The #1 Mistake in Musical Theater Auditions and How to Avoid It

I work with so many great singers preparing for a musical theater audition here in Austin, TX. From observing tons of great singers prepare for showcases and auditions, I can tell you that this city has a very active and evolving musical theater scene.

While it can be tempting to think that preparing for a musical theater audition is all about making sure your singing voice is perfect, sometimes the strongest singer is not the one who gets the part.

Let me explain:

The #1 Mistake in Musical Theatre Auditions and How to Avoid It

In the voice studio, we’re usually working exclusively on vocal technique. For example, a singer is having a hard time hitting a high note. When they do, they flip to falsetto, or sing flat due to strain.

My training and experience has given me the tools I need to help this singer through their bridge; so instead of singing in falsetto, they’re singing in a strong head voice.

But sometimes, we need to put vocal technique aside and work on “acting out” or “performing” the song. This is because unlike pop music where the raw-gut emotion and vocal chops ARE the performance, in musical theater acting out the song is a MUST.

But where do you begin? You have the audition next week, you’ve picked out your song (for soprano, alto, tenor or bass) and you’re singing it pretty well. But after seeing some professional musical theater auditions, you know there’s more to it than just a good voice and the right piece.

You need to learn to “Act Out” the song

While singing Adele, Sam Smith or Freddie Mercury in the past has helped you develop a phenomenal voice, now they’re no use to you because they don’t act their songs and are not playing a character.

For musical theater, you are playing a character with LINES. Some of them sung, some not.

It’s very important for you to understand this character WANTS something.

What do they want?

Start by looking at the lyrics.

If we use the Tenor piece “Lost in the Wilderness” from Children of Eden as an example, we see that the characters Cain and Abel are in the wilderness starving and lost.

Let’s take a look at a section of the lyrics to see what these characters want:

All these years of this cruel joke
The best harvest going up in smoke
Praying for a future from these silent stony shelves
How much more of this must we take
This is the morning we finally make a future for ourselves!
But Cain if it’s God’s will…

Is it God’s will or have we all been conned

Brother we will never know

We will never grow

If we never go


In the first verse, we see that Abel is trying to remain faithful and follow God’s orders, but Cain has a tremendous amount of doubt whether God will come to their rescue in the wilderness.

We can also see in the first verse that Cain is trying to convince Abel to leave the wilderness and join him in search of a better life.

If you listen to this performance, you will naturally hear Cain’s emphasis on the lyrics: “joke”, “smoke”, “take” and “conned”.

Why is that? Are those the most important part of the melody?

Not at all.

In fact, the most important part of the melody is the middle of each line (“years”, “best harvest”, etc…).

But the singer chose to emphasize these words because he knows that it his job as an actor to embody Cain’s desires and his singing must ALIGN with those motivations.

Since, Cain is trying to convince Abel to leave the wilderness, it makes sense that he is emphasizing the negative side of things (“joke”, “smoke”) as well as appealing to Abel’s sense of self-preservation (“ourselves”).

And while the melody doesn’t reflect the importance of those words, the singer certainly emphasizes them.

As a result, we have a clear understanding of what Cain wants and how he’s trying to get it.

How can you apply this to your own musical theater audition?

Begin by looking at the lyrics. Read them out loud normally like you’re reciting a speech.

You’ll notice the natural emphasis of the words may be different from the melody’s emphasis. Begin highlighting those words on your lyrics sheet.

Once you’ve found the natural emphasis of the piece and you’re starting the understand the character, write your character’s motivation for singing at the very top of the paper. In musical theater, there is almost always a reason your character is singing. Find it.

In our example, we would write: “Cain is trying to convince Abel to leave the wilderness and join him in search of a better life.

Finally, you can begin to “act out” the song by emphasizing your highlighted words when you sing the melody.

In conclusion, “acting out” a musical theater piece comes from an understanding of the character and his/her motivation. With an understanding of their motivation, you can make educated choices in which parts of the lyric to emphasize. Then you’re well on your way to successfully acting out the song and getting the role of your dreams!

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