Audition Song Selection, What to Expect, Tips, and More!
Choosing An Audition Song: 20 Selections for Altos
Whether you are auditioning for colleges, Broadway shows, or anything in between there seems to be nothing more daunting than choosing a song. A musical theater actor's book (a binder filled with their audition repertoire) could easily be considered the most important external tool they have. Along with talent and personality, the material an actor brings into a room can leave a lasting impression, so it is important to find songs which showcase vocal and acting chops.
However, with all this said, I think it is important to let you in on a little known secret. Nine times out of ten a casting director wants you to sing something you love to sing, not something super obscure just because you know they haven't heard it before. When picking audition material, try to choose things that are at least slightly familiar but not overdone. If you are singing a song a casting director has never heard before there's a strong chance they are going to be spending your audition listening to the song, not watching your acting. That doesn't mean you can't sing that new Ryan Scott Oliver song you found in the depths of YouTube that you absolutely love and relate to heavily. PLEASE sing that song if you love it that much, but make sure you also have some other backup songs in your book too.
To help get you started here are a few ideas for altos of songs and shows which should be familiar to your casting director but that they won't have heard twenty times already that day - be it your local community musical theatre, high school, college, or that big Broadway audition. Please keep in mind this is not a comprehensive list, as that would be impossible to do, also remember that these things change audition season to audition season so if you are reading this and Kelli O'Hara and Laura Benanti are already starring in Follies then there's a great chance things have shifted a bit.
"I Don't Know What I'd Do Without You" from Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
This song is perfect for a classically trained alto who wants to show off some comedic acting. Sung by the character Sibella, the song details how she cannot marry Monty because he isn't rich enough for her liking. What I love so much of Gentleman's Guide's score is how the shallow character who the lead loves is written as an alto. It is a special piece which, seemingly, hadn't really existed before Gentleman's Guide's creation.
"Something Better Better Happen" from Little Miss Sunshine
Written By: William Finn
A heartbreaker of a song but a beautiful showcase of vocal training, this song is full of potential 32-bar cuts which show off acting and singing ability. Sheryl Hoover, mother and wife of the Hoover family, is tired of being stuck in the status quo of life and is hoping for more after an argument with her husband, Richard.
"No More Fear" from Freaky Friday
A song for the belters, this piece is a super fun acting challenge for high school and college-aged actresses. Katherine Blake, trapped inside the body of her high schooler, is coming to terms with her downfalls as a mother and is beginning to see her daughter fully for the first time in years. This song is an anthem, and I am genuinely surprised I have yet to hear it in an audition room. The Freaky Friday score, in general, can be utilized much more than it is, so take a look at other numbers from the show along with this one!
"Keepin' Outta Mischief Now" from Ain't Misbehavin'
Written By: Andy Razaf & Thomas "Fats" Waller
This musical-revue may have opened in 1978, but all of the songs are from the 1920s and 30s, meaning they are perfect if you are auditioning for a period piece or are just looking to add something old school into your repertoire. Being a musical-revue, there is a lot of freedom in singing this piece, you can make the song as personal as you want it to be, which is always a lot of fun as an auditioning actor who is trying to show their authentic self to the people behind the table.
"Stop and See Me" from Weird Romance
Written By: Alan Menken
If you have ever listened to, or seen a production of, Weird Romance you will know the piece certainly lives up to its name. This gem of a song is perfect for dramatic actors who sing and who really want a "park-and-bark" piece in their repertoire.
"Nobody Makes a Pass at Me" from Pins and Needles
Written By: Harold Rome
Another oldie-but-goodie, this song is absolutely hilarious when done correctly. To me, it feels like it could be distantly related to the Guys & Dolls hit, "Adelaide's Lament." Along the same lines, this piece is perfect for comedic actresses.
"God Help the Outcasts" from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
This song, sung here by Ciara Renée, is a gorgeous, sweeping piece of music. It's one of very few contemporary dramatic songs written for true altos. It is great for 32-bar cuts as well depending on which part of your voice you are looking to showcase.
"I Just Might" from 9 to 5
Written By: Dolly Parton
Other than the song, "Get Out and Stay Out", 9 to 5 is one of the most underutilized contemporary scores. There are so many incredible songs which can be broken into brilliant audition cuts, and this song is a prime example. Depending on your voice type and age, you can use any of the three sections of this song to tell a complete story in a short amount of time.
"5 to 9" from 9 to 5
Written By: Dolly Parton
If you are looking for something from 9 to 5 which is less dramatic than the previous piece, look no further. Roz, the uptight assistant to Mr. Hart, has two numbers in the show, but this one is the more human of the two, while still be hilarious if the actor chooses to make it that way.
"Where Did the Rock Go" from School of Rock
Written By: Andrew Lloyd Webber
This is another one for the mezzo/belters of the world, yes it was originally sung by known Christine Daé extraordinaire, Sierra Boggess, but make no mistake, if you sing the last 32 bars of this song, you are going to be belting. That said, the beginning of this song is a great show of vocal control, acting specificity, and dramatic nuances written in a place an alto can shine.
"If You Knew My Story" from Bright Star
This short-lived masterpiece of a show has a lot of songs perfect for auditions, so when choosing one of many to put on this list I went with the opening number because the character has yet to be established. This song allows the artist singing it to tell their personal story if they feel so inclined.
"Kind of Woman" from Pippin
Written By: Stephen Schwartz
In the 2013 Pippin revival, Rachel Bay Jones took this song and made people really listen to it for the first time. There are so many small nuances to play no matter what cut of the song you use, and unlike most songs, it could be both a comedic and dramatic piece so it can change day-to-day with whatever you are auditioning for.
"Nobody" from Tintypes
This is another pre-1960s piece that is filled with anguish, heart, and determination. This character is one who has been knocked down time and again and throughout the song comes to the realization that she deserves better and will demand better. If done well, this piece can definitely leave a lasting impression.
"See What I Wanna See" from See What I Wanna See
Written By: Michael John LaChiusa
For all the Idina Menzel fans reading this list (and honestly, who isn't) I wanted to throw something on the list for those mezzo/belting Wicked lovers who know they can't sing Wicked at any audition ever. See What I Wanna See actually has two great audition pieces, the one listed here, and also "No More". The latter of the two is definitely more acting heavy, whereas this one shows off vocals.
"An Old-Fashioned Love Story" from The Wild Party
Written By: Andrew Lippa
Full disclosure, I was just recently introduced to this song by a friend and I haven't been able to get it out of my head. This isn't one for you high schoolers to sing for colleges, but it could be a great audition song for those of you who know no one will bat an eye if you use some nasty language and innuendos. It is comedic, gay, and written with altos in mind - what more could you want?
"Betsy's Getting Married" from Honeymoon in Vegas
Written By: Jason Robert Brown
I put this on the list hesitantly, knowing Jason Robert Brown scores are normally not recommended for auditions because of their piano complexity and that the male songs in Honeymoon in Vegas are being done way too often, but this song is such a rare find for altos, I needed to throw it out here. Being an alto myself, I know how hard it is to find a fun love song, and this piece fits that bill.
"All to Pieces" from Violet
Mezzo/Belter alert, this one does get a bit high in parts to strictly be labeled as an "alto song," but nevertheless, the heart of the piece lies in lower registers. I know a lot of people who love singing "On My Way," from this score and I hear it rather frequently, especially from college-aged students, so here is a great substitute from the same show. That is actually a great overarching tip when looking for audition material, if you know there is a great song in a show but it is overdone in audition settings, look at the score and see what else that character sings, you might just find your new go-to audition piece!
"Never Give All the Heart" from SMASH/Bombshell
For those of you who don't know the cinematic masterpiece, Smash, this number is one from the fictional musical about Marilyn Monroe which the characters of the tv show were creating. However, it is a very real, very beautiful song which not many people bring into auditions. Specifically, this piece is alto friendly, but if you are a belter this whole score is worth checking out!
"One Fine Day" from Beautiful: The Carol King Musical
Written By: Carole King
Very rarely can you go wrong with anything Carole King. I normally don't recommend singing something from a show which is currently open, but I feel like jukebox musicals can be the exception to that rule if the song feels right for the show you are auditioning for. Not every audition requires a non-musical theater song, but I know some do and those auditions can be scary for people who are mainly musical theater oriented. Altos, no worries! Ms. Carole King is here to save your day, offering up some incredible songs with equally incredible stories.
"Hold On" from The Secret Garden
I have seen some articles which list this song as overdone, but I have yet to hear it in an audition room from any level or age demographic; which is surprising because this song is gorgeous and pure musical theater with some wonderful 32-bar cuts. The song is great in the show and could be just as great in an audition room.
I hope this list helped to spark some inspiration when it comes to updating your audition repertoire, and remember, just because something isn't on this list, doesn't mean you can't sing it. If you love it and it showcases what you can do in 32 or 16 bars, go for it!