicianship is secure.
Learning a new song for those with moderate to advanced musical skills
When beginning a new song, I suggest starting with rhythm. Study the song in small
chunks before doing the whole song. If anything is confusing for you, take the time to figure it
out before moving on. You must be able to speak the rhythm in tempo. Many people find it
helpful to study rhythms by assigning numbers corresponding to their placement in the bar such
as 1, 2, 3, 4 in 4/4 time. Eighth-notes are subdivided by placing an “and” between each number.
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &. Sixteenth-notes are further subdivided in this manner: 1 e & a, 2 e & a, and so
1. Speak the words in rhythm.
2. Write either numbers or Solfège syllables above the pitches. See below for using Solfège.
Sing the pitches slower, out of tempo until you can do this easily.
3. Next, combine melody with rhythm, starting slowly for accuracy and building in tempo.
4. Record or have a pianist record the accompaniment. Listen for a sense of style, beat, rhythm
and tempo. Study, or better yet, play the introduction of the song so that you know what you
will hear before you sing.
5. Sing the song with accompaniment on a neutral syllable.
6. Sing the song with accompaniment using the lyrics.
Singing with Solfège or numbers
Space does not allow for a full investigation of Solfège but this system is not difficult.
Essentially, every pitch of a scale has a Solfège syllable or number. I’m sure you know “Do-ReMi” from The Sound of Music which uses this system in a clever and memorable way. Use either
Solfège or numbers, depending on which seems easier to you.
Example 1 shows how the system works in different keys. Be sure to identify the correct key
before numbering your music by examining the flats and sharps in the key signature. The chart
will assist you.
Example 2 offers some warm up exercises. Do these exercises slowly until you feel comfortable
and can find the pitches easily. Check your accuracy at the keyboard.
Finally, example 3 is a song with Solfège and numbers. I hope the familiarity of the song might
aid you in mastering this skill.
You will notice that some of the pitches in this example have an accidental before it. The pitch
and the syllable, but not the number change due to the accidental. I don’t think it too important to
know these new syllables but if you’re interested, here is the full system
Scale degree
Pitch in C major
Raised 1
Lowered 2
Raised 2
Lowered 3
Raised 4
Lowered 5
Raised 5
Lowered 6
Raised 6
Lowered 7
To practice these skills, choose songs that you know well and write the syllables above. This will
help you connect the sound of the syllable to its name.
Further Exploration
1. Choose a song and sit with the sheet music at the piano. Sing a word or syllable and play the
pitch on the piano after you sing it. Move to the next word or syllable gradually increasing
tempo. We do this to check pitch accuracy.
2. Explore singing the song at different tempos. Faster for ballads, slower for up tempo songs.
Don’t go too fast or too slow. We do this to make sure you musicianship is secure.
3. If the sheet music has chord symbols that you can interpret, accompany yourself with simple
More Solfege exploration:
List some songs that are challenging to work on with solfege. “On the Steps of the Palace” is a
good choice. Others “Anyone Can Whistle”
Too often, singers do not take adequate time in learning a song accurately. It is crucial to your
success that you do this. Directors and music directors have little patience with someone who
should be ready to sing a song but is singing a passage with wrong notes. You will be working
with professional musicians and you are expected to interact with them as colleagues and as the
professional musician you need to be.
Once you have successfully completed these activities, you will have the skill to tackle the
challenges you will face once you begin your acting work.
Important Musical Terms
Sheet music is populated with many different kinds of indications that the composer or editor has
placed in the music to communicate how the song should go. In time, you will learn and
memorize these terms, but for now, refer to this section anytime you see something in the music
you don’t understand.
Very slow (quarter note c. 40-60)
Less slow than Largo (c. 60-70)
Slow (between Largo and Andante)
a walking tempo (c. 76-108)
Moderate tempo
Moderately fast, often playful in nature
Fast (c. 110-130)
Very fast (c. 125-160)
Majestic, usually medium slow
Tempo-related terms
Long, generally referring to a long pause
(//) Indicates a break or stop before proceeding
L’istesso tempo The same tempo as before
Getting slower (rit.)
(riten.) Getting slower but more sudden and extreme than rit.
(rall.) Gradual slowing of the tempo
A tempo
Alla Breve
Più mosso
(accel.) Gradually getting faster
Returning to original tempo, usually after a rit. or rall.
Two beats per measure with the half-note getting the beat (cut-time)
More motion
Indicates a note is to be prolonged beyond its normal duration
Smoothly, connected
Detached (.)
Emphasis, usually to play louder than the current dynamic (>)
marked, stressed, emphasized
Forced or accented. Stronger than an accent. (Sfz. or Sf.)
(ten.) Held or sustained, a note is given its full value
Rapid alternation between the note and the note above
Grand pause. A complete stop
The playing of successive members of a chord separately
Da Capo
D.S. al Coda
Indication to return to the beginning (D.C.). D.C al Coda means go back to the
beginning and then at the indication (to Coda), skip to the Coda.
Dal Segno al Coda. Indication to return to the sign and then to Coda at the
indication (to Coda).
The ending of a piece indicated by the symbol below.
The first part of a Standard song, setting up the dramatic situation
The main body of a Standard song, almost always carrying the title
A repeated accompanimental phrase
Segno. Sign, or structural signpost used to indicate form. See
Con moto
A piacere
Ad libitum
Con brio
With motion
Literally, as you please, similar to ad lib. but referring to tempo rather than
Left to the performer’s discretion (ad lib.), often implying improvisation
Resolute, energetic
Rhythmically free, literally means “robbed”
Lively, spirited, animated
With fire and dash, spirited
Divided, indication of divided parts, the opposite of unison
Very (molto rit., becoming very slow)
Indication that the singer should take on a more speech-like manner
Mezzo forte
Mezzo piano
A niente
Other Terms
Colla Voce
f, loud
ff, very loud
mp,medium loud
p, soft
mp, very soft
pp, medium soft
getting louder
getting softer
(dim.) getting softer
Dying away, getting softer
Dying away to nothing
With (con moto)
Little (poco a poco crescendo)
Much, very much (Allegro Assai)
A musical gesture wherein a rhythmic figure with a duple metric pulse replaces
one with a triple metric pulse.
Literally with the voice. Indication that the accompaniment should allow
freedom for the soloist
You may wish to purchase an inexpensive dictionary of musical terms such as The Hal Leonard
Pocket Music Dictionary. New York: Hal Leonard, 1993.
Other Musical Considerations
An analysis of form in the songs you sing will help you in many ways. It will assist you
in memorizing the song musically and lyrically and it will help you to understand and map out
the dramatic arc of the song. Fortunately, most songs fall into two categories:
1. Verse/Refrain, the dominant song form from 1900 through much of the theatre songs of
2. Pop form, or Verse/Chorus/Bridge form. This became the primary song organizing form for
songs in the Rock and Roll era (1950s to today).
Verse/Refrain Songs
For most songs in the so called Great American Songbook, the verse is the musical
passage that sets up the dramatic action of the refrain. In many ways, this form owes its structure
to the operatic convention of recitative and aria where the recitative advances the plot and the
aria explores the emotions of the characters. In theatre music for most of the 20th century, the
verse was used to help bridge the gap between spoken dialogue and full song. The verse lies
someplace between speech and song and is often freer in rhythm. If you moved directly from
dialogue to full song with no transition, the results may be laughable. The refrain always
contains the title of the song, either at the beginning or at the end of the first section. It is also the
melody one remembers most frequently.
Here is an example, Rodgers and Hart’s “You’re Nearer” from Too Many Girls (1939).
Time is a healer but it cannot heal my heart.
My mind says I've forgotten you and then I feel my heart.
The miles lie between us, but your fingers touch my own.
You're nearer far away from me, for you're too much my own.
You're nearer than my head to my pillow.
Nearer than the wind is to the willow.
Dearer than the rain is to the earth below.
Precious as the sun to the things that grow.
You're nearer than the ivy to the wall is.
Nearer than the winter to the fall is.
Leave me, but when you're away you'll know
You're nearer for I love you so.
Refrains are usually 32 bars and can usually be divided into four sections. The similarity
or dissimilarity of the music in these sections helps us to determine the form. Most refrains are
AABA or ABAB in form. This means that every A section is more or less the same music with
only a few differences. The B sections are contrasting musically.
It is worth noting that the AABA form is perfectly suited to theatre music since
composers assume that their audience does not know a song before entering the theatre thus you
are given two chances to hear the same music (and often with a similar lyrical idea) before
moving on to something contrasting. The B section introduces contrasting music material and is
often a chance for a change in the dramatic action to occur. When the final familiar A section
returns, a new resolve or change of perspective has occurred in the B section. This combination
of familiar music with heightening of the dramatic arc is incredibly satisfying and a very useful
tool in story telling.
Pop-inflected Song Forms
The basic building blocks of Pop-inflected song forms are the verse, chorus and bridge.
Please note that the verse in this form functions differently than verse in the previous form.
Obviously this form comes from popular music from the Rock era, beginning in the 1950s. It is
the dominant form for most radio music to today.
Often the verse presents the situation while the chorus presents the resolution of the
situation. Then there is usually a repeated verse with the same music but with new lyrics. This is
followed by a repeat of the chorus. A bridge may or may not be introduced in order to present
new material. The difficulty with this form in a theatrical context is that we have been presented
with the resolution of the situation early in the song—by the first chorus. The dramatic arc is
somewhat disappointing when it comes so early. This is a challenge to the singer and one you
must keep in mind when singing a song with this form.
When recently seeing Rock of Ages, the jukebox musical of 1980s pop songs, I was
pleased in the way the creators managed to keep songs from peaking too early through some
ingenious methods such as introducing new singers into a song or by allowing the choruses to
have different meanings and/or purposes.
After you have learned a song musically and done your actor’s homework, it is a good
idea to go back to do some work on the musicality of your song. This may include working with
a pianist to make sure that musical details such as pitches and rhythm have not been lost as you
were focusing on the acting work. It will also mean looking at phrasing. It also may mean
looking deeper in the musical information that the accompaniment and melody contain. Music,
all music, contains many kinds of subjective emotional and story-telling information that is
worth exploring. The music of a well-written song is the music of your character in the given
situation. The music is you. You must take this into account when putting the finishing touches
on your song.
For instance, the flowing music in “I Had a Dream About You” may represent the
constant forward motion of a car ride. The repeated two-note figure in “Just a Housewife” may
be the boredom of the character. The accompanimental figure in “Talent” may be both the
motion of the train and the ambitious drive of the character.
Arrangements of show music are set. The actor does not have the liberty of changing the
accompaniment, the harmony or the style of a song in a musical. In cabaret styles, however, you
are completely free to reinterpret songs in order to make them your very own. That is what we
want in a cabaret setting and if you are fortunate enough to work with a talented
pianist/arranger/music director, you can do an infinite number of treatments to well-known songs
and make them completely new. When you are asked to sing a song in a musical (i.e., not in a
cabaret setting), you must look for the musical details that the composer has given you which
inform both the character and the situation. It must appear as if you, the character, are
spontaneously creating the words and the music in the moment as a result of the dramatic action.
This idea will be explored in great detail in the song analysis chapter which follows.
We use this term to refer to the small and large decisions a singer makes regarding how
one sings the melody. As well-phrased song communicates the character’s situation, their
decisions, their tactics and their objective. We want everything that we do to cumulatively tell
the same story. For instance, a breath in the middle of a phrase about what a character wants may
disrupt the thought and confuse the audience. Singing a song about one’s love of another with a
staccato articulation may confuse the audience as this articulation communicates something
different entirely.
Some of the following steps may seem like a repeat from earlier activities but since our
focus is now on phrasing, the steps are helpful to repeat.
Steps toward creating a well-phrased song:
1. Silently read the lyric while making observations about rhyme and alliteration. These
two devices serve to make these words more important. Is there a reason that these words are
more important? Good lyricists don’t rhyme unimportant words.
2. You may wish to do the first five monologue activities on page 23??.
3. Without accompaniment, sing the song following the dramatic action of the lyric. If the
action speeds up, allow the melody to speed up. If the action calls for a whispered tone, sing
the melody with a whispered voice. The purpose of this activity is to match the action of song
with your vocal choices. At this point, it is a good idea to decide, if you haven’t already,
where you will breathe. Making choices based on the lyric rather than the necessity for air is
4. Repeat this step asking the pianist to follow you and the dramatic action. If the action is
harsh, ask them to play harshly. If the action is gentle, ask them to play gently.
5. Sing the song again with the printed accompaniment while retaining all of the colors
you have found in previous steps. The danger when doing this step is to lose all the subtle
variations in timber and articulation you had earlier. Do not allow the tyranny of the printed
page to overtake you. I like to refer to these changes in timbre and articulation simply as
Vocal Color. You will find much more about Vocal Colors in a chapter to follow.
Additional activities:
1.Imagine your song played by an instrument. What instrument would that be? What information
about style and articulation does this give you?
2.Try singing your song at a different tempo or in a different style. This can help to free up your
phrasing and/or give you different options.
Preparing your Music for a Pianist
• Music for audition and study should be placed in a moderately sized three-ring binder. You
should not use a published book for an audition because often they do not stay open at the
• Please do not use the extremely large binders.
• Music should be copied double-sided onto heavier paper or placed in plastic sheets. If you use
plastic sheets, purchase non-glare sheets.
• If the music is just two pages, present it such that the pianist does not need to turn pages.
• Check the tops and bottoms of the page carefully to ensure that no music is cut off. Reduce the
copy ratio as needed. 89% generally works.
• If you are going to do a shortened cutting of a song, prepare this cutting such that there is no
other music on the page. This will help avoid confusion at an audition.
• Any cutting of a song should also include a separate copy of the full version of the song in case
you are asked to sing the whole song.
• Eliminate extraneous markings on your music.
• Clearly indicate introductions and endings.
• Create a table of contents and use tabs so that you can quickly find any song.
Cast Albums
I often find that singers adhere to one of these two extremes regarding listening to cast
albums when preparing a song. The first extreme is to learn the song exclusively by listening.
This is to be avoided because the singer on the recording may sing wrong notes or they may
phrase the song differently than what is written on the page, or worse. You always need to go
back to the printed music to see what that composer has written. This is your most important
The other extreme is to avoid recordings all together for fear of imitation. This is
understandable, but unnecessary. The best option is to learn a song musically and then listen to
the cast album (or revivals or other great singers singing your song) for clues about performance
practice such as style, tempo, and vocal timbre. Stay open to as many options as possible.
Excavating the Song: Cabaret Styles
You may have an opportunity to perform a Cabaret at various times in your career. Cabaret
is a very special art form where you can explore what is unique and special about you as a
performer and as a person. This chapter will help you understand the art form, what it is and
what it is not.
Your skills as an actor and a singer are vital to a great performance and yet what you do in
this opportunity is very different from performing in a show or doing an audition. You are not
preparing a role or presenting a character. You are you on the stage. This can be scary—like
working without a net. But, it can be thrilling for you and your audience.
What is a Cabaret?
Cabaret has meant many things at different times to different people. In general, the term
today simply means a solo singer with piano singing songs in a small room. There are a limited
number of cabaret houses in New York and other big cities that host cabaret singers. They
usually seat fewer than 100 people. The intimacy of these smaller rooms is important in
contemporary cabaret.
One of the best ways to think of cabaret is as a great first date. It is as if someone who you
really like has said, “So tell me about yourself. I’m really interested.” On a first date there are
things that are appropriate to reveal and things you want to save for later. One common trap is to
share too much intimate detail about you. Instead, keep it light, interesting, authentic, genuine,
and most of all, you. In an interview with Playbill, Sherie Rene Scott said about her
autobiographical show, which in many respects is a cabaret, Everyday Rapture, “everything is
true — it's the whole truth, nothing but the truth, only better.” In other words, it’s okay to take
some liberties to tell your story in an entertaining way. Another example is Sutton Foster who in
her cabaret of songs from her album, Wish, did not mention her recent divorce, but instead
shared her feelings in the songs.
A cabaret is not a concert or a one-person show and it is not about your voice. The cabaret
audience wants to hear your thoughts more than hear you sing. Cabaret is about the lyrics and the
story that you tell through the lyrics. No matter what you sing, you must have a personal
connection to it and a point of view.
A cabaret needs to be personal but it does not have to be exclusively about you. If it is too
much about your life then it runs the risk of appearing selfish. You should always being thinking
of how the lyrics and patter intersect with the lives of your audience. One way to look at it is to
think about what is universal about what you want to say. Without being preachy, it is helpful to
think about the life lessons you've learned or are learning and weave them into your show. Some
of the themes I am referring to could be to “take time to appreciate the good things about life” or
“celebrating what is unique about each of us” or “we can learn to take the bad with the good in
life without letting it get us down.” You can personalize the material while still allowing the
audience to find themselves in your work.
Your relationship with the music director is very important in helping you tell your story
better. Share your story with your music director and allow them to create a backdrop that allows
you to tell your unique story. It’s important that you listen to what the piano is giving you and
respond to it. You will prepare with your music director arrangements for your show, which may
be very different from the way we are used to hearing a particular song. This is one of the great
joys in seeing a show—for the audience to hear a song in a brand new way that is from your
unique perspective.
The First Question
The first thing you need to ask yourself is, “What do I want to say? What is special about
my life experience that can hold the attention of someone that does not know me?” This last
thing is very important since there is nothing worse than a cabaret of inside jokes and stories
about things that an audience member may not know anything about. The difficulty is in editing
your patter and presenting it in a way that is interesting, compelling and entertaining. There isn’t
time to tell your complete life story. Instead, choose one or two specific things to share that you
think will be interesting.
You will be doing your show for an audience that includes many of your friends. Put that
aside for this opportunity and prepare your cabaret as if you don’t know anyone. Do your cabaret
for the people you do not know. Look for ways that you can tell positive stories that are universal
in nature so that the audience can relate to you.
Song Selection
The songs you choose for your cabaret can come from anywhere––musical theatre,
standards, modern standards, contemporary pop, children’s songs, folk songs, etc. You will need
to shape your ideas so that every song is there for a reason, tells a specific story and fits into the
arc of your cabaret. There needs to be a beginning, middle and an end to your cabaret. A variety
of styles, tempos and moods is crucial. Don’t choose too many ballads. It is good to choose a
mixture of well-known and less well-known material. Present familiar songs in ways that the
listener can hear it afresh and such that it tells your story.
In choosing your songs, it is recommended that you start first with a list of songs you like
and want to sing. Get with a coach, music director or voice teacher and just sing many songs.
Allow the other person to respond to what suits you and doesn't. This approach is preferable to
devising a theme and choosing songs that fit that theme. Once you have selected a large number
of songs, more than you could actually sing, begin looking for themes. For each song, ask
yourself, “What do I want to say through this song?”, “Why is it important to me?” and “Do I
need this song?”
Song selection is everything. There should be a mixture of both the familiar and the
surprising. Allow us to hear something we've heard before in a new way. Please have a mixture
of tempos and please not too many ballads. Include at least a couple of comedic moments in your
songs or patter.
Patter is the spoken material used to link song to song. It should be well-written and
memorized. Do not try to improvise your patter. It should be a mixture of funny and serious.
Don't give away too much about a song in the patter before. Don't interpret the song or give away
the ending. If you don't need patter between two songs, don't use it. Patter shouldn't be too long
at any given time.
One useful tip for writing patter is to write stream of conscious about what a song means to
you and how it touches your life and reflects your experience. Then, hone it down to the barest
minimum of information. The edited writing you've done then becomes the subtext of the song’s
performance. Stop short of telling us what the song will be and how we should understand it. Let
the audience draw its own conclusion.
Vocal Style and Performance
In keeping with the axiom that cabaret is the “art of being yourself, on purpose,” your
singing style needs to match your speaking timbre. Use your true, authentic voice unless you
choose to do an impersonation or something for comedic effect.
In cabaret, we use a microphone so that one doesn’t need to project in the same way you
must do if you are in a big theatre. Think of the audience as being very close to you. It is an
intimate art form. Keep these things in mind as you are preparing your show vocally. Your
blocking and movement choices need to be informed by the use of a microphone. Economy of
movement is key. Less is more.
There are essentially four positions for cabaret singing:
Standing with the microphone in your hand. This position has a certain performance energy
that is especially good for the opening song.
Standing with the microphone in the stand. This is perhaps the most powerful position best
reserved for your most powerful moment.
Seated with the microphone in your hand. This communicates a casual intimacy with the
Seated with the microphone in the stand. This communicates that the lyric is very
important. Nothing in this position distracts from the ideas in the song.
Things to consider for each song:
1. Focus (full audience, single audience person, point beyond the audience, other)
2. Mic position (Standing/mic stand, Standing/mic in hand, Seated/mic in stand, seated/mic in
3. Interpretation (Is the story you're sharing, your story? Is it clear?)
1. Patter (is patter needed? Is there too much patter? Too little patter? Is it clear?)
There is a delicate balance at work in terms of emotional display. We, the audience, want
to know there is a living, breathing human, like us, on stage—someone that has experienced the
full range of life's ups and downs. But too much sad emotion is out of place and can make the
audience uncomfortable. In terms of emotional colors, once again, variety is encouraged. The
last thing you want from your show is to allow self-indulgence to creep in.
A Final Word
The audience wants to be moved, wants their hearts be touched, and may even want to be
moved to tears. Mostly though, they want to be entertained. We might think of “entertaining” as
a bad word or an unworthy objective. But most audience members who go to a show go to hear a
few good tunes, to laugh and to have a few drinks. They want to feel, but mostly, they want to be
entertained. Your audience should be your first priority.
Song Types and Structure in Modern Cabaret
Think of a cabaret as a great meal that’s extravagant, prepared with great care, nutritious and
good for the soul. During such a meal, one expects balance and variety–savory and sweet,
familiar and perhaps unfamiliar with a variety of textures and flavors. The corollary in cabaret is
that you want both familiar and unfamiliar songs, both humorous and serious songs, as well as
songs of different tempos and styles. Whether your show is three songs or 15 songs, these same
principles apply. A good Cabaret wants a well thought-out progression of ideas and songs with a
through-line from the beginning to the end.
The New York Cabaret scene is quite alive and thriving these days and new artists are producing
shows at a healthy rate. These singers as well as local performers do shows regionally that are
supported by Cabaret series across the country. Training workshops lead by master teachers such
as Sally Mayes, Amanda McBroom, Faith Prince, Nancy Wilson, Jason Graae and Andrea
Marcovicci are highly successful at the Cabaret conferences at Yale, Santa Fe, Chicago, St.
Louis and many other places.
But since the New York venues for the shows are quite small and shows are usually only in
metropolitan areas, you might not have seen a true cabaret performed in the style discussed here.
Fortunately, there have been many albums by artists released in the last few years that illustrate
many of the things discussed in this article. Listen to these albums for song types, arrangement
ideas and interpretative styles. Of special note are recordings by Victoria Clark, Sutton Foster,
Audra McDonald, Liz Callaway, Stephanie J. Block, Rebecca Luker, Andrea Burns, Malcolm
Gets, Nancy Lamott, Christine Ebersole, Andrea Marcovicci, Christine Andreas, Brian Stokes
Mitchell, as well as many others.
Song Types
It's important to include a variety of song types when you do a cabaret set. The cabaret audience
is very savvy about songs. They know standards, musical theatre songs and great pop music. You
must do at least a few songs that an audience member 30-70 years old knows. You must also
avoid doing two songs in the same category.
Story song
Story songs can be quite powerful in a Cabaret, but the story must be told in a way that you hold
people’s attention completely. Does the story have to be your story precisely? No, but we need to
think it might be. Some of the Post-millennium songs work great here. Avoid the songs that
sound like they are excerpted from a show, like “Runaway with Me” and “Not Afraid.” Some
good ones are “Lovely Lies”, “Toll”, “To Excess”, “I Took the Filter Off”, “My Heart Was Set
On You”, “The Boy with Dreams” and “Sweet Dreams.” Avoid “I'm Not Afraid” and other
songs by Jason Robert Brown. His songs, like the songs by Stephen Sondheim, are just a bit too
much to take in for a cabaret (with the possible exception of “Stars and Moon”). There are lots of
great pop and folk songs that tell beautiful stories. “Love at the Five and Dime” by Nancy
Griffith, “Celluloid Heros” by the Kinks, “What If We Went to Italy?” by Mary Chapin
Carpenter and “Don’t Forget To Remember Me” by Carrie Underwood are excellent examples.
Country songs are an especially rich storehouse of great story songs.
A familiar ballad done with an interesting new arrangement
This is perhaps the one category you should strongly consider including. As an audience, we
need one ballad that we know. It puts us at ease and makes us relax and really listen. The new
arrangement is because we know these songs so well that it needs to have have something in
place that will make us forget we've heard it many times. Think of creating new, tailor-made
setting that suits your take on the story. Sutton Foster’s “My Romance” and Victoria Clark’s
“Right as the Rain” are great examples.
There are three major kinds of ballads:
1. Ballad of love or love lost. Standards like “Someone to Watch Over Me”, “Long Before I
Knew You”, “On My Way To You”, “It Might Be You” or Pop songs like “Make You Feel
My Love” and “She’s Got a Way About Her.”
2. Introspective/Disclosure/I Want Ballads. “The Man I Love”, “If Only”, “River”, “It
Might As Well Be Spring.”
3. The “Message” Ballad, that says something important about the world. “Coney Island”,
“What’s the Use of Wondering,” “Something Wonderful,” “What a Wonderful World,” and
“Rainbow Connection.”
In planning the sequence of your show, take the kind of ballad you’re singing into consideration.
For instance, the disclosure ballad fits better toward the beginning and the message ballad fits
better at the end.
Familiar Up-tempos (not Pop/Rock) before 1965 (or sound like they are)
These should be done in a jazz or cabaret style and not a musical theatre style. “On the Sunny
Side of the Street”, “Shall We Dance?”, “I’m Beginning to See The Light”, “Route 66”, “The
Acheson, Topeka and the Santa Fe”, and “It’s De-lovely” are good examples. Songs from the
standard musical theatre literature like “A Cock-eyed Optimist”, “A Little Brains, a Little
Talent”, and “I Got the Sun In the Morning and the Moon At Night” fit here as well if they are
sung in a new setting.
Modern Cabaret standards
Songs by John Bucchino (“Grateful”, “Unexpressed”, “Sweet Dreams”), Craig Carnelia
(“Flight”, “The Kid Inside”, “Nothing Really Happened”), Jeff Blumenkrantz (“Toll”, “Lovely
Lies”, “Take the Filter Off”), Maury Yeston (“I Had a Dream About You”, “New Words”,
“Danglin’), Michel LeGrand (“A Piece of Sky”, “How Do You Keep the Music Playing”, “You
Must Believe In Spring”, “On My Way To You”) , David Friedman (“Listen to My Heart”, “We
Can Be Kind”, “We Live On Borrowed Time”) and a few other composers are core literature for
the cabaret audience. Songs from this category are most welcome.
Torch songs
Women only and best if done by seasoned performers.
Pop songs done in a cabaret style.
Pop songs are most welcome in the cabaret scene but you should be aware of some things. The
song must be very strong lyrically and musically. Sometimes, when stripping a song to its
simplest form with just piano and voice, the craftsmanship is revealed to be lacking. No matter
how much you love the original recording, please don’t do a song because of the recording. You
must re-interpret these songs vocally and musically so that the lyric is of primary importance and
the music is interesting and helps to tell your specific story. A pop song done straight forward in
the original style is probably not a good fit.
Comedy Songs
Most performers struggle with this area but all shows need humor. Try to find humor in
unexpected ways. Jason Graae has made a killing doing "Popular" and it works because it's so
unexpected to have a man do the song. It would not work for a woman in the same way. Avoid
gimmicky hooks like doing "On the Street Where You Live" like a slasher. Start with the kinds
of the things that make you laugh. Look for ways to make a song that wasn’t originally comic
into something funny. An excellent example I’ve done recently was “Part of Your World” done
in the voices of the great divas like Ethyl Merman, Celine Dion, Barbara Streisand, Brittany
Spears and Liza Minnelli.
Contemporary Theatre Song
These are outstanding choices for your show, but if you do one, you must strip it of all of the
expectations associated with it. If it is an “Eleven-O’Clock” number, do it as an intimate ballad.
If it is a belt number, avoid belt. In other words, take it far away from what we are used to so that
we can hear the lyric in a fresh way. Remember that cabaret is never about the voice. It is about
the lyric and connecting the lyric to your personal experience and well as the experiences of your
audience. I've seen "Corner of the Sky", "Astonishing", "Gimme, Gimme", and "Just Around the
Riverbend" work when it was taken in unexpected directions musically and not performed as if
they were part of a show.
Sondheim deserves his own unique category. Because the songs are incredibly well written,
sophisticated and complex musically and lyrically, they can be a little difficult for an audience.
But as I’ve said, the cabaret audience knows this literature. I’ve seen major portions of shows
devoted to Sondheim as Liz Callaway did in Even Stephen, and it can work beautifully. But
please, do these songs only if you have a very strong reason to and do it exceptionally well.
What is the “Cabaret Style”?
The most important consideration when setting the style of a song is that the lyric is the most
important thing. Often songs are lowered so that they are in the speaking range. The role of the
piano is to help tell the story. The accompaniment is often changed to help illustrate the specific
story the singer is telling. Good music director/pianists support the artist without distracting from
them with too much filagree but with a lot of color and nuance. The role of the pianist cannot be
underestimated in a great show.
Changing Styles
Changing the musical setting of a song works wonders in a show by providing something
fresh and surprising. Faith Prince does a faster, jazzier version of “If I Were a Bell” and Liz
Callaway does an exciting arrangement of “Something’s Coming” that’s very different from
West Side Story’s setting. Why is it important not to do a song in the style of the musical it’s
from? Remember that a Cabaret is a show you’ve written for yourself to showcase your best
attributes. If you do a song just as it’s done in the musical, you put yourself into the role of the
show’s character and not your unique self.
“I’m Old-Fashioned”, written by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer in 1942, is one of the great
standard ballads. But, it can also work beautifully in other styes such as a “charm Song” or midtempo swing. A singer I worked with wanted to include this song but needed not to have another
ballad. She also needed an introductory number at the top of her show. A light, charming swing
was a perfect solution. Look for ways that up-tempos can become ballads and vice versa.
If you're famous, you can do nearly anything you want. Sutton Foster sings the greatest “belter
songs” no one should sing (“Defying Gravity”, “The Story Goes On”, “And I Am Telling You
(I’m Not Going)” and “Meadowlark”). Her show is warm, personal and understated but then she
sings these iconic belt numbers by introducing these out-of-left-field songs is very funny way.
Jason Graae sings “Mrs. S.L. Jacobowsky” from Grand Tour in the context of the show. But until
you're more established, be careful making these kinds of choices.
Variety is the key. Please don't want more than one song-type in a show.
Creating an arrangement with a Musical Director: An example
Talk to your Music Director about creating new arrangements for some if not all of your songs.
This has become a hallmark of the modern cabaret scene. It's expected and maybe even
demanded by modern audiences.
You begin creating a new arrangement by having a very clear idea about the story you want to
tell. Communicate this clearly to the Music Director. Where are you in the story? What time of
day is it? How old are you? What are the emotions associated with your story?
How Are Things in Glocca Morra?
An experienced male cabaret singer I worked with wanted to do a song about home. The core
idea is that home never leaves you no matter how far away you are. His idea was to do "How Are
Things in Glocca Morra" but he didn't want it to remind anyone of Finian's Rainbow. It also had
to look and sound good in a man’s voice. These are the kinds of songs cabaret audience love–
taking a familiar song and making it seem brand new.
His input:
“I go on a lot of trips for work and feel disconnected sometimes. I feel as if I’m getting further
away from home physically and spiritually. I want to return to the idea of home in many
different ways.”
Questions to ask.
What is the intrinsic structure of the song? It’s a straight ahead 4/4 ballad in AAB form with an
introductory verse. How do we make it different from the expectations associated with the song?
What do you want it to look like? Feel like? What do you want to say with this song?
His response.
“It's like the end if Wizard of Oz–what is of value was there at home all along. Can we quote
lines from Wizard of Oz to tie the two together?” This could be hokey but it's that tight rope
walking that creates brilliance.
When working on a new song, first, say the lyrics as yourself and think about how it relates to
your personal story and life. Second, paraphrase the lyrics but keep the general structure of the
song. Now sing it with piano playing simple chords, colla voce, so that you can sing the pitches
but without singing the song as it’s usually sung stylistically and rhythmically. Emotional truth is
important. The lyrics are what matters most, not the music or the vocal.
This exercise will help guide you toward creating the arrangement. Perhaps the singer is a
classical musician and the idea of a classical setting feels right. (Victoria Clark's "I Got Lost in
His Arms" does this). Or perhaps the singer is from a rural background and a more folky setting
feels right. Arpeggiated eighth notes on the piano will evoke images of him playing the guitar on
his porch late at night. Perhaps the singer has a daughter and wants to assure her that he and she
are safe as he travels so far away. A lullaby setting would be lovely. Perhaps quote some famous
lullabies. The piano would be voiced high and played with steadiness like a music box. Because
it might be tiresome to do the full song this way, maybe change at the B section to something
different that furthers the story.
He settled on the Folk setting to great success. He started with the refrain accompanied by a
simple guitar-like intro. At the end of the refrain, he did the verse out of tempo and very free. He
then moved back to the B section (“So I ask each weeping willow...”) with passion and strength.
Some Basic Rules to be Aware of In Creating Your Show
Don’t say anything that could sound like bragging. Use phrases like “I was so fortunate to .
. .”
Don't make your patter too much about yourself but completely personalize the song’s
performance, using it to tell your story.
Don't make it chronological. It’s too easy to lose your audience by saying something like,
“And then when I was twelve . . .”
In patter, don't give too many details of your story as you introduce a song. Instead give just
enough detail to peak the audience’s curiosity. Put the little details and the emotion into the
actual song.
One of the goals of Cabaret is to allow each audience member to find themselves in the
songs you sing. Make your goal to reach audience members, not to impress them. That’s
why it’s important not to spend too much time speaking about your own autobiography.
According to Andrea Marcovicci, the perfect patter is one or two lines that ends with a
Humor is essential. If your songs aren’t funny, your patter must be.
Don’t laugh at your jokes. You can laugh at yourself after the audience laughs.
Liz Callaway tells a story about being the stand-by for Barbara Streisand’s Concert tour.
While Ms. Streisand wanted to see how the show looked, Liz would stand in and sing. As
she tells this story, she doesn’t brag about it but only talks of how amazing it was to be a
part of the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Jason Graae is the voice of Lucky Charms commercials. When he tells the story of getting
the job, he doesn’t brag about it but makes himself into the buffoon. It’s like a stand-up
Overt religious talk must be avoided as well as anything that separates people into different
groups. But Cabaret can be quite spiritual in the ways it can remind us of what we have in
common and about the wonderful world of nature and people we are fortunate to live in.
This is tricky ground and it’s important to steer clear of the traps.
The Cabaret audience is likely to be the most open, diverse, and affirming groups you could
imagine. Assume that sexual orientation is not an issue. You do not need to tell us if you are
gay. And being gay does not give permission to break the rules of privacy.
Avoid the phrase, "This next song."
There is an unwritten rule that you're not allowed to steal someone else's
arrangement. While arrangements are not copy written, they belong to the original
performer. You can create something just as good that’s unique to you.
Cabaret Structure for Shows between 5 and 20 songs
1. The Opening number sets the tone. It should be welcoming and well-known. Probably
uptempo and positive. It shouldn’t be romantic unless you're romancing the audience. Avoid
introspective songs and story songs. In a cabaret show, you must must allow time for us to get to
know you. Don't assume you “have us” too soon by sharing something too personal at the top. A
cabaret is like a first date. You get dressed up and share only the most charming, entertaining
aspects of your life.
2. The second song is perhaps the most difficult to chose. It should be in a different style than the
first. It can be comedic, light and charming song, or ballad that’s not too heavy. Remember, the
audience is still getting to know you.
3. The progression from here to the end can be just about anything as long as there is variety of
tempos, style and tone.
4. Next to last song. This is the strongest position in the show. You can put your deepest, most
heartfelt song here, or it can be the most performative song. It should be the climax.
5. Finale. The closer should rap your show in a nice package and send people away feeling good.
It’s possible that this could be a ballad such as “What a Wonderful World” if your previous song
wasn’t a ballad. Or it could be an uptempo like “That’s Life.” It’s best if it is lighter in tone than
the penultimate song.
For longer shows of more than 10 songs.
6. For longer shows, an Encore is expected.The encore should be short and special, or fun and
light. An encore can be a ballad or uptempo. If it’s a ballad, keep it short. Think of it as an
after dinner mint--a sweet finisher.
Further Exploration
Listen to some great cabaret recordings. I would suggest Sutton Foster’s Wish, Victoria Clark’s
Fifteen Seconds of Grace and Audra McDonald’s How Glory Goes. These three CDs are
excellent examples of modern cabaret performances with interesting arrangements of some
familiar material along with newer material.
There are also a few recordings of full shows. Patti LuPone’s Far Away places, Laura Osnes
???? and Kate Baldwin ???? are some. These will give you a sense of patter and flow.
Plan your cabaret show. Start with the question, what do I have to say that’s unique to me and
would be interesting to an audience who doesn’t know me. What songs help to tell that story? Do
have have an interesting, captivating opener. Some comedy? Something more serious? Choose a
Creating Your
Audition Book
song or two and do the internal monologue exercise.
In the twenty-five years I’ve been teaching, nearly every young artist has asked me some
variation of this question at one time or another. “What kinds of songs should I put in my
audition book?” or “How many different options should I have?” When creating your audition
book, you could rely on the songs you’ve studied in you voice lessons. After all you sing them
well and you like them. Perhaps they are excellent for your voice. Or you could rely on the songs
from the roles you've performed. The are time-tested and you know them like the back of your
hand. But if you're under 25, you've probably been cast in roles that aren't the kind of roles you
want to present in a professional setting. Maybe they aren't you anymore or maybe you’d never
do that kind of role in a professional setting.
I'm sure you know there are many different kinds of auditions. Here are the three most common
1. Cattle calls for summer stock such as MidWest Theatre Auditions, Wagon Wheel Theatre, or
The Muny. These auditions are for a season of specific shows or for a large number of summer
stock companies.
2. You could be auditioning for a specific show. There are wide variety of shows that are done
today, from Operetta (popular in medium sized summer stock companies), Early Musical
comedy, Golden Age, then contemporary shows of all types. This could be at the professional
or semi-professional like community theatre.
3. Agent calls where you've been called into an agents office to see if there's a place for you in
their agency.
How the heck could I ever possible hope to find the perfect song for all those situations?
First off, don't try to imagine the 300+ auditions you might do in your first year and try to pick
out songs that will suit all those crazy situations. Instead, let's look at a few of the most useful
kinds of songs for a wide variety of situations and then when we're ready, we can go deeper with
more unusual songs and songs that are suited to your specific talent. This last quality is very
important. You will want to find songs that show off who you are, your special attributes and
skills. say more about this
When you audition, try to imagine what are folks behind the table are looking for? A good
voice? A good actress? The X factor? Let me state unequivocally that people are not looking just
for the best singers. Why? Because a successful productions, even productions of warhorses like
Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, or Brigadoon, require much more than pretty voices. The audience
must be able to give themselves over to the belief that the person on stage IS Laurie or Curlie or
whoever. This is a challenge in straight plays but it's even harder for musicals because we add
the technically challenging aspect of singing which can make believability even tougher.
Ultimately you want something between 10 and 18 songs. I've met with people who have a lot of
experience that I respect who say you can get by with just a handful of songs. One very
successful actress told me she got everything she ever got with "You Took Advantage of Me"by
Rodgers and Hart. I say, if that works for you, "full steam ahead."
For most of us, a bit more variety is going to serve us in several ways. Maybe the most important
thing to think of is a variety of songs will help keep you from becoming bored with a song. It
will also give is a variety of material to choose from so that what you present in this audition is
specific to the show or shows. And last, it will provide us the opportunity to show different
colors and skills. Imagine that after you sing, the director says, "That's great but do do you have
something that's a little more lyrical? Or humorous? Or serious? Or higher? Or older? Or more
contemporary? Or more classical? I could go on and on. In most cases, the people you audition
for have a pretty good idea of what they are looking for as to skills that actor needs to possess but
how those skills combine and in what proportion makes the process of carrying on an audition a
difficult art. It's an art and not a science.
Have I mentioned that you must love every song in your book? You MUST love every song in
your book These songs are the tools that will get you hired but if you and your song aren't in a
loving relationship, the chance of that song opening doors is much lower.
I can help you by suggesting some starting points of the kind of songs everyone needs in their
book. Then we can then go deeper by exploring some more specific types of songs that will
work in specific instances. Are you ready?
A Standard ballad about love or love lost. (Approximately 1920-1947)
What is it?
These beautiful songs are well known by the population at large and yet they are open to a vast
variety of interpretations. That are called standards because they have been sung over and over
again without loosing their charm and beauty. They have never left the literature. Some of them
have verses while a few don't. I think choosing one with a verse is good because singing verses
requires a great deal of sophistication. It's also a chance to show that you can handle both text
and music with intelligence and grace. These songs are generally either from musical comedies
or films.
Why should I sing it?
By singing a well-known song, you will help the panel be able to hear how well you sing. Doing
well known songs is important because you take center stage and not the song.
How do I prepare it?
That we have already looked at preparing Standards in an earlier chapter. Make sure you sing
the song well with correct pitches and rhythms and do your acting homework. The EXCavATE
work will help you discover nuances that are important for this song since they are so wide open
for interpretation.
Discuss singing verses.
How do I use it?
Because these songs are so well known and have strong melodies, they are great for a wide
variety of auditions where you want the panel to hear that you are a good singer. I can imagine
using this for an open call for singers for the Muny or Music Theatre of Wichita. Or perhaps it
could also be used for a leading role in a golden age musical. Perhaps the best use of this kind of
song is when after singing your first song and showing them that you are both a singer AND
actor, the panel asks if you have something a little more simple or more lyrical. That's when you
pull this bad boy out and let her rip. If you have the time, sing the verse too. In the verse, let your
skills as an actor come to the fore and make it much more about the lyric. Then when the refrain
begins, open up and sing it for all it's worth. They will be impressed with the levels in your
performance and that you can sing simple material well.
Here is a list of great standard ballads about love. Of these have verses. If you look hard, you
will discover other ones by these same composers.
See the Standard Ballads list in the appendix.
Rock Uptempo from the 50s or 60s
What is it?
As the title says, this song is an energetic moderately fast or fast pop/rock song. The best songs
will come between 1950 and 1967. The cut off date is approximately in the middle of the
Beatles career-pre-St. Peppers lonely Hearts Club Band. Before this time, essentially The Beatles
were doing great, though complex pop songs. After ST. Peppers their music and the music of the
radio was either too experimental or too mature for the songs to be useful.
The energy of this genre is youthful, teenage to early 20s. It is energetic, happy music where the
subtext of sex is there but not as obviously as later in the late 60s. Space dies not allow me to list
all of the possibilities but I will give you some examples that will lead you to the perfect song.
Why should I sing it?
So many musicals are inspired by this music that I believe that everyone needs to know
it. Everything from little shop to smokey joes to hairspray to Memphis. Beehive.
This is also the beginning of the rock era. Rock music has of course made a lasting imprint on
musical theatre since Hair. Starting with one of these early rock songs will help you with the
fundamentals of singing rock music and you'll have an easy transition into modern rock.
List some songs.
How do I prepare it?
The groove of these songs is strong. You may not consider yourself a a rock singer but you can
become one. It requires the involvement of your body and understanding where the backbeat is.
Play a recording of your song and simply move to the music while clapping or snapping on beats
2 and 4. Getting the groove into your body is crucial because this music is physical. Springsteen
famously said that the subtext of all rock music is "Will you pull your pants down?" That doesn't
mean you have to put overt sex in every rock song but you must remember that rock is the music
of discontent youth. I will add that the subtext, if it's not about sex it's "my parents are so stupid.
They will never understand me."
recently listened to Terry Gross interview Bruce Springsteen, in which he said, “The subtext of
all rock songs is, ‘Will you pull your pants down?’ ” It wasn’t one of her better interviews, she
was atypically fawning. In addition, Gross never once mentioned whether her pants were up or
Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not asking you to play anger. Sherre Saunders wisely says,
"anger is not an emotion." But there is a restlessness in rock music, even the innocent sounding
50s rock.
How do I use it?
You'll want to use it at auditions for the shows I mentioned above or anything like it. It might
even be appropriate for modern rock shows if the character you're auditioning for has a similar
story to the character in your song.
Golden Age song sung by a character you could play
What is it?
As you probably already know, most people agree that the Golden Age begins with Oklahoma
(1943), although some also include Show Boat (1927). The ending date is arguable. Some say
Gypsy (1959), some say Hair (1968). Essentially you want to look for songs from a score from
approximately 1943-1968 where the song advances the plot. Not only do the songs advance the
plot but the music functions in complex ways to tell the story of the character and/or the
situation. The music of "Lonely House" expresses the loneliness and frustration of Judd just as
much as the lyric does. The music of "Will He Like Me" expresses the hesitant, halting hope of
Amalia as much as the lyric.
Before 1943, composers weren't concerned with being a storyteller as much as they were with
writing great songs, usually inspired by the popular music of the time. Well, it was often inspired
but the pop music of the time but broadway music also influenced pop music.
Why should I sing it?
It will let the panel know you are both an actor and a singer.
How do I prepare it?
You must understand the full range of the character within the scope of the entire show. Study
the libretto and know how the moment of the song you are singing fits into the big picture of the
character's story arc. Also analyze the musical structure of the song to see how the music and the
lyric work to tell the story.
The Golden Era singing style is much more complex than people often realize. Often folks think
of the style simply as the one you would use when singing "If I Loved You" or "Some Enchanted
Evening." Something more toward classical singing than the earlier shows and possibly a little
more static physically. But wait a minute. In this period, you have a wide variety of characters.
Think of contrasting characters of Laurie and Ado Annie in Oklahoma or Ruth and Eileen in
Wonderful Town. Think of how different the voices of Lancelot and Mordrid need to be in
Camelot or Curlie and Will in Oklahoma.
I would say that in this period, the most important thing vocally is that the voice needs to sound
like the character. If I'm playing Tevye, my voice should communicate paternal and middle aged.
If I'm playing Curlie, my voice needs to communicate an honest, straight forward and unstudied
quality. Before 1943, actors didn't need to think in this way. They just sang.
For the original productions of the standard Golden Age shows like Oklahoma, I think it’s fair to
say that actors were cast who naturally fit the role they would play. Their style and their vocal
style created the model most productions still try to achieve. The model we must be aware of is
the original cast recording, the OCR.
The OCR is the closest we can get to productions dating from the 50s or before. Serious students
of musical theatre know these recordings and probably own many of them. If you can't afford to
purchase recordings, go to the library and check them out. The local St. Louis library has nearly
everything. In today's world, it has become customary to rely on YouTube if you want to hear a
recording of something, but most OCR are not on YouTube.
I’ve called this section Golden Age song sung by a character you could play, not sung by a
character you could sing. Why is that? While the actual music of this style is quite important as
well as good, stylistic singing, the most important thing is that everything, actor, singer and song
all work together in a believable way to tell the same story. You should definitely sing all
manner of songs in your voice lessons, but just because you sing it well doesn't mean it's a good
choice for an audition.
How do I unify my understanding of the character with my voice? First you must read the
libretto and understand the character and their full story. Then listen to the OCR and several
other cast albums for comparison. Analyze the song for ways the music helps to tell the story.
The question I always return to is, "what story is the music telling."
Then think about the vocal colors that will be useful in telling that story. Full vibrato? Legato?
Classical voice soprano? Etc.
How do I use it?
The I Am song
Choosing Audition Songs
The search for a perfect audition song can seem an arduous task with so many songs to choose
from. Do I choose a well-known song or an unfamiliar one? Do I choose an uptempo or a ballad?
Do I choose a musical theatre song or a Pop/Rock song? This chapter will guide you through the
steps of choosing an appropriate song in nearly every situation. Your job is to find the song that
is perfect for you and one that will show that you are a smart singer and have carefully
considered your song choice. This is your first chance to impress the folks behind the table.
Choose wisely.
Add this: Can I sing Sondheim? You’ll hear that you can’t sing Sondheim at auditions but don’t
listen to them. Of course you can if it’s the right song for the right situation.
Ask the right questions at the start
It is crucial that you ask the right questions before you start looking for a song. Consider these
1. What are they looking for? Research the show or shows for the vocal style and range you
should present. You will also need to know where the show falls historically and choose your
material accordingly.
2. Where do I fit in this production? In a lead, ensemble, or primarily as a dancer? If you are
right for a lead in the musical you are auditioning for, you should choose a song that is similar in
vocal demands and sung by a character that is similar (i.e. a romantic character, a comic
character, an ingénue, a villain, etc.). If you are a better singer than dancer auditioning for the
ensemble, choose an uptempo song or ballad that matches the demands of the show. See below
for more instructions on choosing songs in varying situations. If you are a better dancer than
singer, choose an uptempo song that will allow your body to move, but not necessarily dance.
3. What are my strengths? What can I show them that will get their attention? What kinds of
skills does the show require? If the show is an operetta or operetta-like musical where the singing
is of highest priority, sing something that shows your best classical vocal skills. If the show is
comedic, you might consider presenting something that shows your comedic chops if you have
them. Note that this doesn’t mean that your song has to be an absolute comedy song, just
something with a laugh or two. You get the idea. Look for what the show needs and how you fit
into that need. Remember, you are there to solve their problem, not the other way around.
4. Should I sing an uptempo, a ballad, a charm song, a rock song? This is not a question that can
be answered easily. If you are a singer-singer (someone who sings very well), consider choosing
a ballad if the show has a high degree of lyricism. If you are not a singer-singer, you might
consider singing an uptempo. If you get to sing two songs, the primary thing you should concern
yourself with is contrast. The contrast will come from the tempo change but it should also be in
other areas too, such as a change in character between the two songs, a change in affect (comedy
and serious, for example), a change in style (Standard musical theatre literature verses earlier
musical comedy styles like George Gershwin verses rock styles).
5. What guidelines are given? Does the breakdown ask for a song from a certain period, a certain
style or a certain length? It is unwise to go against these guidelines. Period. One qualification
must be made when it comes to 16- and 32-bar cuttings. These numbers are, for most people,
relative. Your cut needs to feel like a 16-bar cutting rather than be exactly 16 bars. One to three
bars under or over is not a problem in most cases. Eight to ten bars over is a problem. Be aware
that for songs in cut-time or in 2/4, if may be more appropriate to sing a cut that is double the
length of your desired cut. You must use your discretion and, again, it must feel like a 16- or 32bar cut. See “Finding Cuts” below.
Starting Points
There are several places to begin your search. They are all useful in some circumstances but not
all are useful in every circumstance. Never limit yourself to one of these starting points. You will
become stuck very easily.
Of course, the more research your do, the better your results. You must buy music and CDs and
you must be familiar with a wide range of shows. This is simply part of being a professional.
Over time, you will develop an audition book that will contain songs that you know and perform
well at a moment’s notice that are appropriate for most auditions. However, no audition book
contains something for every situation. You must continue to maintain and build your repertoire.
Here are some of the starting points you can use to focus your research.
• The same composer
• The same vocal style
• The same historical period or location that the show takes place in
• The same show theme
• Other roles that the originating actor played
• A similar character
A good first step is to look for material by the same composer. This is especially true for musical
from the 20s to the 60s. During this time, the successful composers wrote many shows with
similar styles and themes. Some even have similar characters. From the 70s on, there are a
greater number of successful composers with smaller bodies of work. You must look for
different starting points for this period. Say you are auditioning for Hair. While there are other
Galt McDermot shows, very little of this material is right for this audition. You should look for a
song from another early Pop/Rock musical or even a Pop/Rock song not from a musical. If you
are auditioning for Pippin, there are a number of shows by Stephen Schwartz to choose from but
very little of it is right for the Pop/Rock sound of Pippin.
Another good early starting place is to look for songs from musicals that share a similar musical
style. You should be aware of the musical similarity between Rodgers and Hart, George
Gershwin and Cole Porter, between Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe, and
between Leonard Bernstein’s shows and Jule Styne’s. When auditioning for Kander and Ebb’s
Chicago, however, it’s best not to do a song from a musical but instead to do a vaudeville song
from the 20s since that is the music that is closest in style to Chicago. Look for songs from other
musicals that share a similar musical style and esthetic. You can find a list of shows that are
similar below.
Shows that share a common musical style.
Music Man
Legally Blonde
The Wedding Singer
Hello, Dolly!
Finian’s Rainbow
South Pacific
Fiddler on the Roof
Jane Eyre
She Loves Me
Scarlet Pimpernel
The Rothchilds
King and I
My Fair Lady
Plain and Fancy
Sound of Music
State Fair
A Tale of Two Cities
Phantom of the Opera
Martin Guerre
Jekyll and Hyde
Les Miserables
Wonderful Town
Sunset Boulevard
Miss Saigon
Bells are Ringing
Woman in White
Annie Get Your Gun
Best Foot Forward
Beauty and the Beast
Jesus Christ Superstar
Call Me Madam
Little Mermaid
Meet Me in St. Louis
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Damn Yankees
Mary Poppins
Li’l Abner
Pajama Game
Lion King
Billy Elliot
Boys from Syracuse
Can Can
Babes In Arms
High Society
Good News
110 In the Shade
Kiss Me Kate
Crazy for You
Silk Stockings
Girl Crazy
DuBarry was a Lady
Lady Be Good
Anything Goes
Funny Girl
Pal Joey
Fifty Million Frenchmen
Strike Up the Band
Panama Hattie
Fade Out – Fade In
Mexican Hayride
Sweet Charity
The Life
Little Me
A veritable treasure trove of ideas can open to you when you look at other musicals set in the
same period or location. This could be Victorian London, late 19th- or early twentieth century
American West, New York of the 20s or 30s. When auditioning for 1776, you might consider
looking for a song from Ben Franklin in Paris since both musicals are concerned with historical
figures from the same period. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and OKLAHOMA! are both about
the settling of America. La Cage aux Follies, Falsettos, When Pigs Fly all concern gay
characters in about the same historical period. Clue, Something’s Afoot, Sherlock Holmes: The
Musical and Baker Street are all musical mysteries.
You might also look for shows with a similar theme such as a tragic love, operatic love at a
grand scale, a comic mismatch, historical shows, shows that use Country music, shows
pertaining to sports, or shows for young audiences.
You might find some interesting information by knowing the originating actor for the role you’re
auditioning for and to research other roles that that actor played. It has been common for actors
to play similar roles in their career unless their career is very long and by necessity change the
kinds of roles they play. Ibdb.com is the best place to find this information.
The last, and one of the best places to research is to look for another character with similar traits
and characteristic. Most characters can be seen as an archetype. If you know your character’s
archetype, you can find other songs sung by a character that shares the same archetype.
Character Archetypes
Describe each of these types and their characteristics
•Female ingénue (Laurey in OKLAHOMA!, Luisa in The Fantasticks, Julie in Carousel, Peggy
in 42nd Street, Anne in A Little Night Music, Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Maria in West Side
Story, Sally in Cabaret, Fiona in Brigadoon, Maria in The Sound of Music, Young Little Edie in
Grey Gardens, Janie in Catered Affair, Sharon in Finian’s Rainbow, Mary Lennox in The Secret
Garden, Cosette in Les Miserables, Julia in The Wedding Singer, Elle in Legally Blonde)
•Male ingénue (Matt in The Fantasticks, Billy in 42nd Street, Henrik in A Little Night Music,
Lt. Cable in South Pacific, Robert in Drowsy Chaperone, Lun Tha in The King and I, Freddie in
My Fair Lady, Arpad in She Loves Me, Marius in Les Miserables, Robbie in The Wedding
•Hero, how is he different from male ingenue? (Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees, Tony in West Side
Story, John Adams in 1776, Woody in Finian’s Rainbow)
•Comic Villain or Villainess (Carl-Magnus in A Little Night Music, Gaston in Beauty and the
Beast, Ursula in Little Mermaid, Fagin in Oliver!, Kodaly in She Loves Me, Bud Frump in How
to Succeed, Thenardier and Madame Thenardier in Les Miserables, Glen in The Wedding Singer,
Professor Callahan in Legally Blonde)
•Dramatic Villain or adversary (Judd in OKLAHOMA!, Jigger in Carousel, Bill Sikes in
Oliver!, Dickinson in 1776, Javert in Les Miserables, Chauvelin in Scarlet Pimpernel)
•Temptress (Lola in Damn Yankees, Appassionata von Climax in Li’l Abner, The Baroness in
Sound of Music, Linda Low in Flower Drum Song, Heddy in How to Succeed, Linda in The
Wedding Singer)
•Prince Charming (Beast/Young Prince in Beauty and the Beast, Lancelot in Camelot, Prince in
•Trickster (Henry in The Fantasticks, Mr. Applegate in Damn Yankees, The Emcee in Cabaret,
Og in Finian’s Rainbow, Uncle Max in Sound of Music, The Leading Player in Pippin)
•Girl back home (Meg in Damn Yankees, Helen Chao in Flower Drum Song, Eponine in Les
•Fool (Maurice in Beauty and the Beast, Sipos in She Loves Me, Hines in Pajama Game, NicelyNicely in Guys and Dolls, Sancho in Man of La Mancha)
•Storyteller (El Gallo in The Fantasticks, The Man in the Chair in Drowsy Chaperone)
•Best friend also sometimes called Soubrette, often comic (Ado Annie in OKLAHOMA!,
Carrie in Carousel, Ann in 42nd Street, Petra in A Little Night Music, Anita in West Side Story,
Ilona in She Loves Me, Gladys in Pajama Game, Minnie Fay in Hello Dolly!, Adelaide in Guys
and Dolls, Smitty in How to Succeed, Hildy in On the Town, Martha in The Secret Garden,
Holly in The Wedding Singer. Paulette in Legally Blonde)
•Leading lady (Dorothy in 42nd Street, Dolly in Hello, Dolly!, Fräulein Schneider in Cabaret,
Anna in King and I, Mrs. Malloy in Hello Dolly!, Marin in Music Man, Guenevere in Camelot,
Rosie in Bye, Bye Birdie, Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls, Fantine in Les Miserables, Mame in
Mame, Rose in Gypsy, Fannie in Funny Girl)
•Chorine, Female singer or dancer in a Musical Comedy, usually not bright and comedic.
(Drowsy Chaperone, Adding Machine, Kiss Me Kate, Curtains)
•Leading man (Curley in OKLAHOMA!, Billy in Carousel, Joe Boyd in Damn Yankees,
Fredrik in A Little Night Music, Herr Schultz in Cabaret, Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls,
Harold Hill in Music Man, Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, Emile in South Pacific)
•Sidekick AKA Second Banana (Will Parker in Oklahoma!, Marcellus Washburn in Music Man,
Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, Jeff Douglas in Brigadoon, Chip in On the Town)
•Wise old man or woman or Earth mother (Aunt Eller in OKLAHOMA!, Nettie in Carousel,
Madame Armfeldt in A Little Night Music, Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, Mother Superior
in Sound of Music, Lady Thiang in King and I, Ben in Secret Garden, Arvide in Guys and Dolls)
•Child (Chip in Beauty and the Beast, Sad Girl in Bye, Bye Birdie, Amaryllis in Music Man,
Gavroche in Les Miserables, Oliver in Oliver!, Annie in Annie, Colin in The Secret Garden,
Louis in The King and I)
You must know the age and sociological associations of the role you are auditioning for and
choose material that is appropriate. Also be aware that casting in musicals doesn’t always follow
the kind of casting your find most often in film. You don’t necessarily need to be 16 to play a 16
year-old. The material you choose needs to have the age of the character in mind, however.
Locating Sheet Music
The first place to look for auditioning material is in the Singer’s Musical Theatre Anthologies
published by Hal Leonard. Five volumes for each of the four voice types contain an amazing
wide variety of literature. Consider these songs the standard literature. You must own these
books and know these songs. It is crucial. These songs should be at the heart of your audition
book. You might think that these songs are all overdone, and maybe they are, but they are the
songs that the people behind the tables need to hear. There is another 2-volume collection for
each voice type published by Alfred. There are some things in these that are not in the Hal
Leonard books.
Of course, you must also look beyond these songs to enrich your choices. These songs,
depending on the situation, are going to be sung by many other people that day. It is prudent that
you find other resources. Large public and university libraries often have many musical theatre
full scores, especially those from the 20s to the 70s. They also will have vocal selections.
Vocal selections are the smaller folios that are published for the home consumer. These books
will generally have only the most popular songs as they are for public consumption. If you are
looking for more minor songs from shows, these songs may not be included. Vocal selections
contain arrangements of the songs meant for amateur singers to sing at home or small gatherings.
As such, the arrangements may differ from the show slightly or the keys may be altered to be
easier to play on the piano. Vocal selections are nevertheless wonderful resources for audition
For Pop/Rock songs, visit your local music store for individual sheets or collections by artist or
theme (such as The Greatest Hard Rock Songs Ever or Great 80s Ballads). The other place to
look is at sheet music websites such as musicnotes.com. You can buy single sheets and often
transpose them to your key!
If a song is not published, something that is often the case for more recent or less popular shows,
you may be able to hire someone to transcribe the song from a recording or you might know
someone who has done the show and has the score. Leave no stone uncovered. Finding the right
song is worth searching for and it is rarely an easy task.
Auditioning for the ensemble
If you strongly believe that you will not be considered for a leading role, what do you sing? The
first place to start is with the vocal demands and style of the show. Your choice or choices
should help those you are auditioning for see you in the musical. Your choice should also
consider the physical life of the characters in the ensemble. The ensemble for OKLAHOMA! and
On the Town have very different expectations even though the shows opened less than a year
apart. Remember that at a singing audition, the primary thing people are looking for is if you can
sing the score and if you “fit” into the director’s vision of the show’s world.
Finding cuts
Creating a great 16- or 32-bar cutting isn’t as difficult as you might think. The first thing to look
for is the most musically or lyrically special or identifiable moments of the song. You will also
most likely want to sing the song’s climax. The second thing is to sing the parts of the song that
are the best for your voice. If, however, you don’t sing the last high note well, you should
probably choose a different song.
The origin of the 16- or 32-bar cut comes from a time when most refrains were 32 bars long. A
32-bar cut then would mean to sing the refrain, but not the verse. A 16-bar cut would mean to
sing the last half of the refrain. If your song is not in a standard form, as is the case for many
contemporary songs, it is still preferable to start at the end of the song and work your way
backwards. By the way, if the last note is sustained for several bars, only count that bar once.
It is crucial that you mark your music clearly so that the pianist cannot be confused by your cut.
The best way is to present your music with only the bars you are singing. Nothing else should be
visible. This will take extra time on your part but it is worth it. An exception to this rule is when
you are doing a standard that has a first and second ending at the conclusion of the piece. The
pianist will assume that you are singing the second ending.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is it a good idea to choose unknown material? Probably not in most situations. It may seem
like a good idea to do a rare song to assure that you are unique, but it is often not a good idea. If
you are singing a song from an unknown or rarely performed musical, the people behind the
table may spend your audition wondering what the song is or why you chose this song. It may
seem counterintuitive, but you want your audition to be focused on you, not your song. Most
people do not tire of hearing “If I Loved You,” “Almost Like Being in Love” or “Unusual Way.”
2. Should I do a special fancy arrangement? Imagine that you have a friend who is a gifted
arranger who has done a special treatment of your Standard Ballad or maybe you have found an
interesting arrangement that a recording artist has done. It is not a good idea to do these
arrangements because, again, you want the focus to be on you and not the song or arrangement.
A traditional arrangement is preferred especially if you are doing a so-called Standard or a
musical theatre song.
3. Should I choreograph my audition? No. A singing audition’s primary purpose is to see if you
sing well enough for the production and to see if you fit into the world of the musical. Leave
your dance skills to the dance audition. You also should not have a great deal of movement in
your audition. All movement should be based in the character and situation and should not
distract from your singing.
4. Are there certain composers I should avoid? If you are auditioning for a Sondheim show, it is
acceptable to sing Sondheim. Otherwise, it’s probably not a good idea. His songs are complex
for the singer, the pianist and the listener. Due to the difficulty of the piano part, Jason Robert
Brown, Adam Guettel and Michael John LaChiusa songs are probably not good ideas either.
Their songs are often extended story songs as well.
Choosing Pop/Rock songs for auditions
In increasingly greater situations these days, people would rather hear Pop/Rock songs rather
than Musical Theatre songs. Everything from Hair to Les Miserables to Next to Normal to Rock
of Ages to The Lion King to All Shook Up, Pop/Rock songs are being asked for.
Here are some qualities that make a good Pop/Rock audition song:
1. A good Pop/Rock song is melodic. If the song is pleasant to sing and recognizable withou t
accompaniment, it is probably a good choice. Don’t choose a song with a limited pitch range.
You want a song that can show off your voice.
2. A good Pop/Rock song should be well-known or at least somewhat well know. It is wise to
choose a song that was released as a single and charted fairly highly.
3. A good Pop/Rock song should work with piano accompaniment only. Don’t choose songs
whose best attribute is its groove. If the song’s best quality is rhythm, it’s likely not a good
choice. Look instead for songs with a strong harmony.
4. A good Pop/Rock song has real Rock energy with a strong back-beat. The drums should be
playing for most of the song.
5. A good Pop/Rock song is better if it is more positive than negative.
You will need several Pop/Rock songs in your book. These include at least one uptempo song
from the 50s or 60s with a fun Rock or Motown groove. You will also need an uptempo and a
ballad from the 80s to today. It’s not a bad idea to look for piano-based songs by Billy Joel,
Elton John, Carley Simon and Ben Folds. Guitar based songs can work as well if they are strong
melodically and harmonically. The Beatles songs, although often guitar-based are wonderful
because they are well-crafted and melodic with strong, interesting harmonies.
Here is a short list of the artists that have a discography of great choices for auditions. Whitney
Houston, Stevie Wonder, Bonny Raitt, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Rick Springfield, Melissa
Ethridge, Phil Collins, Queen, Donna Summer, Sheena Easton, Janis Joplin, The Beach Boys,
The Beatles, Kelly Clarkson, Diane Warwick, Tina Turner, Styx, Journey, Christopher Cross,
Bon Jovi, Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow, Kenny Loggins and Michael Jackson.
In choosing a Country song, many of the same guidelines apply. Choose something with a good
melody, something that charted and something that will sound good with a piano. Many of the
Country songs of the last 15 years or so have much more in common with Pop/Rock songs. It is
better if you find a song in a real Country style. Don’t neglect the songs from the early days of
Country music. List artists.
Special Situations
What if you are auditioning for a season of 5 or 6 musicals?
The first thing to remember is that you cannot hope to show something for every show in a 16bar cutting. If you will most likely be considered for the ensemble, follow the suggestions above
for an ensemble audition. If there is a lead you are right for, follow the suggestions for
auditioning for a lead above.
What if you are doing an audition such as Midwest where you are auditioning for many different
Sing something that shows that you understand your type and how you will likely be cast. If
you could fit into several types of shows easily, you must simply make a choice. You must also
choose something that you sing extremely well.
Some Examples
Tell story of finding right song for Martha Jefferson in 1776.
There's nothing like her and her song. I asked what is the song like: it's a sweeping rapturous
song of the characters love of one man. It's also a waltz. I wanted to find a song that I could but
her essence into.
Wonderful guy
Auditioning for Sondheim
Since no two Sondheim shows are alike it's difficult to choose audition material. I personally
believe that it's best to choose a Sondheim song but change up how you do it a bit from the way it
was done originally. because the role you are likely right for has a specific point if view and
character, you can Taylor your audition to the character.
Say your right for little red in into the woods. There is no comparable character in his shows.
You'll want to try to ascertain her essence and put that into another Sondheim song. Little red is
young, independent, and a bit bratty.
Truely content might be a good choice
Of course, you might decide to not sing a Sondheim song and that’s ok. But keep this in mind.
Sondheim’s music and lyrics are smart. There should be a high level of intelligence and, ideally,
musical sophistication in whatever you choose.
Finding the perfect audition song is never easy. It is vitally important that you are familiar with
as much of the repertoire as possible. Always be on the hunt for new songs. For Musical Theatre
songs, you must be familiar with the original cast recordings for style and performance practice.
That doesn’t mean you have to follow the cast album slavishly. It also doesn’t mean you should
learn the song by listening to the cast album. For songs such as the so-called Post-millennium
repertoire, the best place to go is YouTube. But YouTube shouldn’t be the place you go to to
listen for original cast albums, unless you find those there.
Choose many songs and try them all out with a friend or a teacher. While you may think a song
is perfect, it is only perfect for you if it fits your voice, your personality and your type. Don’t put
songs in your book unless you love them. Work diligently on developing an audition book that
has songs for many, if not most, situations and do not forget to have a wide variety of songs.
Include comedy songs, standards, uptempos and ballads, as well as the many types of
contemporary literature.
Overused Songs
Here is a list of overused songs. Overused songs come and go. What is fashionable one season
may be okay in 4 or 5 years.
Adelaide’s Lament
All That Jazz
Big Spender
Broadway Baby
Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man of Mine
Castle on a Cloud
Climbing Up Hill
Corner of the Sky
Defying Gravity
Don’t Cry For Me Argentina
Embraceable You
Good Morning Baltimore
I Don’t Know How to Love Him
I Dreamed a Dream
I Enjoy Being a Girl
I Get a Kick Out of You
I Hate Men
I Know Things Now
I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out
of My Hair
I’m Holding Out for a Hero
I’m Not That Girl
In My Own Little Corner
Let’s Hear It For the Boy
Little Girls
Music of the Night
My New Philosophy
New York, New York
Not for the Life of Me
On My Own
Over the Rainbow
Part of Your World
Guys and Dolls
Little Women
Sweet Charity
Show Boat
Les Miserables
The Last Five Years
Girl Crazy
The Apple Tree
Jesus Christ Superstar
Les Miserables
Flower Drum Song
Anything Goes
Kiss Me, Kate
Into the Woods
South Pacific
Phantom of the Opera
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
New York, New York (movie)
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Les Miserables
The Wizard of Oz
The Little Mermaid
Ribbons Down My Back
Seasons of Love
Someone Like You
Someone to Watch Over Me
Somewhere That’s Green
Take Me Or Leave Me
The Wizard and I
There Are Worse Things I Could Do
Think of Me
This is the Moment
What I Did For Love
You Can Always Count On Me
Hello Dolly
Once Upon a Mattress
Jekyll and Hyde
Oh, Kay!
Little Shop of Horrors
Porgy and Bess
Phantom of the Opera
Jekyll and Hyde
A Chorus Line
City of Angels
Some shows to avoid:
Phantom of the Opera
Les Miserables
Anything by Jason Robert Brown
Jekyll and Hyde
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Vocal Colors
Someplace in this chapter I need to talk about the need for classical technique. You
won’t be able to achieve as many colors as you will want without it.
The human voice is an amazing instrument capable of a nearly infinite variety of sounds.
Because of unique makeup of each persons anatomy, no two voices are acoustically alike. In
addition to our physical makeup which would include each singer’s voice type (such as Lyric
Soprano, Dramatic Soprano or Mezzo), our sound is influenced by the kinds of music we listen
to, our favorite singers which we knowingly or unknowingly emulate and regionalisms.
In classical singing, there is traditionally a focus on unity across registers with a similar color
throughout that is fully vibrant and resonant. The better opera and art song singers are aware of
the power of allowing the text and the music to influence subtle or not so subtle changes to the
sound for the sake of better communication. These changes may include varying the rate of
vibrato, the brilliance, prominence of consonants, the ratio of head voice to chest voice and any
number of others ways. But, by and large, the classical Bel Canto aesthetic is concerned with
obtaining beauty and uniformity of sound above all else.
But for the musical theatre singer, character, situation and text are of supreme importance—of
perhaps more importance than beauty of sound. Beautiful singing is valued, even demanded, if
the moment calls for it but there would be very little worse than singing a song like "You Could
Drive a Person Crazy" or "You Can Always Count On Me" with the beauty you find in a
classical art song or aria. More than anything, the singer must sing in a manner that is consistent
with their character's truth in that moment. If the character is fearful, or mocking, or in love, the
voice can and should reflect that. If they are triumphant, hopeful, or in the pit of despair, the
voice should reflect that.
Vocal colors is a term I like to use when describing the virtually infinite ways the voice can
produce sound. Imagine a simple song such as "Happy Birthday" sung by an operatic soprano, or
as a young boy, or as a folk song, or as Marilyn Monroe famously sang to John F. Kennedy. The
changes in dynamics, vibrancy, resonance, intention and host of other things create dramatically
different versions of the song. In dramatic singing, vocal colors are an incredibly powerful tool
in communicating meaning and subtext.
In my experience, it is common for singers to be handicapped if they begin to think too
technically about the sounds they are making, especially in performance. Singing actors must
give themselves over completely to the objective they are pursuing and not allow their brains and
bodies to be divided by also thinking critically about the sounds they are making. I encourage
you instead to think about the images and colors in the song's lyrics and music and allow those
images and colors to influence the sounds you make.
When describing a singers vocal colors , some people might choose to use actual colors like
bright yellow, vibrant orange or deep navy blue. Or you might use words like bright, dark, warm,
clear, brilliant, breathy, vibrant, crisp or accented. Both kinds of descriptors are perfectly valid.
Use the words that are clearest and most meaningful to you.
Further Exploration:
Choose a recording by a singer you greatly admire of your gender.
1. What colors do you hear?
2. How easily do they change between colors or does the sound stay largely the same
3. Do color choices seem to correspond to images in the lyrics? To the tessitura? Do they
correspond to something else?
4. Now answer the same questions for singers of the opposite gender or singers who are not your
I would like to discuss an example of excellent use of vocal color—”Gimme, Gimme”, sung by
Sutton Foster in Thoroughly Modern Millie.
check punctuation
Vocal Color
Use of Vocal Color
A simple choice, nothing
more. This or that, either or.
Marry well, social whirl,
business man, clever girl.
Head-heavy mix, nonThis is the verse of the song
vibrato. Bright and clear. Soft and by keeping things very
dynamic. Yellow
simple, she helps set up the
conflict of the song.
Or pin my future on a green
glass love.
What kind of life am I
dreaming of?
The color grows richer here.
Here there is a bit more chest
voice in the mix. Just a bit
The change of color helps to
differ between to two options
for love Millie is weighing.
I say gimme, gimme...
gimme gimme..
gimme gimme..
that thing called love.
I want it.
gimme gimme..
that thing called love.
I need it.
Softer, as before. Yellow or
beige. Head-heavy mix. Very
pale, slightly timid vocal
color. A bit more vibrato,
especially on longer notes.
At the beginning of the
refrain, knowing that there is
an epic journey ahead, she
again is very simple and soft.
The addition of vibrato helps
to underscore the fact that’s
she’s talking about the kind of
love she most desires.
Highs and lows, tears and
laughter, gimme happy ever
after. Gimme gimme that
thing called love.
More chest in the mix. Even
more warmth. Blue.
The image of this love seems
to warm the voice.
gimme gimme
that thing called love.
I crave it.
gimme gimme
that thing called love
I'll brave it.
Think 'n thin, rich or poor
Gimme years, and I'll want
more time.
Gimme gimme that thing
called love.
Soft Belt. More chest voice
than head. Vibrato only on
sustained notes. Louder
Growing confidence in
knowing what she wants.
check punctuation
Vocal Color
Use of Vocal Color
Gimme gimme that thing
Full Belt. Red. Very warm.
called love.
I'm free now.
Gimme gimme that thing
called love.
I see now.
Fly, dove! Sing, sparrow!
Gimme cupid's famous arrow.
gimme gimme that thing
called love.
I don't care if he's a nobody.
In my heart, he'll be a
somebody to love me!
Determination. Strength and
confidence. Vibrato except
for the notable straight-tone
on the last word of this
section over the instrumental.
I need it.
gimme that thing called love.
I wannit!
here I am, St. Valentine!
My bags are packed; I'm first
in line!
Aphrodite, don't forget me,
Romeo and Juliet me!
Fly, dove! Sing, sparrow!
Gimme fat boy's famous
gimme gimme that thing
called love!
Of course, we can not know what Sutton Foster was thinking about when she recorded this. We
can only speculate. But we can be fairly certain that she was imagining the difference between
the two types of love that are possible in her life and the world she could imagine with the one
she choose. Using imagery will help you find new colors and new ways to bring life to a song.
Further Exploration:
Examine the following songs for changes in vocal colors. What are the colors? How are they
achieved? Speculate about why the colors are used. What do they communicate?
1.Painting Her Portrait - Maria Schaffel (Jane Eyre)
2.Simple Little Things - Audra McDonald (110 in the Shade)
3.At the Fountain - Brian d’Arcy James (Sweet Smell of Success)
Some of the factors that influence vocal color are dynamics, resonance, nasality, diction,
brightness/darkness, the amount of vibrancy and the amount of breath in the voice. As I
mentioned earlier, there are some vocal attributes in very singer that are intrinsic to them based
on anatomy. But every voice is capable of a wide variety of colors. Our goal at this point is to
find more colors and to explore ways we can utilize them.
Further Exploration:
1. Sing a passage softly then loudly. A song like “Oklahoma” or something similar uptempo is a
good choice.
2. Sing a passage with no vibrancy (i. e. Straight-tone), then with minimal vibrancy then full
vibrancy. Choose your favorite ballad like “Once Upon a Dream.”
3. Sing a passage at differing ages 5, 16, 25, 45, 65. A comedy song like “Broadway Baby” is a
good choice.
4. Sing a passage with complete connection using the syllable, "loo." Then sing it with a "Tat"
syllable. “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” a great on to use for this. Try another ballad. With this
exercise we are exploring articulation or how a note is attacked and whether it is sustained or not.
In these activities, you have explored many of the different kinds of colors that are possible.
Altering the dynamics will affect resonance and possibly diction and vibrancy. In order to sing
loudly, the voice will usually increase the amount of vibrato. Louder singing also tends to use a
greater amount of diction as we do when we really want to be understood. Singing without
vibrancy can also lead singers toward adding more breath in the sound. Singing at differing ages
will affect articulation, vibrancy, breath/tone ratio, nasality , and resonance. Little kids tend to
sing with more nasality. We're you more nasal when you sang like a 5 year old? Did you use less
nasality when you sang as a 65 year old. Older singers, in general, tend to place the voice farther
back with less nasality.
The last exercise above is primarily about articulation--the ways that pitches are begun, end and
the way they connect to each other. In ballads, the most common articulation is completely
connected or legato. In up tempos, especially uptempos from 1910 to 1945, the articulation is
often not legato or non legato. A legato articulation can communicate things like love or
determination, while a non legato articulation can communicate such things as playfulness or
So, how do we apply this to our work as a singer? Do we decide to make the first passage orange
and the next magenta? I don't think that this is the most productive way because it can put us in
our head and be distracting. Instead, I think the better way is to examine the song for images and
Let's look at “Much More”, the great ingenue song from The Fantasticks. What are the images
you find? Do you see specific colors? What are the emotions in this song?
Youtube: Much More The Fantasticks
I'd like to swim in a clear blue stream
Where the water is icy cold.
Then go to town
In a golden gown,
And have my fortune told.
Just once,
Just once,
Just once before I'm old.
I'd like to be not evil,
But a little worldly wise.
To be the kind of girl designed
To be kissed upon the eyes.
I'd like to dance till two o'clock,
Or sometimes dance till dawn,
Or if the band could stand it,
Just go on and on and on
Just once,
Just once,
Before the chance is gone!
I'd like to waste a week or two
And never do a chore.
To wear my hair unfastened
So it billows to the floor.
To do the things I've dreamed about
But never done before!
Perhaps I'm bad, or wild, or mad,
With lots of grief in store,
But I want much more than keeping house!
Much more, much more, much more.
In this song you have two specific opening images with associated colors.
A. Clear blue stream, icy cold
B. Town, golden gown, fortune teller
The first image could be sing with a sound that is brighter (suggested by ice), less vibrant (light
blue), and legato (suggested by the flowing stream). The second image could be sung with a
slightly darker tone (with the change of location from rural to urban and the color gold), more
vibrant (suggested by royalty and worldliness). I think it too much for the singer to think about
all these things technically. Instead, simply see the images and changes will naturally occur. Let's
look for other clues in the lyric or music for colors.
With the lyric, "I'd like to dance till two o clock" the music makes a dramatic shift from a
flowing legato to more non legato, separated sound in the accompaniment. Also notice that the
character of the melody transitions from a beautifully contoured tune to this passage that is
largely on a single pitch. Why is that? I can only speculate that the notion of dancing suggests a
more articulated, rhyming quality while the idea in this section of the lyric is about getting out of
of her fantasies and into the world and more into her body. The melody is lower and rhythmic.
What colors are consistent with these qualities. I would suggest a much less legato articulation
with increased diction which will help to make the interesting, syncopated rhythm stand out.
Further Exploration:
List other songs to examine for vocal colors in the lyric.
Who is the character? How old are they? Education? Life experience. (Contrast Louisa and
Petra). What are you wearing? Where are you? Outside is a different color than in a library.
Music. What does the music communicate? Soliloquy is a case study in this. There a many
different colors in one song.
A. Questioning
B. Playful
C. Disgusted
D. Loving
E. Determined
What are the images in the lyric and do they suggest specific vocal timbres?
Qualities of a Great Musical Theatre
During my years of teaching musical theatre and coaching actors, I began to compile what I
consider the crucial attributes of a great performance. Use this list while preparing a song and
evaluating a performance.
A great musical theatre performance has these qualities.
•All pitches and rhythms are correct4
•The performer is aware of indications such as fermatas, tenutos, caesuras and dynamics
•The changes in the music are motivated by the actor
•There is an absence of decrescendos at the end of a long pitches, especially at the end
•The last note has length and is sung without a decrescendo
•The ending of the song has a button, especially in up-tempos
In special cases, sometimes rhythms may be altered if the lyrical phrasing mandates a change
•Vocal colors change in response to the lyric and acting choices
•The singer does not listen to themselves while singing.
•The vocal energy affects the partner and, as a result, reaches the audience.
•There is a clarity of diction that does not draw attention to itself
•The singing style is appropriate to the song
•When a spoken lyric happens during a song, the energy is greater than the sung lyric, not
•When vocal licks are employed, there is a spontaneity in them and they support the lyric
and moment.
Text Analysis
•There is specificity in the song’s story5
•The phrasing takes the lyric’s punctuation into consideration
•The performer knows their super-objective
•The performer knows what the conflict of the song and their situation
•The performer knows the journey of the song and is able to live the life of the song
•There is a beginning, middle and end
•There is knowledge of the song’s original context, even if the song is sung with a newly
created situation
•The images in the song are clear to the audience
•There is physical energy
•The energy of the performance matches the energy of the song
•The physicality is that of the character, not the singer.
•The physicality does not distract from the song
•The arms are not disconnected from the body
•There is breath in the body that supports the singing voice
•The physicality is spontaneous and not choreographed
• The action and physicality of the character is present and specific even if there is no
•The physicality has variety
•The moment before launches the song
•The physicality does not distract or draw attention away from the face
•There is a lack of tension, especially in the eyebrow, forehead, and hands
•The breaths that are the breaths of the character, not the singer
•There is specificity in focus that is not too high, too low or too off center
•There are changes in action that respond to and motivate the musical changes
•Avoids finding the negative but instead fights for the positive outcome
•Does not play emotion
•There are a variety of emotions
The listener may not know all the details of your situation, but they will understand the essentials.
•The action precedes the corresponding lyric, not the reverse
•Has proper scale, not too big for the song or too small
•Has stakes that are appropriate for the song and situation
•Energy and volume are not equated.6
•There is joy in the act of singing
•Clothes do not distract from the song or performance
•Hair is not allowed to distract from the face and eyes
•The eyes are not closed, except in special cases
Analytical Tools for Song Performance
Parts of this chapter are in outline form only
I. Introduction to Critical Listening and Thinking about music
A. Why is it important?
B. Where do I start? The best place to start is with listening with an open mind and
attentive ears. It doesn’t require an advanced understanding of music theory.
II. Critical Listening: “Soliloquy”
III. Musical Components
A. Melody
B. Tempo
C. Rhythm
D. Orchestration
E. Form
F. Harmony
G. Musical symbols
IV. Analysis: listening while looking at lyrics. Sample #1: “Will He Like Me?”
V. Analysis: listening while looking at sheet music. Sample #2: “Painting Her Portrait”
VI. Conclusions
Musical Components for Analysis
Use these Six components to guide you as you look for meaning in music.
Soft can be energetic and all moments do not need to be loud.
1. Melody and melodic contour. This melody goes up while that melody goes down. This
melody is high while this melody is lower. A melody can be considered “melodic” if there is
a balance of contour (up motion and down motion) and step-wise motion contrasting with
leaps. Sometimes, as in the opening of “Will He Like Me?”, there is a purposeful lack of
traditional melody.
2. Tempo. This tempo is fast. This tempo is slower.
3. Rhythm can be predictable or smooth (“In My Own Little Corner” from CINDERELLA) or it
can be unpredictable or syncopated (“Something’s Coming” from WEST SIDE STORY). The
heartbeat rhythm is such a fundamental life-rhythm that when utilized can have powerful
meanings in songs like “Tonight” (West Side Story) or “The Story Goes On” (Baby). Rhythm
is an important component in understanding music that can sometimes be overlooked.
4. Orchestration can suggest moods and feelings. A flute can be sweet. A trumpet can be strong
and powerful. Timpani drums can be suggest majesty. A saxophone often is used to suggest
the sexual. A lone, high violin can suggest a plaintive quality. Listen to “Peter and the Wolf”
by Sergei Prokofiev for the ways that instruments can help to tell a story.
5. Form. Looking at the way a song unfolds in time with differing melodies and harmonies can
be a powerful tool for understanding a song. Before 1943, songs were fairly simple in
structure, usually in an AABA or ABAB form. After OKLAHOMA!, theatre songs like
“Lonely Room” and “Soliloquy” were often more complex as the situations and story-telling
grew in complexity.
6. Harmony. This can be intimidating to a lot of people but it doesn’t have to be. If you can do
in depth harmonic analysis, that’s great. But start by observing things like, “This is in a minor
mode” or “This music is dissonant” or “This music sounds exotic.”
7. Musical Symbols and representations. Music can represent or suggest things is time and
space. For instance, music that sounds like a March can represent a parade while a Waltz can
represent a genteel social gathering. A clock ticking can be represented in music because it is
essentially a musical figure of pitch and rhythm.
Will He Like Me? (She Loves Me)
Lyric divided by beat
Musical notes
Lyric divided by beat
Will he like me when we
meet? Will the shy and quiet
girl he's going to see be the
girl the he's imagined me to
be? Will he like me?
Amalia questions if she will
be attractive to the man she
has been writing.
Musical notes
The simple, non-melodic
melody at the beginning is a
perfect analogue to the
questioning lyric. I’ll call the
motive back and forth
between D and E the
“questioning motive”. She’s
working out her problem. The
melody opens up and
encompasses a full octave. It
moves from non-melodic to
highly melodic within the
span of only 8 bars! This
soaring melody in the second
half of this section is Amalia
letting out her true feelings,
desires and hopes out into the
Will he like the girl he sees?
She re-states her question in a
If he doesn't, will he know
new way.
enough to know that there's
more of me than I may always
show? Will he like me?
An exact melodic repeat. She
goes back to the problem. The
lyrics go deeper into her
worries and fears. She puts
the lid back on her hopes and
goes back to working out the
Will he know that there's a
world of love waiting to warm
him? How I'm hoping that his
eyes and ears won't
misinform him.
The B section starts with the
same melodic motive but an
octave higher. The melodic
idea that was first presented at
the beginning is now allowed
to fully flower. It has grown
into a fully developed
She opens up her heart about
what she has to offer the
relationship and her wish that
he will see that within her.
Lyric divided by beat
Musical notes
Will he like me, who can say? She re-states her question and
How I wish that we could
responds to the question for
meet another day. It’s absurd the first time.
for me to carry on this way.
I'll try not to. Will he like me?
He's just got to. Will he like
me? He's just got to.
Back to the A material. The
penultimate line in the A
section, “Will he like me” is a
fully step higher, intensifying
the question. The end of the
section, the melody is not
allowed to resolve. “He’s just
got to” ends on a dissonant
note, the second scale degree
of G major. A new
accompanimental idea is
introduced here, the steady
8th flow corresponds to the
ease she has when she writes
When I am in my room alone
and I write, thoughts come
easily, words come fluently
then. That’s how it is when
I’m alone, but tonight, there’s
no hiding behind my paper
and pen.
Here, Amalia takes stock of
the difference between the
two situations, writing when
she’s alone and the terrifying
thought of actually talking to
him. She’s much more at ease
when she writes to him alone.
“There’s no hiding behind my
paper and pen” has a steady
quarter note accompaniment.
This leads her back into the
last section of the song. The
accompaniment leading us
back is the questioning
motive, this time used to
broaden and expand.
Amalia describes how easy it
is to write when she’s by
herself and faces the fact that
things will be much different
when she’s face to face with
Will he know that there’s a
She returns to her thoughts
Like before, the B section
world of love waiting to warm about how much she can offer allows us to see and hear the
him? How I’m hoping that his this man.
full depth of her desires.
eyes and ears won’t
misinform him.
Lyric divided by beat
Will he like me? I don’t know. Back to the initial questions;
All I know is that I’m tempted questions that build in
not to go. It’s insanity for me intensity to the end.
to worry so. I’ll try not to.
Will he like me? He’s just got
to. Will he like me? Will he
like me?
Musical notes
Back to questioning. The
questions “Will he like me”
get progressively higher in
pitch, ending with the song’s
apex, F#. This dissonant note
helps to emphasize the lack of
resolution in the song. This
song has an “ending where
you start” arc.
Analysis you can use
The “questioning motive” at the beginning should be performed parlando, in a
rhythmically free, slightly non-legato manner. It’s a “non-melody” that opens up as she
moves higher and the question gets more passionate. There is a return to the “questioning
motive” as she goes back to working things out. Then there is a soaring melody as she
expresses her deepest wishes which can be more legato and non rubato. The rhythm in
the middle section is more flowing to express the ease she has when she’s alone. She
allows herself to express a completely different side to her character. As it moves back to
the low “questioning motive” we understand that she hasn’t really solved anything. This
music tells us that the arc is a “returning back where you start arc” or “spiral arc.” Be
aware that much of the melodic material is developed out of the two-note questioning
motive, reminding us that this moment is about her questions.
Lonely Room (Oklahoma)
Lyric divided by beat
The floor creaks,
The door squeaks,
There's a field-mouse
a-nibblin on a broom
And I sit by myself
Like a cobweb on the shelf
By myself in a lonely room
Judd describes his world.
Musical notes
There is a repeated half-step
in the orchestra that suggests
Judd’s conflict and tension
supporting a small melodic
range indicative of Judd’s
world. There is a
preponderance of downward
melodic motion.
Lyric divided by beat
Musical notes
But when there's a moon in
my winder
And it slants down a
beam'crost my bed
Then the shadder of a tree
starts a-dancin on the wall
And a dream starts a-dancin
in my head
And all the things I wish fer
Turn out like I want them to
And I'm better'n that smart
aleck cowboy
Who thinks he is better'n me!
“But” indicates that he has
secret longings for something
better than his hum-drum
The accompaniment responds
to these images with 16th
notes. This is the dream
dancing in his head.
And the girl that I want
Ain't afraid of my arms,
And her own soft arms keep
me warm
He allows himself to
verbalize the what he most
This new section becomes
much more melodic,
responding to the images of
love and embracing Laurey.
And her long,yeller hair, falls
a-crost my face, Jist like the
rain in a storm!
This is the best thing he can
There is a swell in dynamics
imagine. It is a simple, human supporting the passion he
feels. The melodic motive,
F#, G, A B, ends on the
melody’s apex, C#.
The floor creaks, The door
And the mouse starts anibblin on the broom
And the sun flicks my eyes
It was all a pack o'lies!
I'm awake in a lonely room.
But, here he is, as always, in a Almost an exact repeat of the
drab room realizing that this
first A section. He is back in
dream is not a reality.
his room, facing his
Lyric divided by beat
I ain't gonna dream 'bout her
no more!
I ain't gonna leave her alone!
Goin' outside, Git myself a
Git me a womern to call my
He makes his decision: to
persue his heart’s desire and
not just dream about it.
Musical notes
Here, at the climax of the
song, we hear new music. A
melodic motive, (F#, G, A B),
is used on “Goin’ outside/Git
myself a bride,”. The song
ends on the melodic apex, C#.
This is a non-chord tone of
the home key, B minor. The
final chord is B, C#, F#, an
incomplete triad
corresponding to Judd’s
emotional state.
Analysis you can use
The use the tension of the 1/2 steps and the non-melodic melody create Judd’s existence.
Because the opening melody is a “non-melody”, it should be closer to speech. When the
orchestra opens up in the B section, that’s a clue for a more expansive vocal production and
active character choices. For the first time, we see Judd’s hopes and dreams. It builds to the first
climax on “Jist like the rain in a storm.. There is then an important return to the initial emotion
place–Judd’s life is the same as it always was. But after returning there for a little while, there’s
an abrupt change with “I ain’t gonna dream ‘bout her arms no more!” Judd makes a decision to
act on his wishes.
Maybe This Time Analysis
Kander and Ebb from the musical, Cabaret (movie, then revival)
In the sophomore Music Theory for Musical Theatre majors, I require students to write a short
essay on a song of their choosing with these guidelines. What follows is an example I use in
class and then a few sample essays from the students.
Structure for your three-page paper
1. An introduction which gives a context for the song and gives us an overview of what your
thesis is.
2. Supporting evidence for this thesis–the body of the paper.
3. A conclusion which gives specific ways you can use this analysis in a performance.
This song is a perfect pairing of music, lyrics, character and situation. Sally Bowles is the cabaret
singer who has had few breaks and fewer successes in her life. When she discovers she’s
pregnant with Cliff’s child, she begins to believe that her life can turn around.
The song’s vamp is a snapshot of her life to this place–it crawls up (by half-steps) and just as we
think it’s going to continue, it returns to where it begins. But this is just the beginning of her
“epic” journey.
Some points to consider:
•The song is in an ABAC form. After a half-step modulation the second half of the song repeats.
The song’s form helps to reinforce this journey by increasing the intensity little by little as the
song progresses.
•The quarter note in the bass suggests the Sally’s determination.
•The first 4 bars are repeated in the next 4 bars at a higher pitch level, suggesting Sally’s success
and determination
•In the B section, “He will hold me fast” is supported by “embrace motive” of half-steps above
and below “b3”
•The C section is a development of the B material which takes the melody higher than before.
•There’s a half-step modulation to A-flat and the last two sections from before are repeated.
•The vamp at the end changes to one of hopefulness by moving up to “f3” instead of down as
Analysis you can use
John Kander’s music and Fred Ebb’s lyrics are an especially strong example of a perfect
marriage of the two components. The song was not part of the original production but was
instead added for the movie, written specially for Liza Minnelli, and as such, is one of the rare
cases where an added song is as unforgettable as the original material. “Maybe This Time” is
essentially Sally’s “I Want” song and it’s surprising that there wasn’t a moment like this in the
original production.
Both the music and the lyrics tell the same story–the story of a person who has been
down on her luck but is fighting to overcome the odds and will succeed.
Audition Book Song Categories
The following song types should appear in your well-organized audition book.
1. Operatic aria or classical art song. The piece should be something that shows technique and
2. Operetta. The Merry Widow, The Desert Song, The Student Prince and others by Romberg,
Friml and Victor Herbert.
3. Gilbert and Sullivan. These songs show diction, vocal technique and a sense of humor.
Women, select a song that fits your vocal range and color. Men, choose a patter song and a
ballad. Young mezzos can skip this category as all the mezzo arias are for the older, character
4. Early Musical Comedy/Tin Pan Alley or a Vaudeville Novelty Song. Choose an up-tempo
song that is catchy and straightforward that shows your charm, personality and sense of humor.
This is especially important for character men and women.
5. Standard Ballad and Up-tempo, pre-1943. George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and
Hart, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin are the places to start. You want to find something that you
can both act and sing well…something that shows your voice and your “essence.” Up tempos
should be something that allows your body to respond to the rhythm of the song.
6. Golden Age ballad and up tempo. Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Loesser,
late Porter, late Irving Berlin and many, many others. Choose something from a book musical
between 1943 and the late-1960s that fits your type. Depending on your type, it’s not a bad idea
to have several in each category.
7. Top 40 songs from these eras not from musicals:
A) Early Rock and Roll Uptempo. Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Early Beatles, Girl Groups
B) 1960s/1970s pop/rock. Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder,
mid- to late-Beatles and others. This category is not absolutely essential to your book but is a
helpful addition.
C) Country. From any period, by keep it faithful to the original. Don't make fun of the style.
Choose something that's “real” Country and not pop/rock Country of the last few years.
That style should go into one of the next categories.
D) 1980s Pop hit Uptempo and Ballad. Some suggestions include Elton John,
BillyJoel,Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Bonny Raitt, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey,
Rick Springfield, Melissa Ethridge, Phil Collins, Queen, Carly Simon, Donna Summer,
Sheena Easton, Janis Joplin, Beach Boys, Kelly Clarkson, Diane Warwick, Tina Turner,
Styx, Christopher Cross, Bon Jovi, Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow, Kenny Loggins and
Michael Jackson.
E) Contemporary Pop/Rock, two contrasting songs from the last 15 years or so. Perhaps one
song is a Pop song from the radio and the other is from a less-popular Rock band. There are
many, many modern shows that require a wide variety of different styles. Try to find songs that
are suitable for shows such as Spring Awakening, Rent, High Fidelity, and American Idiot.
8. Sondheim. Choose a song that shows intelligence, maturity and strong musicianship. N.B.
Funny Thing...Forum doesn't qualify for this category as it is so different from the style of the
rest of his shows.
9. Rock Musical (Ballad and up-tempo)from the late 60s to the mid-80s. Jesus Christ Superstar,
Pippin, Godspell, Hair, Dreamgirls, Chess, etc. This is about the combination of singing style
and acting skills. This category is becoming less important as most Pop/Rock show auditions
would prefer you to sing an actual Pop/Rock song.
10. 1960s/1970s Show tunes (Ballad and up-tempo, not pop/rock) Kander and Ebb, Cy
Coleman, Jule Styne, Jerry Hermann.
11. Contemporary musical theatre (Ballad and up-tempo). Jason Robert Brown, William Finn,
Ahrens & Flaherty, Andrew Lippa, Michael John LaChiusa and others. Choose songs that reveal
something true about you.
12. Disney or film tune. Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz songs are often over-sung. It’s
better to choose an earlier Disney song like the Sherman Brothers or any great song from a
movie (especially 1960s to 1980s). These songs are often very straightforward and well known.
The point is to sing a well-known song well so that they can really hear the strength your voice.
Avoid songs from Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Pocahontas. Look for songs
from earlier Disney shows. Really well know Film tunes, like “Moon River” or “It Might Be
You” can also be great for this category.
13. Contemporary Art Song. Ricky Ian Gordon, Adam Guettel, Georgia Stitt, John Bucchino.
Something that shows both acting skills, singing skills and strong musicianship.
14. Post-millennium (since 2000). Please be aware that not everything since 2000 qualifies for
this category. The Post-millennium style is best represented by folks like Kerrigan &
Lowdermilk, Joe Iconis, Peter Mills, Seth Bisen-Hersh, Chris Miller, Scott Alan and many
others. See Appendix 3.
15.Specialty number. This could be anything that shows something unique and special about
your abilities. Yodel, high soprano, comedy, patter, super high belt are some possibilities. Be
creative and outside the box.
16.African-Americans should have a Gospel song in their book.
17. The Money Cutting. Regardless of style or period, this short cutting (you need a 32-bar
version, a 16-bar version and an 8-bar version) shows you at your very best vocally and matches
your personality and strengths as a performer.
Some final thoughts and instructions
•Depending on your vocal and character type, it may not be necessary to have absolutely
every one of these categories. Some exceptions can be made for having Gilbert and
Sullivan and/or Operetta. However, everyone should have something that allows your
singing technique to shine.
•Prepare each song in its complete form (60 to 120 seconds. You don't need to do repeats), a
32-bar cutting and a 16-bar cutting.
•Music should be copied double-sided. If the music is on just two pages, present it in your
book such that the pianist doesn't need to turn pages.
•To avoid confusion, eliminate extraneous markings on your music. Clearly indicate
introductions and endings.
•None of the music should be cut off the page. Check the tops and bottoms of the pages
carefully. Reduce the copy ratio as needed. 90% generally works.
Follow these guidelines with assembling your audition book.
•Make all marks in dark pencil or black pen. Write legibly and do not use cursive as it can
be difficult to read.
•Audition books should be three-ring binders, no bigger than 2 inches wide. The super-large
binders make turning pages difficult.
•Write indications such as ritards and fermatas in the piano part, not the vocal part.
•Nothing should be cut off the page! This includes chords symbols at the top of the page
and the left hand piano staff at the bottom of the page.
•Reduce music, when copying from music books, to 90% to 92%. Most sheet music folios
are larger that 8 1/2 X 11.
•All music should be double-sided. If your cutting is only 2 pages, present the music
without a page turn.
•When making cuts in a song, present the music so the pianist sees only what she will be
playing. In other words, don’t just make X’s through the music or draw arrows where the
pianist needs to go.
•Be sure that the title, show, tempo, style (such as Swing) and composer/lyricist are at the
top of the page. This is especially important if you’ve made cuts where this information is
left off.
•When purchasing music from musicnotes.com or a similar website, make several copies so
you will have a clean copy as a back up.
•Use handwritten scores only when they are the only resource available.
•You may be fortunate to have access to Piano/Conductor scores. Please use these only if
they are not heavily marked up or if it is the only resources you can find.
•The best way to double-side music is to place single-sided music, blank sides facing each
other, taping the sides at the top and bottom and three-hole punching the music.
•Please do not use staples. They make turning pages difficult.
Include different copies of each song you sing marked clearly with each cutting. Songs you sing
frequently sing should have a 16-bar, a 32-bar and the full song as separate copies.
Learning to Riff
Learning to embellish on a melody, frequently called riffing, can be an intimidating thing to try
but it’s not as difficult as you might think. Riffing has increasingly become a skill that is needed
by the musical theatre performer as more and more shows are in a pop/rock style. This chapter
will help you with the basics of riffing. It is important that you begin slowly and resist the
temptation to try to have a finished product too quickly.
Riffing is a style of vocal embellishment that came out of African American work songs from the
early 19th century as well as early Blues and black Gospel singers in the early part of the 20th
century. It was further developed by R&B and Soul singers in the 50s and 60s. Elvis Presley
famously took “Hound Dog,” first recorded by “Big Mama” Thornton, an African American
Rhythm and Blues singer, and made it his own. The influence of an African American singing
style was then employed by Pop and Rock singers in the 60s and 70s to today.
It is crucial that the serious students listens to early great Blues singers such as Bessie Smith,
Robert Johnson, and Ma Rainey. Some of the great Gospel singers to listen to are Mahalia
Jackson, Shirley Caesar, Bertha Houston and others. Soul singers to listen to are Ray Charles,
Aretha Franklin, Eta James, Solomon Burke, Otis Redding, Fats Domino and James Brown.
More recent Soul-inspired singers are Prince, Sade, Eryhah Badu, Macy Gray, India.Arie, Alicia
Keys, Bettye LaVette, Maria Carey, Beyonce and Lauryn Hill.
In the late 80s and 90s, a new kind of riffing occurs in pop music characterized by very fast vocal
melismas done to the extreme. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, N’Sync
and the Backstreet Boys are examples. While this kind of riffing can be exciting, it can feel dated
and minimize the importance of the lyric.
Riffing should come from a need to express the text more fully. In Musical Theatre, most of the
time you need to have a strong reason and need to embellish the melody. This isn’t always the
case in purely pop music where riffing can sometimes be simply what is expected.
The first step is to sing the melody softly, simply and accurately, without embellishments. It is
only then will you know what to embellish on. Knowing what the actual melody is can
sometimes be difficult because sheet music is often published today with the riffs written out. If
you have learned a song by listening to a recording first, you must use your intuition and musical
judgement to decide what the unadorned melody is. Try to simplify and smooth out the melody.
For this chapter, we will begin with the Gospel song, “His Eye is On the Sparrow” (Fig. 1)
because the melody is published and because so many singers have` found ways to make their
performance unique.
As you sing, have a pianist play simple chords. Sing slowly and notice which tones are chord
tones and which are non-chord tones. The non-chord tones are labeled in the given example.
Learn the three primary types of non-chord tones as they will be useful to you as you create your
version of the melody. A basic understanding of harmony and chords will be very helpful as you
do this.
•Neighbor tone - a non-chord tone which steps away from a chord tone and back to a chord tone
•Passing tone - a non-chord tone which steps between two chord tones
•Appoggiatura - a skip from one chord tone that resolves by step to a chord tone
Fig. 1
Once you have mastered the basic song, it is time to begin looking at some ways to
change the melody. The most fundamental embellishments are found in Fig. 2.
After you have mastered these six techniques, you can begin experimenting with free
composition–a recomposition of the melody using the above techniques with additional liberties.
Be careful that the new melody agrees with the harmony. Sing slowly and listen carefully. (Fig.
Notice that many of the original pitches are present at the same moments and that the
shape of the melody stays largely the same.
In example 1, “eye is on the” is treated with simple neighboring tones, above and below,
then “sparrow” moves downward like the original melody, but not as far. In example 2, “why
should I feel” is recomposed by moving in the opposite direction. “Discouraged” is also
recomposed. “Why should the shadows come” is first embellished by moving upward more
quickly, and then reversing direction before moving up to C. “Come” is treated with a simple
neighbor tone.
Blue Notes
The flat 3rd, flat 5th (or sharp 4) and the flat 7th are pitches which give the Blues its
flavor. In the key of “His Eye is On the Sparrow”, C major, the flat 3rd is E-flat, the flat 5th is Fsharp (or enharmonically G-flat) and the flat 7th is B-flat. You should always know the key you
are singing in and know what the blue notes are as they are especially expressive.
Theoretically, Blue Notes may be sung closer to a semitone away from their closest
neighbor note. For example, the E-flats in Fig. 4 may be closer to the D neighbor tone than they
would be in other situations. This alteration from standard tuning systems evokes the “pain” that
is inherent in Blues.
Figure 5 shows one possible “riff” melody created from the various techniques. Try to
identify each of them. Notice that there are several places where a word or two has been added.
Also notice the places where the melody stays the same but the rhythm has been changed
Now it is your turn to create your own version of “His Eye is On the Sparrow.” Again, don’t try
to go too quickly. Have a copy of Fig. 2 close by so that you can recall and incorporate each of
the six techniques. Combining techniques will yield interesting and fresh results. Let your
imagination and voice be free and don’t try to be too complex at first. Once you have done this,
listen to the recordings of the song by Marvin Gaye, Mahalia Jackson, The Five Blind Boys of
Mississippi and Lauryn Hill.
After doing this work, feel free to move on to these Musical Theatre songs. For women –
“Whatever Happened To My Part?” (Spamalot), “Find Your Grail” (Spamalot), “I Am
Changing” (Dreamgirls), “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” (Dreamgirls), “Too Beautiful
For Words” (The Color Purple), “Raven” (Brooklyn: The Musical), “Once Upon a Time”
(Brooklyn: The Musical), “Small Town Girl” (Debbie Does Dallas), “Feels Like Home” (Randy
Newman’s Faust), “I Got Love” (Purlie), “I'm Just Movin'” (Working) “Take Me Or Leave Me”
(Rent) and “I’m Not Alone” (Carrie). For men – “All Good Gifts” (Godspell), “Go the Distance”
(Hercules), “Beethoven Day” (You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown Revival), “Let Me Drown”
(Wild Party), “Heaven on their Minds” (Jesus Christ Superstar), “Boy with Dreams” (Edges),
“Lost in the Wilderness” (Children of Eden), “Memphis Lives in Me” (Memphis) and “Someone
Else’s Life” (Tales From the Bad Years).
Some pop songs that are especially good to explore riffing are Hero (Maria Carey), (You Make
Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (Aretha Franklin), If I Were a Boy (Beyoncé). I Believe I Can
Fly (R. Kelly), Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) (Stevie Wonder), You Are the Sunshine of
My Life (Stevie Wonder) and I’ll Be There (Jackson 5).
New and Notable Young Composers: The
Post-Millennium Generation
This is my master list of Post-millennium composers. Some were writing before 2000 but
I use this term for its simplicity. Almost none of their music is in print but can be often be
purchased from their website or from newmusicaltheatre.com. The names in bold type are some
of the more well known.
Other sites: www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com
The music of these composers represents a new style, a new stream, in musical theatre
writing that, while sharing some commonalities with earlier styles, is unique. Some of these
songs and composers might be lumped in with other contemporary composers such as Jason
Robert Brown or Stephen Flaherty, but this music is a different kind of literature than composers
of the preceding generation. It is often more straight-forward and directly related to melodic pop
music while maximizing a dramatic situation. The vocal style is usually mix/belt for women and
pop/rock for men. The best way to familiarize yourself with this music is by checking out their
website and searching for their music on YouTube. The fact that few of these composers have
had success on Broadway currently is due to the economics of putting on a big show and that
most of their music is smaller in scale than the typical Broadway show.
Please note that not every song since 2000 is considered Post-millennium. Addams
Family, Memphis, Billy Elliot, Shrek, The Little Mermaid, Aida, The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten
Scoundrels, The Producers, The Light in the Piazza, Wicked and others are a continuation of
other, earlier traditions. The Broadway and off-Broadway shows that can legitimately be
considered Post-Millennium are Glory Days, Vanities, [title of show], and Bloody, Bloody
Andrew Jackson.
Post-millennium Composers
Jack Aaronson
Deborah Abramson
Scott Alan
Brad Alexander
Mark Allen
Gaby Alter
Barbara Anselmi
Michael Arden
David A Austin
Robert Bartley and Danny Whitman
Neil Bartram and Brian Hill
Rob Baumgartner
Nick Blaemire
Charles Bloom
Jeff Blumenkrantz
Eli Bolin
Jeff Bowen
[title of show] and Now.Here.This. are published
Bobby Cronin
David Dabbon
Julianne Wick Davis
Jared M Dembowski
Chris Dimond and Michael Kooman
Drew Fornarola
Paul Fujimoto
Jonathan Reid Gealt
Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler
Matt Gould
Daniel Green
Adam Gwon
Rob Hartmann
Peter Hilliard and Matt Boresi
Joe Iconis
Aaron Jafferis and Ian Williams
Stephanie Johnstone
Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk kerrigan-lowdermilk.com
Anthony King
David Kirshenbaum
Danny Larsen
Brett Macias
Michael Mahler
Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen
J Oconer Navarro
Ryan Scott Oliver
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Mike Pettry
Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham www.salzmanandcunningham.com/
Jeremy Schonfeld
Paul Staroba
Georgia Stitt
Jeff Thomson and Jordan Mann
Adam Wagner
Sam Willmott
Ask people if there are others I’m leaving out.
Do characters know that they are singing?
(I’m not sure where this should go)
Musical Style through History
Write a chapter about the changing styles through history. Use the website for the basic material.
Early musical theatre. Golden Era, post-golden era. (Modern)
Below you will find a brief description of some of the major Musical Theatre composer’s styles
and a link to a song about love from each. Make note of the relative importance of:
•musical style
•relationship between lyric and music
•the relationship the song has to the show.
Section 1–Operetta to 1943
Victor Herbert (1859-1924) Babes in Toyland, Naughty Marietta, The Red Mill
Rudolf Friml (1879-1972) Rose-Marie, The Vagabond King, The Three Musketeers
Sigmund Romberg (1887-1951) The Student Prince, The Desert Song, The New Moon
Rather than talking about each of these composers separately, I will give you some stylistic traits
for operetta in general. More than anything, operetta style is distinguished by its melody, often
written fairly high, which is meant to be sung by classically-trained singers. The harmony is
relatively simply in an early to mid-19th C. style. The rhythm of operettas is also often simple
with frequent use of waltz and other European dance music incorporated. The lyrics are usually
flowery, poetic and usually not very memorable, although Oscar Hammerstein contributed lyrics
to some operettas. The music is often indistinguishable from European opera, but with this
important difference–there is spoken dialogue between songs unlike Opera, which had sung
In his Omnibus program, "The World of Musical Comedy", Leonard Bernstein stated that in a
musical comedy, as opposed to an operetta, the music must not only be thoroughly American,
but have a "jazzier" tone to it than the music in operetta. Operetta does not sound or feel very
Deep In My Heart, Dear, The Student Prince (Sigmund Romberg)
Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Life, Naughty Marietta (Victor Herbert)
Indian Love Call Rose Marie (Rudolf Friml)
Vaudeville and Very Early Musical Theatre
Before Musical Theatre developed its own musical style, the music of Broadway was quite
similar to the popular music of its time. Vaudeville was a very popular form of entertainment
until the early 1930s, mixing the music of ragtime with Tin Pan Alley songs. Tin Pan Alley
songs are the popular songs published in New York in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that
sold millions of copies of sheet music.
The melody was very singable and and people bought the sheet music and sang the songs at
home. As you can hear in “I Wanna Be Loved By You”, the vocal style associated with this kind
of music was the opposite of operetta–untrained singers, belting out tunes. The harmony is
straightforward and the rhythm borrows from ragtime. There were also quite a lot of sentimental
ballads about love. The lyrics were about common people, often in humorous situations.
In this early style, there wasn’t an effort to match the musical style to the character or situation.
The composers were just trying to write warm and beautiful ballads or memorable, entertaining
up tempos.
I have chosen to give you a representative variety of styles. I wish there was more time to listen
to Irving Berlin. He is one of the great pop song writers who could effortlessly dash off a tune
that would have millions singing. His music never strived for high art, just indelible song after
I Wanna Be Loved By You from the musical Good Boy (1928) by Herbert Stothart and Harry
Shine On, Harvest Moon, a vaudeville song by Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth.
I Love a Piano, one of Irving Berlin’s first hits (1915). Quintessential Tin Pan Alley
Early Musical Theatre Composers
Jerome Kern
•Kern’s style is exemplified by the importance of melody above harmony and rhythm. He
stands at the cross-roads of operetta and the emerging American theatre style. His early
works sound like operetta.
•His melodies are unexpected. The melodies seems simple but rarely are. “All the Things
You Are” includes all 12 chromatic tones and is in three different keys!
• His songs are among the first to reflect the character that sings it. “Old Man River”, for
instance, sounds like a spiritual and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” sounds like a Blues song.
They Didn't Believe Me (The Girl from Utah, 1913)
Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man (Showboat, 1927)
All The Things You Are (Very Warm For May, 1939)
Ol' Man River (Showboat, 1927)
George Gershwin
•Rhythm and harmony are more important than melody
•He often has melodies with repeated notes
•He experimented with larger forms (Porgy and Bess, a piano concerto and orchestral music
like Rhapsody in Blue and American in Paris). More than anyone else of his time, wanted
to be known as a serious composer.
•He wanted to study composition with the French master Ravel, but Ravel said he couldn’t
teach Gershwin anything.
•He wanted to formalize the “American sound” based in jazz.
•His melodies often contain blue notes. These are the special scale degrees, flat 3 and flat 7,
that come from jazz and the blues. “The Man I Love” which we listened to earlier, is a great
example of this.
I Got Rhythm
Nice Work If You Can Get It
A Foggy Day
They Can't Take That Away From Me
Richard Rodgers (with Lorenz Hart)
•Melody is more important than rhythm or harmony.
•There are many melodic surprises
•All of his songs are theatre songs, never pop songs. He is the standard bearer for great
theatre ballads.
•He uses straight forward forms like AABA and ABAB.
•His melodies are less Operetta-like than Kern’s
•He didn’t strive for “importance” like Gershwin. He just wanted to write great theatre
Isn't It Romantic
My Heart Stood Still
Dancing on the Ceiling
The Golden Age of Musical Theatre
Below you will find the major figures of the Golden Age of Musical Theatre, from 1943 to the
late 60s. The first five song-writing teams are the most recognizable and identifiable. The teams
listed in “Others” either have fewer major shows or don’t have a single, identifying style.
Richard Rodgers (with Oscar Hammerstein II)
Major Shows: Oklahoma, Carousel, King and I, South Pacific, Sound of Music
•Simplicity and truthfulness
•Music is always character based
•No artifice
•Hammerstein's humanity, plain-spoken lyrics where emotion is direct.
•Full orchestra. Very little drums.
•No Jazz influence.
•Robert Russell Bennett's orchestration is a big part of the R & H sound. It is characterized
by memorable countermelodies and lush strings.
•Romantic, lush and designed to go directly to the heart
•Melody based. Not rhythm or harmony
•You leave whistling the tunes.
•Lyrics came first and melody follows.
•Many instances of hymn-like tunes. (This Nearly Was Mine, Bali Hai, Climb Every
Mountain, You'll Never Walk Alone, and Something Wonderful)
•Almost in love song like “People Will Say We’re In Love” and “If I Loved You”
•Memorable Character numbers like “I Cain’t Say No” and “A Puzzelment”
•Ballet music is important.
•Big choruses.
Oklahoma (OKLAHOMA!)
You'll Never Walk Alone (Carousel)
Hello, Young Lovers (King and I)
A Wonderful Guy
Lerner and Loewe
Major Shows: Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, Camelot
•They are easy to confuse with Rodgers and Hammerstein
•You could many of the same things about about their music.
•It's lush and orchestral.
•Not jazzy.
•Melody first.
•Bennett also orchestrated for them so the sound is similar.
•As compared to Rodgers and Hammerstein, their songs are more for the mind and less
from the heart. Lyrics are witty and ironic. “Shall kith not kill their kin for me”, for
•They seem less American because of the locations, both musically and lyrically.
•Unlike Rodgers and Hammerstein, the songs feel less like they could fit only in their
respective show. “Almost Like Being in Love” could fit in other shows.
•Some choral work but less than Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Ascot Gavotte (My Fair Lady)
I Could Have Danced All Night
The Simple Joys Of Maidenhood (Camelot)
Almost Like Being In Love (Brigadoon)
Jule Styne (with various lyricists)
Major shows: Gypsy, Funny Girl, Bells are Ringing
•The music is Jazz based. His songs really establishes the sound of the “show tune.”
•More rhythmic than Rodgers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Loewe
•Incorporates the sound of popular music
•Songs tell the stories of their characters and each of his shows has their own world with
internal style like Rodgers and Hammerstein.
•Almost no choral singing.
•Could possibly be confused with Loesser or Bernstein.
Some People (Gypsy)
Rose’s Turn
I'm Going Back (Bells are Ringing)
Don’t Rain on My Parade (Funny Girl)
Leonard Bernstein
Major shows: West Side Story, On the Town, Wonderful Town
Candide is unlike the others in style and scope
•Symphonic, big orchestra and bold orchestrations
•Jazz based, with the exception of Candide.
•Rhythm is the most important aspect but harmony and melody are complex and important.
•His melodies are difficult to sing and the harmony is the most complex in musical theatre
until we get to Sondheim.
•His shows feel very New York. It’s quite sophisticated.
•Could possibly be confused with Styne or Loesser
I Can Cook, Too (On the Town)
Prologue and Jet Song (West Side Story)
Somewhere (West Side Story)
Ohio (Wonderful Town)
Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick
Major shows: Fiorello, Fiddler on the Roof, She Loves Me
•Almost as much as Rodgers and Hammerstein, their music is at one with the shows. Every
show has a language of its own based on the location and the kind of story it is.
•Songs come directly from the character.
•Their music is less grand or formal than Rodgers and Hammerstein
•High degree of emotionalism.
•You can't imagine putting their songs in any other show.
•Can be confused with Rodgers and Hammerstein
•Frequent group numbers
If I Were A Rich Man Fiddler on the Roof
Matchmaker, Matchmaker
When Did I Fall in Love
Tonight At Eight She Loves Me
Adler and Ross (Pajama Game and Damn Yankees) Could be confused with Jule Styne or
possibly Bock and Harnick
Meredith Wilson (The Music Man and The Unsinkable Molly Brown) Could be confused with
Rodgers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Loewe. Lots of group numbers.
Charles Strouse (Major shows: Annie, Bye, Bye Birdie, Applause, Rags)
Burton Lane (Finian’s Rainbow, On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever) Could be confused
with Lerner and Loewe. Finian’s Rainbow could be confused with Brigadoon and On a Clear
Day could be confused with Jule Styne or Bock and Harnick.
Frank Loesser (Guys and Dolls, Most Happy Fella, How to Succeed in Business Without Really
Trying). Every show has a different style.
The Golden Age style
It's difficult to list traits that pertain to all shows from this era but a few of them.
•Big orchestra with lots of strings, brass and winds.
•Songs which are always plot-based
•An equality of importance between music and lyric
•Vocal styles are in generally one of two camps: Leading roles call for trained voices in a
light classical/serious musical theatre style and supporting/comic roles for singing actors
with less need for trained voices. As the period progresses there are times when leading
characters have the voices usually associated with character roles.
•Extended musical forms (beyond the usual verse/refrains of musical comedy) “Soliloquy”
from Carousel and “Lonely Room” from “Oklahoma” are quite complex.
•Choral numbers
The purpose is to give a broad sweep of musical styles so that students can identify composers or
at least style periods by hearing.
Post-Golden Age of Musical Theatre
Stephen Sondheim
Major Shows: Company, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park with George,
Into the Woods, Passion
•His songs set a high standard for theatre music and lyrics
•Many of his musicals are concept musicals, i.e. they don’t tell a linear story from
beginning to end.
•The music and the lyrics are highly integrated and support each other.
•Witty, smart lyrics and music that is more complex than the average Broadway show.
•Irony is common
•Musical dissonance is common and used for dramatic purposes.
•Almost no musical allusions to Popular music
•His songs are based first and foremost on the lyric with the music helping to communicate
the lyric and its subtext.
A Weekend in the Country A Little Night Music
Everybody Loves Louis Sunday in the Park with George
No More Into the Woods
I Read Passion
Kander and Ebb
Major Shows: Cabaret, Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Curtains, Scottsboro Boys
•The music of Kander and Ebb is frequently characterized by direct references to earlier
styles (see below)
•Black humor derived from cynicism, often pertaining to death (“Electric Chair”) but also
to other taboo subjects like Menage a Trois (“Two Ladies”), is common.
•Rhythm is the most identifying musical component.
Two Ladies Cabaret. Cabaret is based on the music of Weimar Cabaret sound exemplified by
Threepenny Opera.
Mister Cellophane Chicago. This is their version of the real Vaudeville song, Nobody written and
sung by Bert Williams.
Show People Curtains. The music of Curtains draws on the traditions of early Musical Comedy
exemplified by the shows of Irving Berlin.
Electric Chair Scottsboro Boys. The music of this show draws on the music of the Minstrel
Jerry Herman
Major shows: Hello, Dolly!, Mame, La Cage Aux Folles
•Lush, romantic music referencing earlier Musical Theatre styles. His songs are Show
•He is probably most similar to Jule Styne
•The orchestra is characterized by lots of strings and percussion
•A strong female lead in most shows, or in the case of La Cage, a drag queen.
•Herman’s songs are characterized by strong melodies.
Hello, Dolly! Hello, Dolly!
Bosom Buddies Mame
I Am What I Am La Cage Aux Folles
Andrew Lloyd Webber (with various lyricists)
Major Shows: Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats, Phantom of the Opera
•His shows are grand with big themes in bold colors
•The music often references Popular styles, especially rock, while at the same time, his
melodies resemble the operatic arias of Puccini and Verdi.
•Webber’s melodies are the most identifying musical component.
•Big orchestras with strings, brass and synthesizers
Buenos Aires Evita
Memory Cats
All I Ask Of You Phantom of the Opera
Claude-Michel Schönberg (with various lyricists)
Major Shows: Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, The Pirate Queen
•These shows are similar to the shows of Andrew Lloyd Webber in the importance of big
melodies in a lush musical style
•Vocal style for these shows is rich and bold with unique mixture of classical sound with
slight pop inflection.
•Frequent use of a modern recitative style (exemplified by the opening of “I Dreamed a
Dream.” These recitatives are often on a single note.
•Big orchestras with strings, brass, percussion and synthesizers
I Dreamed A Dream Les Miserables
Do You Hear The People Sing Les Miserables
The Heat Is On In Saigon Miss SaigonHallmarks
of Professionalism
A professional in the performing arts...
•has an endless curiosity about the world around them and the people with whom they share the
•has empathy for others.
•is passionate about their work without becoming obsessive and self-destructive.
•has the ability to work when tired, angry, frustrated or distracted.
•is capable of dealing with adversity in their career and relationships.
•has strong opinions but is able to see another side of things without losing their own point of
•seeks to find the positive in every experience.
•has character.
•is disciplined, even when they don't see immediate results.
•is responsible and carries through on agreed tasks.
Obviously, there are times when we don’t live up to these goals, but they will help to promote
success and personal satisfaction.Musical Theatre Song Study and Audition Annotated
Alper, Steven M. Next! Auditioning for the Musical Theatre. Portsmith, NH: Heinemann,
Extensive lists of dos and don’ts including what not to sing. Written by a working audition
pianist. Very practical.
Bell, John and Chicurel, Steven R. Music Theory for Musical Theatre. Plymouth, UK:
Scarecrow Press, 2008.
A unique book that helps with the basic musical skills one needs. It includes interesting
analyses of musical theatre songs.
Brunetti, David. Acting Songs. New York: David Brunetti, 2006.
Decent but slim book. There are more comprehensive books available. It contains short
chapters on song as monologue, gestures and focus, and auditions.
Caldarone, Marina, and Lloyd-Williams, Maggie. Actions: The Actor’s Thesaurus.
Hollywood: Drama Publishers, 2004.
Essentially a thesaurus for finding the perfect actable verb for any situation. If you can come
up with a verb that is close to what you want but not the perfect verb, look up that word and
you’ll see others that may be better. For example, “Abolish” lists Annihilate, Destroy,
Dismiss, Eradicate and Nullify.
Cohen, Darren, and Perilstein, Michael. The Complete Professional Audition. New York:
Back Stage Books, 2005.
An incredibly helpful and exhaustive book for musical theatre auditions. It discusses such
nuts and bolts as constructing the perfect 16-bar audition. Also helpful for choosing
appropriate material for a specific role. Highly recommended.
Craig, David. A Performer Prepares: A Guide to Song Preparation for Actors, Singers and
Dancers. New York: Applause, 1993.
Like Mr. Craig’s magnum opus, On Singing Onstage, this book takes the form of transcribed
coaching sessions within various styles such as Narrative show ballad, Theatre blues, Patter
song, etc. The best thing about this book for me is the way he is able to categorize songs by
type. Recommended primarily for that reason.
Craig, David. On Singing Onstage. New York: Applause, 1978.
Mr. Craig’s book was the first of its kind and influences nearly everything that comes after it
concerning theatrical song interpretation. The core of the book is a detailed process of five
steps for preparing a song. We all are indebted to this book. Highly recommended.
Deer, Joe and Dal Vera, Rocco. Acting in Musical Theatre: A Comprehensive Course. New
York, Routledge, 2008.
This is an extremely comprehensive textbook for the complete training of the musical theatre
performer. It leaves no stone uncovered. Highly recommended.
Kayes, Gillyanne, and Fisher, Jeremy. Successful Singing Auditions. New York, Routledge,
The best part of this book for me is something she calls the “FOAL process”– “falling off a
log.” It is a series of activities that help you to hone in on great material for you. The
remainder of the book gives very solid and practical advice although her perspective is that
of a West End professional.
Kayes, Gillyanne. Singing and the Actor. New York: Theatre Arts, 2004.
This is a vocal technique book for musical theatre singers. It comes highly recommended by
voice teachers.
Melton, Joan. Singing in Musical Theatre. New York: Allworth Press, 2007.
A series of interviews with musical theatre educators from around the world.
Merlin, Joanna. Auditioning: An Actor-Friendly Guide. New York: First Vintage Books,
For my money, the best, most helpful, most humane, most sensible book on the subject.
Moore, Tracey, and Bergman, Allison. Acting the Song. New York: Allworth Press, 2008.
Essentially an handbook for musical theatre educators in teaching song interpretation. Clearly
owes a debt to David Craig’s work but is less off-putting. This book may not be particularly
helpful to the young professional.
Oliver, Donald. How to Audition for the Musical Theatre: A Step-by-Step Guide to Effective
Preparation. Lyme, NH: Smith and Kraus, 1995.
Ostrow, Stuart. Thank You Very Much. Hanover, NH: Smith and Kraus, Inc., 2002.
A very slight book with a few lists of good songs to sing. Not particularly helpful in general.
Ostwald, David. Acting for Singers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
A big fancy book published by a fancy company. The musical theatre singer may be put off
by the fact that at least half of the book is about acting in opera. The technique here,
however, is solid.
Robison, Kevin. The Actor Sings. Portsmith, NH: Heinemann, 2000.
Singing technique for the actor who has had little experience.
Silver, Fred. Auditioning for the Musical Theatre. New York: Penguin Book, 1985.
Another early book on the subject. While the book is fine, I think there are better things on
the subject.
Suskin, Steven. Showtunes: The Songs, Shows, and Careers of Broadway’s Major
Composers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
An encyclopedic work about Broadway music. Indispensable. This is where I learned that
Meridith Willson didn’t write “My White Knight”! For musical theatre nerds only.
Standard Ballads
Standard Ballads are a must in everyone’s audition book. The first songs listed are the ones that
are not overdone, are about love or love lost and have a verse. These are the ones you should
look at first before looking at others.
These are the qualities of a great ballad?
Strong melody that will allow your voice to open up and soar
It’s about something of emotional substance
Lastly, I prefer standard ballads that have verses. When sung properly, verses do_______.
Rodgers and Hart
With a Song in My Heart (M/F) 1929
My Heart Stood Still (M/F)
It Never Entered My Mind (F)
Spring is Here (M/F but probably better for a man)
Have You Met Miss Jones? (M)
My Romance (M/F)
Isn't it Romantic? (M/F)
I Could Write a Book (M/F)
I Didn't Know What Time it Was (F)
You're Nearer (M/F)
Where or When (M/F)
It's Easy To Remember (M/F)
George Gershwin
But Not For Me (F)
A Foggy Day (M)
Somebody Loves Me (M)
Love is Here to Stay (M/F)
Cole Porter
You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To7 (M/F)
Easy to Love (M)
You Do Something to Me (M)
Hoagy Carmichael
The Nearness of You (M/F)
Irving Berlin*
The Song is Ended (But the Melody Lingers On) (M/F)
What'll I Do (M/F)
Jerome Kern
The Folks Who Live on the Hill (M)
I'm Old Fashioned (F)
Long Ago and Far Away (M/F)
They Didn't Believe Me (M/F)
Bill (F)
Harry Warren
I Only Have Eyes for You (M/F) 1934
You'll Never Know (M/F) 1943
The More I See You (M/F) 1945
I Wish I Knew (M/F) 1945*
women should change the lyric in the Verse to “lot of guys just a pleasing.”
James Van Heusen
Darn That Dream (M/F) 1939
Imagination (M/F) 1940
Other Composers
I Remember You (M/F)
Music by Victor Schertzinger Lyrics by Johnny Mercer 1941
I Cover the Waterfront (M/F)
Music by John Green Lyric by Edward Heyman 1933
I Can’t Get Started with You (M)
Music by Vernon Duke Lyrics by Ira Gershwin 1935
A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (M/F)
Music by Manning Sherwin and Jack Strachey Lyrics by Eric Maschwitz 1940
As Time Goes (M/F)
Music and Lyrics by Herman Hupfeld 1931
I'll be Seeing You (M/F)
Music by Sammy Fain Lyrics by Irvin Kahal 1938
Can't We Be Friends (F)
Music by Kay Swift Lyrics by Paul James 1929
The Very Thought of You (M/F)
Ray Noble 1934
September Song (M/F)
Music by Kurt Weill Lyrics by Maxwell Anderson 1938
Fools Rush In (M/F)
Music by Rube Bloom Lyrics by Johnny Mercer 1940
It's Magic (M/F)
Music by Jule Styne Lyrics by Sammy Cahn (1947)
It's You Or No One For Me
Can This Be Love?
You were meant for me
Too Overdone
These songs are great Ballads by be aware that they are sung frequently.
Bewitched (Rodgers and Hart)
My Funny Valentine (Rodgers and Hart)
Someone to Watch Over Me (Gershwin)
Embraceable You (Gershwin)
The Man I Love (Gershwin)
How Long Has This Been Going On (Gershwin)
I've Got a Crush on You (Gershwin)
Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye (Cole Porter)
Stardust (Hoagy Carmichael)
All The Things You Are (Kern)
The Way You Look Tonight (Kern)
Other Great Ballads
Alone Together (Schwartz and Dietz)
April in Paris (Harburg and Duke)
Autumn in New York (Duke)
Body and Soul (Green)
Dancing in the Dark (Schwartz and Dietz)
Day by Day
Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread)
I Can't Give You Anything But Love (Fields and McHugh)
Secret Love (Fain)
Skylark (Carmichael)
Something to Remember You By (Schwartz and Dietz)
Time After Time (Styne)
What's New (Haggart)
You and the Night and the Music (Schwartz and Dietz)
You Are Too Beautiful (Rodgers and Hart)
You Go to My Head (Coots)
The Boy Next Door (Martin and Blane)
Come Rain or Come Shine (Arlen)
He Loves and She Loves (Gershwin)
I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan (Schwartz and Dietz)
Love Walked In (Gershwin)
The Song is You (Kern)
Stardust (Carmichael)
These Foolish Things
Unforgettable (Gordon)
Why Was I Born (Kern)
Uptempo Standards
True Uptempo standards are usually in 2 (with the time signature or 2/4 or 4/4, never 3/4) and
are not swung. The tempo is bright, with a metronome marking of at least 120 (which is the
tempo of Stars and Stripes Forever). Charm songs can sometimes be confused for Uptempo
Standards. A Charm song has a moderate tempo and is in a swing style. Here are some classic
examples of Standards and their classification.
Uptempo - I Got Rhythm, I Can’t Be Bothered Now, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off
Charm Song - Singing' in the Rain, If I Only Had a Brain
Ballad - Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Somebody Loves Me, The Man I Love
Things to look for when choosing an uptempo Standard:
1. The music should make you want to dance.
2. It was probably written for either a Broadway show or movie.
3. It should be actable. These songs are not complex lyrically or contain deep thoughts, but it
should be something that you can create a situation for.
The greatest composers for Uptempos are
Al Dubin
Nacio Herb Brown
Walter Donaldson
Vernon Duke
Duke Ellington
Sammy Fain
George Gershwin
Irving Berlin
Ray Henderson
Herman Hupfeld
Isham Jones
Jerome Kern
Jimmy McHugh
Cole Porter
Rodgers and Hart
Gus Kahn
Schwartz and Dietz
Jimmy Van Heusen
Harry Warren
Richard Whiting
Vincent Youmans
Here are some great specific Uptempos
Look in song books for more
Clap Yo' Hands
Love is Sweeping the Country
I Can't Be Bothered Now
Lady Be Good
Let's Call the Whole Thing Off
Slap That Bass (it's swing, but it's fast swing)
I Got Rhythm
Fascinating Rhythm (it's swing, but it's fast swing)
They All Laughed
Could You Use Me
Oh, Lady Be Good!
'S Wonderful
Strike Up the Band
Of Thee I Sing
Who Cares?
Could You Use Me?
Rodgers and Hart
Lady is a Tramp
I Wish I were in Love Again
Johnny One Note
Ev'rything I've Got
Thou Swell
It's Got to Be Love (no verse)
You Mustn't Kick it Around
You Took Advantage of Me
Mountain Greenery
I'd Rather Be Right
Dancing on the Ceiling
The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
Mountain Greenery
This Can't Be Love
Cole Porter
Anything Goes
Under My Skin
Let's Do It
I Get a Kick Out of You
You're the Top
Blow, Gabriel, Blow
It's De-Lovely
Just One of Those Things
Begin the Bequine
Night and Day
You Do Something to Me
From This Moment On
Hugh Martin
What Do You Think I Am
The Trolley Song
Pass That Peace Pipe
Gotta Dance
Irving Berlin
Blue Skies
I'm Putting All My Eggs In One Basket (This could be a Charm song)
Let Yourself Go
Top Hat, White Tie and Tails
Cheek to Cheek
Puttin' on the Ritz
I Used To Be Color Blind
No Strings (I'm Fancy Free)
Steppin' Out With My Baby
When Winter Comes
I Love a Piano
Harry Warren
Chattanooga Choo-Choo
Lulu's Back in Town
You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me
Forty-Second Street
I Found a Million Dollar Baby (In a Five and Ten Cent Store)
Lullaby of Broadway
Young and Healthy
We’re In the Money
Harold Arlen
Get Happy
It's Only a Paper Moon
That Old Black Magic
Down With Love
I've Got the World on a String
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Let's Fall in Love
You Make Me Feel So Young (1946) (Myrow)
High Hopes (Van Heusen) (1958)
On the Sunny Side of the Street (McHugh)
I'm Just Wild About Harry (is there a verse?) (Blake)
Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart (is there a verse?) (Hanley)
Pick Yourself Up (Kern)
I Want to Be Happy (Youmans)
Who (Kern)
I Want to Be Bad (DeSylva, Brown and Henderson)
Varsity Drag (DeSylva, Brown and Henderson)
Button up Your Overcoat (DeSylva, Brown and Henderson)
Fine and Dandy (James and Swift)
Lullaby of Birdland (Shearing)
Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone (Stept)
I Won't Dance (Kern)
I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter (Ahlert)
I'm Just Wild About Harry (Sissle and Blake)
Who? (Kern)
Charm Songs
Am I Blue? (Akst and Clarke)
Singin’ in the Rain (Nacio Herb Brown)
If I Only Had a Brain (Arlen)
Jazzy Songs that could that could be considered an Uptempo
It Had to Be You (Jones)—This is more a jazz song than and Uptempo
Lullaby of Birdland (1952) (Shearing)
Ain't Misbehavin (Waller) (no verse?)
I'm Beginning to See the Light (no verse) (Ellington)
It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got that Swing) (Ellington)
Gilbert And
Sullivan Arias
The operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan present a unique performance style that you may be called
upon to master. You may wonder why Gilbert & Sullivan operettas continue to be performed
regularly in mainstream musical theater venues when most others have been relegated to the
sideline as curiosities. It’s probably a combination of factors: music of substance, genuinely
clever lyrics, and general audience accessibility certainly help. But probably the madcap
absurdity of the settings (what they called “TopsyTurvy”) removes them from the strictly
Victorian context in which they were written and make them oddly universal. It is claimed that
The Mikado is the most performed work in the history of theater, but whether that is strictly true
or not, the thirteen Gilbert and Sullivan shows remain an absolutely essential part of the musical
theater world.
To be more accurate, one should say that just three Gilbert and Sullivan works remain essential.
These are often referred to as “The Big 3” and are HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and
The Mikado. You will find these included regularly in season offerings by regional theater
companies. Three other shows, Iolanthe, The Yeomen of the Guard, and The Gondoliers surface
in general productions from time-to-time so it is worth being familiar with these as well. The
remainder of their shows, Patience, The Sorcerer, Princess Ida, Trial By Jury, Ruddigore, The
Grand Duke, and Utopia, Limited, while possessing many pleasures, are not likely to be
performed except by the specialty G&S companies that thrive in cities across the country, chief
of which is the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players. It is worth becoming familiar with some
of the principal arias from the lesser-performed works as audition pieces.
In terms of performance style and requirements for performers, each of these works is built on a
remarkably uniform model. These shows really do call for “types” and it is nearly impossible for
a successful production to vary from these types. Because The Big 3 are performed so
frequently, directors often try add a new twist by changing the setting: HMS Pinafore aboard the
Starship Enterprise, The Mikado populated by modern, Hello Kitty! obsessed schoolgirls, Pirates
of Penzance modified to fit a Pirates of the Caribbean sensibility, to name just a few. But even
in the most absurd settings, the musical treatment and demands on the singers remain essentially
the same.
Here are the types. Your first task is to understand which type suits you. It unlikely for a single
performer to fit comfortably into more than one type.
The Hero (lyric tenor): Virtuous, earnest, handsome. (Ralph in Pinafore, Frederick in Pirates,
Nanki-Poo in Mikado)
His Love Interest (soprano): Legit soprano with coloratura opportunities. This character could
be thought of as the ingenue, except that due to oddities in performance style, older performers
are often cast here, as long as they are thin. (Josephine in Pinafore, Mabel in Pirates, Yum-Yum
in Mikado)
Baffled Lyric Baritone (baritone): This character is usually the girl’s father or is some other
way linked to the hero and often is one of the central characters in the standard triple wedding
scene which brings the action to a close. Even though he is always a comic character, his songs
are among the most melodic and memorable of the score. (Captain Corcharan in Pinafore, The
Pirate King in Penzance, Pooh-Bah in Mikado)
Older Woman with a Secret (mezzo): Imposing mezzo with bold presence. Very often these
roles are given to larger women for the comic effect of matching them with the Patter-Singing
Character (see below) who is traditionally small. (Buttercup in Pinafore, Ruth in Pirates,
Katisha in Mikado)
Patter-singing Character (baritone): Always a comic character whose comic skills are more
important than singing voice. Main requirement is the ability to throw off the patter song
quickly with excellent diction. (Sir Joseph in Pinafore, Major General in Pirates, Ko-Ko in
Those five are absolutely essential. In addition, these types also always appear, but sometimes
with varying levels of significance or duplication:
Soubrette (mezzo): friend or confidant to the leading lady. Usually has a solo but provides a
voice in the trios and quartets as the plot allows. These often come in pairs! (Edith and Kate in
Pirates, Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo in Mikado)
Villain (bass): Classic villain type; can almost be considered as a male counterpoint to the
Older Woman with a Secret. (Dick Deadeye in Pinafore, Sergeant of Police in Pirates, The
Mikado in Mikado)
Male Side Kick (baritone): Roughly the male equivalent of the soubrettes, usually friend or
companion to the Hero. Like the soubrette, this character has a minor feature and then fills out
the various small ensembles. (Boatswain in Pinafore, Samuel in Pirates, Pish-Tush in Mikado)
'Tis Done! I Am A Bride (The Yeomen Of The Guard)
A Lady Fair Of Lineage High (Princess Ida)
A Simple Sailor Lowly Born (HMS Pinafore)
Happy Young Heart (The Sorcerer)
How Would I Play This Part (The Grand Duke)
I Built Upon A Rock (Princess Ida)
I Cannot Tell What This Love May Be (Patience)
If Somebody There Chanced To Be (Ruddigore)
Love Is A Plaintive Song (Patience)
Oh, Goddess Wise (Princess Ida)
Poor Wand'ring One (The Pirates Of Penzance)
So Ends My Dream (The Grand Duke)
Sorry Her Lot Who Loves Too Well (HMS Pinafore)
The Sun, Whose Rays Are All Ablaze (The Mikado)
When He Is Here (The Sorcerer)
A Lady Fair Of Lineage High (Princess Ida)
Alone, And Yet Alive (The Mikado)
Cheerily Carols The Lark (Ruddigore)
Come Mighty Must! (Princess Ida)
I'm Called Little Buttercup (HMS Pinafore)
My Lord, A Suppliant At Your Feet (Iolanthe)
Oh, Foolish Fay (Iolanthe)
On The Day When I Was Wedded (The Gondoliers)
Silver'd Is The Raven Hair (Patience)
Sir Rupert Murgatroyd (Ruddigore)
To A Garden Full Of Posies (Ruddigore)
Were I Thy Bride (The Yeomen Of The Guard)
When A Merry Maiden Marries (The Gondoliers)
When But A Maid Of Fifteen Years (Utopia Limited)
When Frederic Was A Little Lad (The Pirates Of Penzance)
When Maiden Loves, She Sits And Sighs (The Yeomen Of The Guard)
When Our Gallant Norman Foes (The Yeomen Of The Guard)
A Maiden Fair To See (HMS Pinafore)
A Tenor , All Singers Above (Utopia Limited)
A Wand'ring Minstrel I (The Mikado)
Fair Moon, To Thee I Sing (HMS Pinafore)
For Love Alone (The Sorcerer)
Free From His Fetters Grim (The Yeomen Of The Guard)
I Shipped, D'ye See (Ruddigore)
Is Life A Boon? (The Yeomen Of The Guard)
It Is Not Love (The Sorcerer)
Oh, Gentlemen, Listen, I Pray (Trial By Jury)
Oh, Is There Not One Maiden Breast (Pirates)
Rising Early In The Morning (The Gondoliers)
Spurn Not The Nobly Born (Iolanthe)
Take A Pair Of Sparkling Eyes (The Gondoliers)
Twenty Years Ago (Princess Ida)
When First My Old, Old Live I Knew (Trial By Jury)
Would You Know The Kind Of Maid (Princess Ida)
Engaged To So-And-So (The Sorcerer)
As Some Day It May Happen (The Mikado)
Fair Moon, To Thee I Sing (HMS Pinafore)
I Am A Pirate King (The Pirates Of Penzance)
I Am The Captain of the Pinafore (HMS Pinafore)
I Am The Very Model (Pirates Of Penzance)
I've Jibe And Joke (The Yeomen Of The Guard)
If You Give Me Your Attention (Princess Ida)
My Boy, You May Take It From Me (Ruddigore)
My Name Is John Wellington Wells (The Sorcerer)
No Possible Doubt Whatever (The Gondoliers)
The Policeman's Song (The Pirates Of Penzance)
Time Was, When Love And I (The Sorcerer)
Tit-Willow (The Mikado)
When All Night Long A Chap Remains (Iolanthe)
When I Was A Lad I Served A Term (HMS Pinafore)
When You're Lying Awake With A Dismal Headache (Iolanthe)
Whene'er I Spoke (Princess Ida)
Vaudeville Songs
Text about Sondheim. Songs divided by voice type but I encourage you to look in both high
voice and low voice for songs as many of these can be sung by both.
Guide to Sources
TSMTA=The Singer’s Musical Theatre Anthology
AS 1 = All Sondheim Volume 1 and so forth
SSFT = Stephen Sondheim Film and Television Songs
Vocal Score indicates the Piano/Conductor vocal score
Comments and Sources
All Things Bright and
A Parade In Town
Can That Boy Fox-Trot
Marry Me a Little
Anyone Can Whistle
AS 2 (Soprano/Tenor Duet but can be
made into a solo)
AS 1 (Eb major. Lower in the score.)
Vocal Score
Children Will Listen
Into the Woods
Singing Out Loud
AS 4
Green Finch And Linnet
I Remember
Sweeney Todd
AS 4 (Solo Version)
The Evening Primrose TSMTA 3
Like It Was
Merrily we Roll Along AS 3 (In F major. Lower in the score)
A Funny Thing
Happened on the Way
to the Forum
Sunday in the Park
AS 4 (Duet in the show but this is a solo)
Merrily We Roll Along TSMTA 1
Move On
Not A Day Goes By
Comments and Sources
On The Steps Of The Palace Into the Woods
One More Kiss
So Many People
Singing Out Loud
Saturday Night
AS 4
Take Me To The World
The Evening Primrose TSMTA 2
That'll Show Him
The Girls Of Summer
A Funny Thing
Happened on the Way
to the Forum
Marry Me a Little
The Glamorous Life
A Little Night Music
The Two of You
Kukla, Fran and Ollie AS 4
They Ask Me Why I
Believe in You
Water Under the Bridge
I Believe in You
AS 4
Singing Out Loud
Too Many Mornings
AS 4
A Parade In Town
Ah, But Underneath
Another Hundred People
Anyone Can Whistle
Back In Business
Broadway Baby
By The Sea
Children and Art
Could I Leave You?
Do I Hear a Waltz?
Everybody Loves Louis
Anyone Can Whistle
Anyone Can Whistle
Dick Tracy
Sweeney Todd
Sunday in the Park
With George
Do You Hear a Waltz?
Sunday in the Park
Comments and Sources
Vocal Score, In Bb
Vocal Score
AS 4
Getting Married Today
Goodbye For Now
I Know Things Now
I Never Do Anything Twice
Comments and Sources
Vocal Score
Reds (Film)
Into the Woods
Vocal Score
The Seven-Per-Cent AS 1
Solution (Film)
I Read
Vocal Score
I'm Still Here
I’m Still Here
AS 1
In Buddy's Eyes
Isn’t He Something
Road Show
Vocal Selections
Isn’t It?
Saturday Night
M (Baritone) or F (Mezzo)
Last Midnight
Into the Woods
Vocal Score
A Little Night Music AS 3
Losing My Mind
Loving You
Vocal Score
Maybe They’re Magic
Into the Woods
Vocal Score
Me and My Town
Anyone Can Whistle Vocal Score
Moments in the Woods
Into the Woods
Vocal Score
Dick Tracy
Now You Know
Merrily we Roll Along TSMTA 2
Send In the Clowns
A Little Night Music TSMTA 1
Sooner or Later
Dick Tracy
Sunday in the Park With George
Sunday in the Park
Vocal Score
With George
That Dirty Old Man
A Funny Thing
Vocal Score
Happened on the Way
to the Forum
The Ladies Who Lunch
The Little Things You Do Together Company
AS 1
The Miller's Son
A Little Night Music TSMTA 1
The Story of Lucy and Jessie
AS 4
The Worst Pies In London
Sweeney Todd
There Won't Be Trumpets
Anyone Can Whistle TSMTA 2
Truly Content
Marry Me a Little
AS 3
Uptown, Downtown
Sweeney Todd
AS 3
What More Do I Need?
Marry Me a Little
AS 2
All Things Bright and Beautiful
Marry Me a Little
Beautiful Girls
Being Alive
Buddy’s Blues
Finishing the Hat
Franklin Shepard, Inc.
Giants in the Sky
I’m Calm
Ladies and their Sensitivities
Live, Laugh Love
Love, I Hear
Lucy and Jessie
Make the Most of Your Music
Multitudes of Amys
Not While I’m Around
Someone is Waiting
The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me
What Can You Lose?
Who’s That Woman
Comments and
AS 2
Duet but can be
made into a solo)
Sunday in the Park With George TSMTA 1
Merrily We Roll Along
Vocal Score
A Funny Thing Happened on the TSMTA 4
Way to the Forum
Into the Woods
A Funny Thing Happened on the Vocal Score
Way to the Forum
Sweeney Todd
Sweeney Todd
A Little Night Music
Vocal Score
Vocal Score
A Funny Thing Happened on the TSMTA 1
Way to the Forum
AS 3
AS 4
Sweeney Todd
Road Show
Vocal Selections
Vocal Score
Dick Tracy
Vocal Score
Bring Me My Bride
A Funny Thing Happened on TSMTA 4
the Way to the Forum
Sweeney Todd
Vocal Score
Anyone Can Whistle
The Frogs
AS 2
Merrily We Roll Along
Merrily we Roll Along
AS 4
Everybody Says Don’t
Fear No More
Good Thing Going
Growing Up
Comments and
Happily Ever After
I Remember That
If You Can Find Me, I’m Here
In Praise of Women
Invocation and Instructions to the
Is This What You Call Love?
It’s In Your Hands Now
Lesson #8
Little Dream
Live Alone and Like It
Marry Me a Little
No More
Marry Me a Little
Saturday Night
The Evening Primrose
A Little Night Music
The Frogs
AS 4
AS 2
Road Show
Sunday in the Park
The Birdcage
Dick Tracy
Into the Woods
No, Mary Ann
Pleasant Little Kingdom
Pretty Little Picture
The Thing of It Is
A Little Night Music
A Funny Thing Happened
on the Way to the Forum
Sunday in the Park
Marry Me a Little
Road Show
Vocal Score
Vocal Selections
Vocal Score
Vocal Score (Duet in
the show but can be
adapted into a solo)
AS 4
Vocal Score
AS 4
Vocal Score
Putting It Together
Silly People
That Old Piano Roll
The Best Thing That Ever Has
The Game
The Right Girl
The Road You Didn’t Take
The World’s Full of Girls
With So Little To be Sure Of
You Must Meet My Wife
Your Eyes Are Blue
Too Many Mornings
Do I Hear a Waltz?
Isn’t It?
What More Do I Need?
Comments and
AS 3
AS 2
AS 4
Vocal Selections. Duet
in the show but can be
adapted into a solo
Road Show
Vocal Selections
AS 4
The Evening Primrose
Anyone Can Whistle
A Little Night Music
AS 1
A Funny Thing Happened on TSMTA 5
the Way to the Forum
AS 4
Do You Hear a Waltz?
AS 4
Saturday Night
Marry Me a Little
AS 2
Appoggiatura - a skip from one chord tone that resolves by step to a chord tone
Ballad - a slow or moderately slow song.
Bel Canto style - a style of singing characterized by beauty of tone. Legato and evenness across
the registers are trademarks of this style.
Blue Note
Book Musical
Charm song
Concept Musical
Enharmonic-a pitch that is equivalent to another note but spelled differently. Bb and A# are
enharmonically the same pitch.
essence-the gist of a character's psychology, manner, personae.
I Want Song (A song of disclosure is a term I prefer)
Indicating, indication. Gestures made by an actor that demonstrate or illustrate what she is
talking about. It's discouraged except in a few special instances. If the image you're speaking of
is complex and needs help in communicating. Finishing the hat.
Internal rhyme
Melisma - more than one pitch on a single syllable.
Melodic apex
Melodic motive
Melodic nadir
Modified song form ABAB
Musical Theatre Verse as opposed to a Pop/Rock Verse
Neighbor tone - a non-chord tone which steps away from a chord tone and back to a chord tone
Non legato
OCR - Original Cast Album
Other -The person you are speaking to in a song. The other can be yourself by imagining the
you are split into at least two parts. The “head” could sing to the “heart” or the “brave side”
could sing to the “cowardly side.” See page? for for more.
Other terms related to melodic analysis
Passing tone - a non-chord tone which steps between two chord tones
Performance practice
Poetic terms
Popular ballad Allen Forte page 26
Song cycle musical. There are good songs to study in this category but they don't make good
audition songs
Song form
Song form AABA
Ternary form
Tessitura-The prevailing range of a melody, within which most of the pitches lie. The tessitura
of a song is not determined by a few isolated pitches of extraordinarily high or low pitch but
instead the part of the voice that is used most consistently.
Vaudeville ending
Verse (see discussion of verse in Forte p. 36)
Word painting (music came before words prior to 1943 or so, even in the case of Berlin and
I am indebted to many people for these resources. First, I would be nowhere without the
many writers who have inspired me. David Craig and Steven Suskin and all the writers listed on
the bibliography page have been my teachers. Secondly, I must thank Lara Teeter for the great
joy I have in teaching with him on a daily basis. I’m very proud to have such a wonderful life
teaching at Webster University with him. And finally I need to thank Ethan Edwards, a man who
knows more about musicals than I do and has my constant companion.

Excavating the Song 2013