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Excavating the Song:

a Practical Guide for the

Singing Actor
Selected resources compiled and written
by Neal Richardson
Fall 2009
Excavating the Song: a Practical Guide for
the Singing Actor
The Challenge
We all have favorite singersones 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 resources you hold in your
hand hope to address these things and many others. It is a work in progress and is by no means
completed. This is the first edition and there will be additions in coming years.
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 for a very long time.
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 shes 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
cant break the rules unless you know what rules youre breaking. If you go into each
opportunity without a process, you are 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 and
musicality. Singing pertains to the vocal sound and may include things such as tone 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. 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 isnt exactly naturalistic. And yet, in the todays 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 its not real then its fake. But naturalism and
musical theatre arent 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 singersmusicality. You may
struggle with learning music or you may know that you are not taping into a songs 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
Era 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 havent even mentioned dancing!
The objective of this resource 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!
Additional resources may be found at Click on Excavating the
Song. Contact Neal for username and password.
........................ The Actors Homework 5
....... The Actors Homework Worksheet 15
................................. Music Preparation 19
....................................... Cabaret Styles 29
........... Audition Book Song Categories 31
............................... Choice Songs: Men 33
.......................... Choice Songs: Women 35
.... New and Notable Young Composers 39
........................ Annotated Bibliography 41
............................... Acknowledgements 44
Excavating the Song: The Actors Homework
Excavate [eks-kuh-veyt]to expose or lay bare as if by digging
It can be 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 exploring your song.
In this resource, 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, Ive 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. Lifes more painless for the
brainless. Why think too hard when its 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. Its just life so
keep dancing through Dancing through life, swaying and sweeping, and always keeping cool.
Life is fraughtless when youre thoughtless. Those who dont try never look foolish Dancing
through lifeMindless and careless, make sure youre where less trouble is rife Woes are
fleeting, blows are glancingwhen youre dancing through life Lets go down to the Ozdust
Ballroom. Well meet there later tonight. We can dance till its light. Find the prettiest girlGive
er a whirl right on down to the Ozdust BallroomCome on follow me, youll be happy to be
thereDancing through life, down at the Ozdust, if only because dust is what we come to
Nothing matters but knowing nothing matters. Its just life so keep dancing through.
2. What is this song about objectively? In other words, looking only at the lyrics without
adding your interpretation, what is the song about?
Its about a guy who thinks that life shouldnt taken too seriously and that just having fun is
the best way to live.
3. Having looked at the song objectively, 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.
A. Who is the Singer? Describe the character using definite statements.
Hes 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, hes 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. Ive 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 libraryshe 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.
Ive 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 dont go, Ill consider myself a failure. So will all my friends.
F. What changes during the song?
Im able to convince her to go with me.
G. What do you want? What will happen if you dont get it?
I want her to say yes. If I dont 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 cant 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 actors
journey through the song.
This is a song about a boy (a girl, a man, Dr. Monroe), me, 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 guy, 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: Its about a guy who thinks that life
shouldnt 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, its time to get more specific with the
songs moments. It is a good time to consider the arc of your song. There are four possible arcs:
1. The winning arc
2. The losing arc
3. The ending up where you started arc
4. The serendipity arc - ending in a place you hadnt anticipated.
The most common arc is the winning arc and its 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
Lets move to a different song, one with a losing arc and get more specific. I Had a Dream
About You from Maury Yestons 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 Ive been in. It was a dream I dont need to explain.
Were in the care and Were driving in Maine. Its so incredibly beautiful I dont know where to
begin. Were driving into the night and from a magical height we see two orange moons, theyre
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 youre there. The open road and the dotted white
lines, the crispy smell in the air of the pines, the overwhelming sensation youre up and awake
everywhere And when we look in the sky, theyre getting higher and higher, those two orange
moons. Theres one for you and for me and, impossibly, both of them gleam. And I am holding
your hand for eternity and youre 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
dreamIt was only a dreamIt was only a dreamI had a dream about you but, of course, it
was only a dream.
What is this song about objectively?
Its 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.
She is 28 years old and works in a bookstore that she owns. Shes 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?
Its 11:00 AM.
Where are you?
Weve run into each other unexpectedly at Starbucks. Its like it was ordained by the stars!
Why do you need to say these words? The stronger the need, the better.
Ive 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. Ive been trying to figure out what the two moons in the
song mean. When I see him, I cant help myself. Im 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, Im trying to make fun of myself and make light
of the fact that Im in my head again. By the end of the song, its as if Im waking from the
dream of us ever being together.
What do you want? What will happen if you dont get it?
Im 28. Im 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. Ive placed
everything, my hope for security, my dreams for a house and financial security on Frank. If I
dont 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 songs 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 Ive been in. It was a dream I dont
need to explain. Were in the care and were
driving in Maine. Its so incredibly beautiful I
dont 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.
Were driving into the night and from a
magical height we see two orange moons,
theyre 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.
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
youre there. The open road and the dotted
white lines, the crispy smell in the air of the
pines, the overwhelming sensation youre up
and awake everywhere And when we look in
the sky, theyre getting higher and higher,
those two orange moons. Theres one for you
and for me and, impossibly, both of them
gleam. And I am holding your hand for
eternity and youre 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 dreamIt was only a
dreamIt was only a dreamI 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 didnt 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.

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 doesnt 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!
You may notice that Ive put some of the verbs in bold-face. These verbs sum up the
action in each section. You will want to choose strong active verbs. Ive listed some actable verbs
from Joanna Merlins terrific book, Auditioning: An Actor Friendly Guide. There are, of course,
others. We will come back to these verbs when we discuss doing the monologue.
Action Verbs
Convince Bombard Hurt
Encourage Suppress Awaken
Prepare Belittle Mock
Enlighten Lambast Crush
Annihilate Help Inspire
Get even Seduce Destroy
Overwhelm Ignite Incite
Reassure Build Tease
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.
1. 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 in your muscle
memory. Do this until you can do it without any hesitation.
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. Have a friend hold up cue cards with that
verb written on it to remind you if that will help. Some people find this to be difficult. Do not
let yourself become frustrated. Start in a neutral position (focus forward Center, weight on
both feet and arms to your side) by saying to yourself the defining sentence (i.e. 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.). 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. Now do the monologue keeping in mind the active verbs you assigned to each beat.
You may use the cue cards again. Keep your focus forward, center and on your partner. It is
important that your focus is placed directly on your scene partner. Have a friend stand in for
you scene partner if you find that helpful. This activity is about combining the lyrics of the
song with the assigned verbs.
4. Physicalize the monologue using the actual 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 if you need to. The lyrics are of secondary importance to the physical life.
5. Having the pianist only play chords or a simple, out of tempo, accompaniment, sing the
song repeating step 3.
6. When you are ready, have the pianist play the actual accompaniment as you sing the
Physicalize each moment to the degree you feel is appropriate. Do not allow the
accompaniment to make your work less specific.
Please go back and repeat earlier steps until you are secure with each activity.
Ive 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 pre-beat 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 shes distracted. She sees Frank. Shes 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 youll 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 youve been in.
I 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 dont always look at the person were talking to. Your focus, however, is
still on them. Once the pre-beat is secure and you are confident in knowing what this moment is,
repeat the exercise without the scene partner.
Xerox the following four pages for each song you wish to prepare. It will help to organize your
work. A clean PDF of this form can be found on Neals website.
The Actors Homework: Worksheet
Write the lyrics in prose form, carefully observing punctuation marks.
Song title:
Show title:
Write lyrics below
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 dont get it?
H. Why sing this song now and not yesterday or tomorrow?
Defining Sentence
This is a song about_____________________, me, that (continue the sentence below)
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 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 and write that verb next to the beat on the previous
Some of the verbs you may choose from:
Convince Bombard Hurt
Encourage Suppress Awaken
Prepare Belittle Mock
Enlighten Lambast Crush
Annihilate Help Inspire
Get even Seduce Destroy
Overwhelm Ignite Incite
Reassure Build Tease
Do the 6 Song as Monologue activities on page 12.
Briefly describe the three pre-beat 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 pre-beat with a friend. This will help you physicalize each event.
Excavating the Song: Music Preparation
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
own 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 students to come
back to the 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.
Dont 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
I suggest starting with rhythm. First, study shorter passages, taking note of the differing
rhythmic values. If anything is confusing for you, take the time to figure it out before moving on.
Have a friend help you if needed. Then take this smaller passage and speak the rhythms in a
method you are comfortable with. Most people find the method of calling rhythms on a beat by
their number 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 forth.
1. Speak the words in rhythm.
2. While seated at the piano, play pitches slowly while singing on a neutral syllable such as
lah or dee. If this is difficult for you, you might play short phrases and sing them back.
Or you might play a pitch and then sing it before moving on to the next pitch. Please check
key signatures and accidentals carefully. Its not crucial that you do the song in rhythm at this
point. Concentrate on the melody.
3. Next, combine melody with rhythm, starting slowly for accuracy and building in tempo.
4. If you can play your accompaniment, record the accompaniment on to a recording device. If
not, have a pianist do this for you. 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.
Additional activities with a pianist may include the following once you have done these steps:
1. 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.
Dont 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
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
Largo Very slow (quarter note c. 40-60)
Larghetto Less slow than Largo (c. 60-70)
Adagio Slow (between Largo and Andante)
Andante a walking tempo (c. 76-108)
Moderato Moderate tempo
Allegretto Moderately fast, often playful in nature
Allegro Fast (c. 110-130)
Presto Very fast (c. 125-160)
Maestoso Majestic, usually medium slow
Tempo-related terms
Lunga Long, generally referring to a long pause
Caesura (//) Indicates a break or stop before proceeding
Listesso tempo The same tempo as before
Ritardando Getting slower (rit.)
Ritenuto (riten.) Getting slower but more sudden and extreme than rit.
Rallentando (rall.) Gradual slowing of the tempo
Accelerando (accel.) Gradually getting faster
A tempo Returning to original tempo, usually after a rit. or rall.
Alla Breve Two beats per measure with the half-note getting the beat (cut-time)
Pi mosso More motion
Fermata Indicates a note is to be prolonged beyond its normal duration
Legato Smoothly, connected
Staccato Detached (.)
Accent Emphasis, usually to play louder than the current dynamic (>)
Marcato marked, stressed, emphasized
Sforzando Forced or accented. Stronger than an accent. (Sfz. or Sf.)
Tenuto (ten.) Held or sustained, a note is given its full value
Trill Rapid alternation between the note and the note above
G.P. Grand pause. A complete stop
Arpeggio The playing of successive members of a chord separately
U Fermata
% Segno
Da Capo Indication to return to the beginning (D.C.)
Dal Segno Indication to return to the sign (D.S.)
D.S. al Coda Indication to return to the sign and then to Coda at the indicated location
Coda The ending of a piece
Verse The first part of a Standard song, setting up the dramatic situation
Refrain The main body of a Standard song, almost always carrying the title
Vamp A repeated accompanimental phrase
Con moto With motion
A piacere Literally, as you please, similar to ad lib. but referring to tempo rather than pitch
Ad libitum Left to the performers discretion (ad lib.), often implying improvisation
Risoluto Resolute, energetic
Sempre Always
Rubato Rhythmically free, literally means robbed
Animato Lively, spirited, animated
Con brio With fire and dash, spirited
Dolce Sweetly
Divisi Divided, indication of divided parts, the opposite of unison
Molto Very (molto rit., becoming very slow)
Parlando Indication that the singer should take on a more speech-like manner
Forte loud
Fortissimo very loud
Mezzo forte medium loud
Piano soft
Pianissimo very soft
Mezzo piano medium soft
Crescendo getting louder
Decrescendo getting softer
Diminuendo (dim.) getting softer
Morendo Dying away, getting softer
A niente Dying away to nothing
Other Terms
Con With (con moto)
Poco Little (poco a poco crescendo)
Moto motion
Assai Much, very much (Allegro Assai)
Hemiola A musical gesture wherein a rhythmic figure with a duple metric pulse replaces
one with a triple metric pulse.
Colla Voce 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.
Musical Form in Songs
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
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 Harts Youre 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 is that we have been presented with the resolution of
the situation early in the songby 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, a new 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 actors 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.
We use this term to refer to the small and large decisions a singer makes regarding the
melody. As well-phrased song communicates the characters 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 ones love of another with a staccato
articulation may confuse the audience as this articulation communicates something different
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 dont rhyme unimportant words.
2. You may wish to do the first four monologue activities on page 12.
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 havent 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.
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 classwork should be placed in a moderately sized three-ring binder. You
should not use a published book for an audition but if you use a book for classwork, make sure
that the book will stay open on the piano.
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.
Voice Type Relating to Character Type
Composers often choose to write in a range and style that will inform the audience about
your character. For instance, a tenor is rarely chosen for older characters. Sopranos are rarely
associated with bad girls. The following list is from Acting in Musical Theatre: A
Comprehensive Course listed in the bibliography.
Bass: Older characters and villains. Less used in contemporary writing.
Baritone: Romantic and mature male characters.
Tenor: Younger male and comic characters (in more traditional musicals). Now the dominant
male voice type in contemporary musicals.
Lyric baritone: (sometimes called bari-tenor): The more recent voice type for romantic male
characters, most often used in rock musicals and poperettas.
Legitimate lyric soprano: Almost exclusively the province of romantic female roles in traditional
musicals. Much less frequently used in contemporary writing except of deliberate choices of
color and character type.
Pop soprano: Ingnues and romantic characters in contemporary musicals often sing in a light,
high belt with strong mixing of soprano and belt qualities.
Belt or mezzo soprano: Strongly associated with comic characters or with secondary romantic
storylines. As musicals have come to include rock and other top 40 styles, the voice type has
come to cover a much broader range of character types. We see it used in two major ways:
Broadway belt: This type of belt voice is commonly associated with singers like Ethel
Merman, Judy Garland and other women of their eras. It is roughly the equivalent of
the brass section of a band.
Rock belt: This womens voice type includes almost all colors of vocal expression in
popular music since the mid-1960s when female singers began singing almost
exclusively in the lower register, leaving the soprano range behind. This has now
become the dominant range for most musicals since about 1980.
Excavating the Song: Cabaret Styles
In the final year at Webster University, musical theatre majors will be asked to create a
cabaret of about 5 songs or under 15 minutes. These cabarets are an excellent opportunity for you
to explore what is unique and special about you as a performer and as a person. Preparing and
doing your show will help in preparing for the senior showcase. Casting agents want to see who
you are and what you bring into the room, not just what skills you have.
Your skills as an actor and a singer are vital to a great performance and yet what you do
in this opportunity is different from anything else you will do at Webster. You are not preparing a
role or presenting a character. You are YOU on the stage. This can be scarylike working
without a net. But, it can be thrilling for you and your audience.
You will prepare with your music director, Neal Richardson, 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 showfor the audience to hear a song in a brand new way that is
from your unique perspective.
One of my favorites 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. Im 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 make cabaret akin to psychotherapy. Instead, keep it light, interesting, authentic,
genuine, and most of all, YOU.
Lastly, no matter what kind of song you sing, you must have a personal connection to it
and a point of view. If you sing Being Green from Sesame Street, for instance, you cannot sing
it from Kermit the Frogs perspective. You can, however, make the song about how you used to
be afraid to be yourself completely around your friends for fear of rejection. Pop songs especially
can be interpreted in many varied and interesting way.
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. It has been said that any of
our lives is fascinating enough to make a great movie. I believe this is true. The difficult task is
to edit your story and present it in a way that is interesting, compelling and entertaining.
You will be doing your show for an audience that includes many of your friends. Put that
aside for this opportunity and act as if you dont know anyone. There will likely be people you
dont know in the audience. Do your cabaret for them.
Look for ways that you can tell positive stories that are universal in nature so that the
audience can relate to you. The most exciting thing for me is when I can be reminded of what is
important in life without being preached at.
Song Selection
The songs you choose for your cabaret can come from anywheremusical theatre, pop,
childrens songs, folk, 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. A variety of styles, tempos and moods is crucial. Please dont 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 freshly and such that it tells your story.
Your patter, or the spoken, linking material, needs to be well-written and memorized. You
may not improvise your patter. Both Lara and Neal are experienced in writing patter and we will
ask you to submit your patter for comments and editing. It should be a mixture of funny and
Vocal Style and the Microphone
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 doesnt 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, standing with the microphone in the stand, seated with the microphone in your hand,
and seated with the microphone in the stand. Each one of these positions communicates
something different. The seated position with the microphone in your hand communicates a
casual intimacy. The seated position with the microphone in a stand communicates that the song
is very significant and that you want to remove any distractions from the ideas in the song.
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 stagesomeone 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. Some 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 (but not at our show). They want to feel, but
mostly, they want to be entertained.

Go to Neals homepage for links to great cabaret performances and other resources.
Appendix 1
Audition Book Song Categories
Neal Richardson, with Joe Deer and Rocco Dal Vera
The following song types should appear in your well-organized audition book.
1. Operatic aria or classical art song. If it's not in English, you should know what every word
means. The piece should be something that shows technique and range.
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
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. Sheet music can be downloaded at
5. Musical Comedy Ballad and Up-tempo, pre-1943. These songs are commonly called
Standards but should not be confused with Golden Era musical theatre. Gershwin, 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 wellsomething 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.
7. Top 40 songs from these different eras. These songs are not necessarily from shows.
A. 1940s/1950s pre-rock standards. Radio hits from this period that were not from shows.
B. Early Rock and Roll. Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Early Beatles.
C. 1960s/1970s pop rock. Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder,
mid- to late-Beatles and others.
D. Country and Western. 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 in the next category.
E. Pop/Rock 1980s to today. Some suggestions include Elton John, Billy Joel, 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.
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 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.
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). Frank Wildhorn, Jason Robert
Brown, Ahrens & Flaherty, Michael John LaChiusa and others. Choose songs that reveal
something true about you.
12. Disney or film tune. Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz, 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.
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). Kerrigan & Lowdermilk, Joe Iconis, Jeff Blumenkrantz,
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. 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. You should have most of them however.
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.
Music should be photocopied onto heavier paper or in plastic sheets. 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. 89% generally works.

Go to Neals homepage for a printable audition book insert with this list.
Appendix 2
Choice Songs
This ongoing project is a list of songs that came about as a challenge presented to me
almost daily by students: What are some good, not overdone, songs for me. This list contains
strong pieces that are out-of-print, unpublished or otherwise rare. If I were editing my own
musical theatre anthology, these songs would be in it. Please click Choice Songs on Neals
website for the sheet music for these songs.
Choice Songs-Men 102 songs (7/15/09)
A Normal Life (Opposite of Sex) - A wonderful modern musical theatre I Want song.
A Piece of the Action (Life, The) - A funky pop/rock Cy Coleman tune, start in measure 17
Absalom (Glorious Ones, The) - Folky musical theatre ballad, a great tune.
Alone (A Year with Frog and Toad) - Very sweet song. It starts abruptly but it works.
An Ordinary Guy (Amour) - Rare and wonderful. Use the recordings lyrics at the end.
Anytime (Elegies) - Also in the Womens section in a lower key.
At the Fountain (Sweet Smell of Success) A powerhouse show-stopper I Want song.
Boys and Girls Like You and Me (State Fair) - Unsung Rodgers and Hammerstein
Coffee Shop Nights (Curtains) - Nice song for a character actor.
Cold Enough to Snow (Life with Mikey) - From the movie, music by Alan Menken.
Come Back to Me (On A Clear Day You Can See Forever) - Great character uptempo
Come On In from the Outside (Taboo) - Great Pop belt Ballad. A group number in the show.
Danglin' - A great and very rare Maury Yeston light Pop song. My transcription.
Different (Honk) - Musical theatre ballad
Drift away (Grey Gardens) - Sung by the piano player-in-residence at Grey Gardens.
Evermore Without You (Woman in White) A very fine Andrew Lloyd Webber Song. A very wide
range asked for.
Fabulous Feet (The Tap Dance Kid) - A fine uptempo song for a male dancer.
Flair (Starting Here Starting Now) - Great piece. A contemporary charm song.
Flight (Craig Carnelia) - More cabaret than musical theatre but a great piece.
Floozies (Grass Harp) Very groovy.
Guido's Song (Nine) A masterpiece, difficult baritone.
Half as Big as Life (Promises, Promises) - The I Want song from this show.
Highway Miles (The Flood) - Very good Pop tenor uptempo.
How I Am (Little Women) Character uptempo
I Cannot Hear the City (Sweet Smell of Success) Jazzy ballad
I Can't Recall (Tale of Two Cities) - Really the only stand-alone song from this misfire musical.
Similar in style to Les Misrables.
I Can't Stand Still (Footloose) - Pop/Rock uptempo tenor
I Don't Believe in Heroes Anymore (3 Guys Naked From the Waist Down) - Ballad
I Miss New York (Songs From An Unmade Bed) - Very rare and somewhat cabaret.
I Ran (Little Fish) - Difficult, with a Rock edge.
I Think I Can Play this Part (Goodbye Girl, The) - Its a pop ballad although it doesnt look like
it on the page.
I Think I Like Her (Summer of '42) - Wonderful song from an unknown show
I Was Here (Glorious Ones, The) - A perfect song for a singing actor.
If I Have to Live Alone (The Baker's Wife) - Baritone, character ballad
If She Really Knew Me (They're Playing Our Song) A short Pop ballad
If the World Were Like the Movies (My Favorite Year) - Another character actor piece.
I'll Be There (Pirate Queen, The) - Poperetta style, big voice required.
I'm In Love (The Rothschilds) Charming uptempo baritone rarity
Infinite Joy (Elegies) - A good theatrical ballad usually sung by women. (Higher key)
I've Got to Find a Reason (Carnival) - Powerful high baritone I Want song
Just One Night (Doonesbury) - Pop-ish ballad
Last Tuesday (Brett Macias) - Contemporary story song by a Webster graduate.
Later (Little Night Music, A) Difficult tenor aria
Laura, Laura (High Fidelity) - Pop musical theatre ballad from a great lesser-known score.
Laura, Laura (High Fidelity) - Very fine sincere folky ballad.
Learning to Let Go (Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens) - Gospel tinged ballad.
Although this turns into a group number, it works perfectly well as a solo.
Little Fish (Little Fish) - A Michael John LaChiusa masterpiece. Art song-like.
Lost in the Darkness/I Need to Know (Jekyll and Hyde) Poperetta style
Lost in the Wilderness (Children of Eden) - A great pop/rock up tempo
Love Was a Song (Brooklyn) - An unusual song. Dramatic ballad. More Prokofiev than Pop.
Love Who You Love (Man of No Importance - A modern classic. Perfect.
Lucky (Lucky Stiff) -
My Book (Jeff Blumenkrantz) - Comic, contemporary, uptempo with lots of spoken lyrics
My Dogs (Elegies) - Contemporary comic song about a very sad subject.
My Rules (The Goodbye Girl) Uptempo pop number. Tenor
Need To Know (Weird Romance) - contemporary patter song
Never the Luck (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) - charming waltz
Never Will I Marry (Greenwillow) - Rare, but powerful baritone showpiece.
New Words (In the Beginning) A Maury Yeston classic, musical theatre ballad
Not Afraid (Easter Rising) - Very good contemporary musical theatre ballad
Not Quite (Stepping Out - The Musical) Good ballad from an unknown show
Oh, To Be Stupid Again (Songs from an Unmade Bed) - Written by SPRING AWAKENING
composer, Duncan Sheik.
Once in a Lifetime (Stop the World (I Want To Get Off)
Pass The Football (Wonderful Town)
Proud Lady (The Baker's Wife)
Right Before My Eyes (Lestat) - From Elton Johns flop musical. High tessitura.
Sail Me Away (Lestat) - Another one from the same musical. I like this one better since its not
about vampirism.
Sarah (Civil War, The) - Country-tinged tenor aria.
Seeds (A Year with Frog and Toad) - a favorite
Shooting Star (cut from Hercules) - A good one to do instead of Go the Distance.
Take a Chance on Me (Little Women) - Difficult and high, tenor
Take Care of This House (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) - Beautiful baritone aria.
Talent (Road Show) A wonderful tenor piece from the newest Sondheim show, Up tempo and
That's For Me (State Fair) - Wonderful male ingenue ballad. Golden Era.
The Bus (Caroline or Change) A masterpiece, tenor spiritual, probably more suited to an African-
The Call of the Sea (No, No Nannette) -
The Kid Inside (Is There Life After High School) Pop tenor moving ballad.
The Lady Must Be Mad (Illyria) - Contemporary musical theatre. Brilliant
The One I Love (Hello Again) - Start with pickup to page 2. Works without the duet.
The Sensitive Song (Cops, the Musical) - Post-millennium comedy song
The Streets of Dublin (Man of No Importance, A) - Tenor, pop/rock up tempo
There is a Sucker Born Every Minute (Barnum) - An old-fashioned show tune.
This is New (Lady in the Dark) -
Today is the Day (Lonely Rhymes) Post-millennium comic story song in a march style.
We Can Talk To Each Other (Starting Here Starting Now) - Comic. He says how wonderful it is
that they can talk but he never lets her speak.
Welcome to the World (Man of No Importance, A) - Another one from this great show.
What Am I Doing (Closer Than Ever) - Contemporary story song about obsession.
When the Earth Stopped Turning (Elegies) - Contemporary story song
Will That Ever Happen To Me? (Summer of '42) Charming I Want song
With You (Pippin) - Pop ballad.
Wouldn't You Like to Be on Broadway (Street Scene)
Choice Songs-Women (124 songs 7/15/09)
A Place Called Home (A Christmas Carol) - A simple, warm, mix-y song.
All the Men in My Life (Evil Dead) - A silly song with a 60s groove. It works fine without the
mens part.
Almost Everything I Need (Alphabet City Song Cycle) - Contemporary musical theatre art song
Anything (Triumph of Love) Great contemporary musical theatre I Want song, will need cuts
Anytime (Elegies) - Good Bill Finn song. Also appears in Mens section in a higher key.
Are You Still Holding My Hand (Bright Lights Big City) Moody, mix pop ballad
Around the World (Grey Gardens) - A difficult piece for a mature actor/singer
Blue Hair (The Black Suits) - Contemporary character uptempo, Post-millennium
Burden of Life (Man of No Importance, A) Comic, belt number. A favorite. Cut interior scene.
Cautiously Optimistic (The Taxi Cabaret) Post-millennium charm song
Chain of Love (The Grass Harp) - A lovely legit Soprano song.
Chanson (The Baker's Wife) - Beautiful Stephen Schwartz song with some French.
Coffee (See What I Wanna See) - A difficult(!) Michael John LaChiusa song. Not for the faint of
County Fair (Das Barbecu) - Good Country musical theatre ballad
Crimson Kiss (Lestat) from Elton Johns flop musical
Easy Money (The Life) - Cut from measure 55 to measure 80
Even Though (I Love You Because) - Musical theatre pop mix.
Everyday is Night (Birds of Paradise) -
Fair Warning (Destry Rides Again) Character up tempo
Goodbye, Emil (Romance, Romance) - Quasi-operetta. .
Hide and Seek (Daniel Green) Post-millennium story song, particularly good
Hold Down the Fort (john and jen) - Very strong piece from a great show. Start at measure 9.
Hostess With the Mostest (Call Me Madam) - Brassy and Belty
How Did I Get to Where I Am (Marguerite) A beautiful Michel Legrand ballad from the British
I Don't Know How To Help You (Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens)
I Got Love (Purlie) - A terrific uptempo Pop/Soul song. Very wide range.
I Had a Dream About You (December Songs) A masterpiece, pop-y art song
I Hate Him (Destry Rides Again) Very fast character song
I Miss the Mountains (Next To Normal) Great pop/rock song for mature actor
I Never Knew His Name (Brooklyn) Pop ballad
I Read (Passion) - Difficult (in every way) Sondheim mezzo piece
I Resolve (She Loves Me) Character Golden Era uptempo, belt
I Slept With Someone Who Handled Kurt Cobain's Intervention (High Fidelity) - Sincere and
I Still Believe in Love (They're Playing Our Song) - Nice Marvin Hamlish ballad
I Sure Like the Boys (A, My Name is Alice) - Difficult to read but worth the effort.
I Want More (Lestat) from Elton Johns flop musical, this one is great if you ignore the whole
vampire thing
I Want You (My Life with Albertine) Mezzo art-y character musical theatre waltz
I Wish It So (Juno) A great lesser-known "I Want" song
I Won't Mind (The Other Franklin) Beautiful song recorded by Audra McDonald
I'd Rather Watch You (The Adding Machine) A quirky, quasi-1930s rhythm ballad
If Only (The Little Mermaid) - An adaptation for female soloist (Ariel) of the quartet from Act II.
Lovely Disney-type tune.
I'll Never Have That Chance (Lestat) from Elton Johns flop musical
I'm Not At All in Love (Pajama Game) - This is really a group number but it works well with
some edits as a solo number.
In a Perfect World (The Alchemists) Post-millennium
Is It Too Late? (My Life with Albertine) Contemporary classical/legit soprano dramatic ballad
It Feels Like Home (John Bucchino) - Beautiful ballad. Not from a show.
It Might As Well Be Spring (State Fair) - Perfect ingnue song
It Would Have Been Wonderful (Annie Warbucks) - Challenging dramatic ballad
It's Hurts to Be Strong (Carrie) - Surprisingly good song from a flop musical. Youthful Pop
Joey is a Punk Rocker (The Black Suits) Post-millennium Pop comedic uptempo
Just Not Now (I Love You Because) - You could skip the verse and start at measure 8.
Kindness (Bright Lights Big City) - Pop/rock
Listen to Your Heart (Young Frankenstein) - An old-fashioned Beguine (a la Cole Porter)
Lying There (Edges) Post-millennium ballad
Man Wanted (Copacabana) - Barry Manilow, yes! In a sultry, jazzy style.
Much At All (Susan Werner) - This isnt a musical theatre song but works very well theatrically.
My Book (Jeff Blumenkrantz) Comic, contemporary, uptempo with lots of spoken lyrics
My Childhood (Jacques Brel) A real rarity, A mini-masterpiece. Transcribed from the revival
My Heart is Split (The Freshman Experiment) Post-millennium ballad
My House (Leonard Bernstein's Peter Pan) Beautiful musical theatre ballad
My One Night Stand (WAA-MU 2008) Post-millennium story song
My Own Space (The Act) Great Kander and Ebb song, similar to A Quiet Thing
My Party Dress (Henry and Mudge) Post-millennium character story song
Never Again (King David) - Alan Menkens show is hit or miss but this is good.
No Man Left for Me (Will Rogers Follies, The) - Theatre torch song, mezzo/belt
Nothing Like You've Ever Known (Song and Dance) Haunting ballad
Oh, To Be a Movie Star (Apple Tree, The) - Charming I Want song
On My Way (Violet) - This is a solo version of the great VIOLET opener.
Once Upon A Time (Brooklyn) - Very powerful Pop ballad, high belt.
One Life to Live (Lady in the Dark)
Patience (Illyria) Peter Mills take on Twelfth Night. Legit middle range, dramatic ballad
Perfect (cut from High Fidelity) A great Pop ballad
Pretty Lies (Taboo) - Wonderful Pop ballad
Raven (Brooklyn) Pop ballad, very range-y, a little bit American Idol.
Ready to Settle (High Fidelity) - A terrific folk/pop theatre ballad, with humor. Perfect!
Remember Me (Little Fish) - The accompaniment is sketchy but this is a favorite.
See What I Wanna See (See What I Wanna See)
Serenity (Triumph of Love) - Great unknown belt piece
Since You Stayed Here (Brownstone)
Sleepy Man (Robber Bridegroom) -
Small Town Girl (Debbie Does Dallas) - She gets an I Want song. Who knew! A favorite
So Much Better - solo version (Legally Blonde) Great uptempo belt. Pop/Rock
Someday (The Wedding Singer) - An I Want song in the 1980s style of Debbie Gibson. Up
Song of Me (Starting Here Starting Now) - A favorite piece. Somewhat similar to Much More
in tone.
Spark of Creation (Children of Eden)
Spring Cleaning - A very popular song among the musical theatre cognoscenti. Good for high
Stop and See Me (Weird Romance)
Sunday Light (Alphabet City Song Cycle) Contemporary musical theatre art song
Sweet Liberty (Jane Eyre) - Legit musical theatre soprano, beautiful and powerful
Take The Filter Off (Jeff Blumenkrantz) Contemporary story song
Tell Me It's Not True (Blood Brothers) - A British power ballad. Works fine without the chorus
That's Why I'm Late (WAA-MU 2008) Post-millennium story song
The Boy From (The Mad Show) - A very famous but difficult to find collaboration between
Mary Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim. Difficult to read.
The Greatest Practical Joke (See What I Wanna See)
The Night It Had to End (Romance, Romance) - Very fine pop ballad
The Smile of Your Dreams (john and jen) Dramatic belt, will need cuts
The Usher From the Mezzanine (Fade Out Fade In) Charming Golden Era up tempo
The World She Writes (Glorious Ones, The) Contemporary musical theatre ballad, soprano
Toll (Jeff Blumenkrantz) Contemporary story song
Too Much (Stepping Out - The Musical) Belt
Wanting (Rags) Dramatic ballad
Wanting You (Alphabet City Song Cycle) Contemporary musical theatre art song
Watching the Big Parade Go By (Starting Here Starting Now) - March-like.
We Had a Dream (The Life)
Welcome Home (Johnny Guitar) - A Country Ballad
West End Avenue (The Magic Show) - a pop-influenced dramatic up tempo
What About Today (Starting Here Starting Now) Maltby and Shire, folk/rock powerful belt
What Did I Have? (On a Clear Day) - a jazz-style theatre ballad
When I Fall In Love (Pride and Prejudice) - Contemporary musical theatre, legit soprano
When the Earth Stopped Turning (Elegies) - Contemporary story song
Wild and Reckless (Drat the Cat) Golden Era tango, start on page 5, belt (sing octave down)
Will He Like Me (She Loves Me) Golden Era classic soprano dramatic ballad
Words, Words, Words (The Witches of Eastwick) Contemporary patter song
You There In The Back Row (13 Days to Broadway) -
Appendix 3
New and Notable Young Composers
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 purchased from
their website. The names in bold type are some of the more well known.
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.

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] is soon to be released by Hal Leonard
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
Anthony King
David Kirshenbaum
Danny Larsen
Brett Macias
Michael Mahler
Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen
J Oconer Navarro
Thomas Newmann
Ryan Scott Oliver
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Mike Pettry
Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham
Jeremy Schonfeld
Paul Staroba
Georgia Stitt
Jeff Thomson and Jordan Mann www.thomsonandmann
Adam Wagner
Sam Willmott
This list with clickable links is available on Neals website
Musical Theatre Song Study and Audition Annotated Bibliography
Alper, Steven M. Next! Auditioning for the Musical Theatre. Portsmith, NH: Heinemann,
Extensive lists of dos and donts 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. Unnecessary if youve had Neals Musicianship for
Musical Theatre class.
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 Actors 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
youll 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. Craigs 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. Craigs 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 Craigs 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 Broadways Major
Composers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
An encyclopedic work about Broadway music. Indispensable. This is where I learned that
Meridith Willson didnt write My White Knight! For musical theatre nerds only.
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. Im 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 companion to countless shows.