Monday, March 14, 2005

Audition advice from Greg

After I posted the 42nd St. Moon audition notice, I sent Greg an email and asked him some questions about what he likes and does not like to see during auditions. He graciously answered them all...and quite pithily too. Here it is:

Question from EC: Any songs you never want to hear again?

Answer from GM: Yeah, "Why God Why?" from MISS SAIGON, and "The Music of the Night" from PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.  In both cases, the songs are so overwrought that I have to fight to keep from laughing as the poor actors struggle with them, and in the former case I prefer it as "There's a Small Hotel" by Rodgers and Hart, and in the latter case it's much better as "Come to Me, Bend to Me" from BRIGADOON.

Seriously (although actually, I wasn’t joking!) for the most part, I am bothered when people are totally unprepared to audition for what we do.  By that I mean, as examples, "Why God Why" and most Lloyd Webber are wrong for auditioning for us anyway -- it amazes me the number of people who don't have one good ballad and comedy or uptempo number from the Golden Age songwriters (Rodgers & Hart/Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jule Styne, Kander & Ebb, Kern, etc). It's not just for us -- if you're going out for a production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC -- and let's face it, every year hundreds of actors are going out for THE SOUND OF MUSIC somewhere -- you don't go in with "Why God Why" or "What's New, Buenos Aires?"  Except that a lot of actors do.  I took a great musical theatre audition class 20 ...uh, jeez, 25 years ago! -- taught by a Broadway performer named Connie Danese, and she was a terrific teacher.  She taught us that we should ALWAYS have at least five songs handy and ready to perform -- a "classic" Broadway ballad and uptempo, a "contemporary" Broadway ballad and uptempo, and a comedy song.  It was wonderful advice, and anyone who is working all the time in NYC would echo it.  Of course, back then "contemporary" meant, in fact, "What's New, Buenos Aires?," whereas today you might want to have something from RENT or AIDA or THE LAST FIVE YEARS as a contemporary piece.  It amazes me how many people come in with two ballads, and that's it.  Or an "angry" ballad -- and an "angry" uptempo.  No variety!

EC: Any clothing choices (or lack thereof) that turn you off?

GM: Huge clog shoes.  So annoying.  And really, it also is surprising how many actors don't realize this is a JOB INTERVIEW.  It behooves you to look your best!  Now, if you are indeed going in for something along the lines of RENT, yeah, sure, you might want to dress down for it.  But basically, don't look like you're ready to hit the mall on a Saturday afternoon when you are auditioning for a musical.
EC: Do people ever actually come in and ask your pianist to transpose on sight?

GM: It has happened, although not often.  Of course one never wants to do that -- bad move, because what if he can't transpose on sight for you?  What's more common is people whose sheet music isn't in a binder (or taped together as one long sheet) so it's easily playable by the accompanist.  Or, people who want to do a song in a specific arrangement, but have never bothered to have it arranged that way -- they just have the original sheet music!  And they try to explain it to the accompanist, and get flustered, and it's usually unfortunate.

EC: Anything else you loathe or really like about auditions?

GM: I'm always impressed with performers who have taken some time to figure themselves out for auditions -- what their best "look" is, which songs they can best use to show off their strengths, and who come in with a confident, straightforward manner and act as if they are eager to show you what they can do.  Everyone's nervous, that goes with the territory -- but it really impresses me when someone can override that and convey that they are having a good time performing for you!  ALSO -- this is a biggie -- Performers really need to be prepared to give you more if you ask for it.  I mean, the best thing that can happen at an audition is that they like you, right?  And want to see more of what you can do, right?  And yet many, many performers are not ready with anything more than their two songs.  Very surprising!  That's why the "always have five songs in your book" rule is such a good one -- there's always something else to give them.  And believe me, if we like someone, we frequently will ask for more!

Something else that’s impressive — when you ask someone to repeat something and ask for a change, or an adjustment.  It doesn’t really matter if they nail exactly what you were asking for, exactly, if they understand how to make a change.   A lot of people will do it exactly the same way — and you realize they don’t really understand how to do it differently, or that they are so locked into one way of doing it that they can’t.

Last but not least:  Smile, at least a couple of times sometime during your audition.  If your ballad just isn’t a "smiling" song, then make darn sure you can throw it into your uptempo (or — for us — we really prefer a comedy song for a second number).  You’d be surprised how many people don’t know how to smile.

Great advice! Now I have one piece of advice from my own personal annals of auditions. Don't second guess yourself the whole way into the audition room. I was the queen of deciding what to sing, then at the last minute changing my mind and deciding something else was better. Sure, I knew the other song, but it's a big mental shift to make last minute, and it was only a symptom of lack of confidence...which as Greg said is the opposite of what they want to see. Now, this doesn't mean you shouldn't be ready to sing a bunch of other songs if they ask.

Greg also sent me his favorite audition story. (ANd after years of running this theatre, he must have hundreds of stories he could tell. That's in the next post.

I did see "What is new. Buenos Aires?" and I have to say that what happens in the play is very similar to what happens in the cosmopolitan city. I was there a few weeks ago in these Argentina apartments a frieng got me and the atmosphere was so joyful that it looked like a musical!
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