If you’re an auditioning music theatre performer, you own a 3-ring binder that casting folks call your book.

Have you stopped to ask yourself — how do I feel about my book?

What’s my relationship to this small library of musical theatre and contemporary commercial repertoire that’s meant to represent my best narrative vocal skills?

What guidance have I followed to curate this collection?

And is it doing me any favors?

There’s a pile of audition book assumptions based on terrible, unquestioned advice humming around in music theatre singers’ heads that keep them stuck and frustrated.

These untrue rules plop good singers’ pics and resumes right into the NO pile.

And the crazy thing is that a lot of these beliefs, they picked up from fancy, expensive degree programs.

So, you’re now wondering — what is this horrible advice?

Have I indeed fallen prey to it like a tap dancing lemming?

And, are these beliefs killing audition opportunities like Sweeney Todd on meat pie BOGO day?

Well, let’s get into then, shall we? Not the meat pies. The LIES. The liiiiiies.

There are many.

But to keep it simple, I’ll break it down to just 3 for you today.

Lie number one can be illustrated by the following tale:

It was the end of a long day of auditions for the music theatre program at Elon University — I was tired, and I was forcing myself to stay engaged.

A lot of kids had invested time, effort, and plane fare to be there, so I wanted to be there for them.

It had turned out to be a disappointing day.

Singers were nervous. Few folks seemed to be able to connect or open up. There was a lot of ok-yet-boring singing.

When I hear auditions, I listen carefully, but I don’t initiate the forward lean or try to coax people out.

If their heart is open, they prepared well, and they live wholeheartedly in their story, I’ll be irresistibly drawn in.

That was not happening a lot on this day.

In fact, there were three different singers who all came in singing “How Deep is the Ocean” by Irving Berlin.

It was clear they’d all coached with the same college prep organization because all three of them had IDENTICAL gestures, emotional colors, and vocal choices.

Only, they weren’t their choices. And it was clear.

Someone had shellacked a performance onto them, and the only thing I remember is that three young women wasted their money and time on terrible audition prep that gave no consideration to who they were.

One singer came in, though, and I don’t remember her first song. It wasn’t a great fit, and there were a couple of vocal struggles. And cool — it was a college audition. You gotta give professors something to do for four years, after all.

But this singer drew me in because her love of singing hadn’t been squished out of her through hours of robot coaching, and her sound hooked up with her heart. You know what that feels like when you hear it.

So, we asked her to sing something else.

She offered “No One Else” from Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.

It’s a beautiful song, AND I’d heard it a lot — always with the same earnest, furrowed brow expression, staring longingly at one nebulous point in the distance.

I groaned inside, but sure. Let’s hear it.

By the time she finished, I said — “You just made me love that song again.”

She didn’t have perfect technique. She didn’t belt the high note at the end with particular prowess. There may have been a couple of wonky rhythms.

And who cared? She LOVED that song, and she sang it with an open heart. Thank GOD.

If I’d been coaching her at that point, I might have encouraged her to find something that wasn’t so trendy and perhaps overdone. But, she loved that song, sang it well and with her heart, and caused me to love it again, too.

So, lie/horrible advice #1 is — you have to avoid overdone songs.

Nope, not if you do them well and from your singular point of view.

Songs are usually overdone for a reason: they’re usually quite good.

The other advantage of singing well known material is that table folk can feel smart for knowing the song and then focus on how you do it.

If you sing unfamiliar material, I’m going to be devoting a brain cell to — wait, do I like this? Hmmm. I dunno. I think they could have made a better choice with “How Deep is the Ocean.”

So yeah, go ahead and be like terrific New York based singer, Broadway veteran, and voice teacher Christina Saffran did at an audition in LA when she sang the appointment before me.

You know what she sang? “I Dreamed a Dream.” And she killed it. I’ll put her website in the PS.

The second group of unhelpful advice harmonizes, however dissonantly, with avoiding overdone songs.

This particular falsehood wastes your time, makes you obsess over things that don’t matter, and blame your material for things it has no control over. Poor material.

I’ll tell you a story about myself and how this shook down for me.

Back in 2001 —

🎵 Way way back many centuries ago, not long after the Bible began! 🎵

I was doing outdoor drama on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

One of my fellow company members had his finger on the PULSE of the latest new musical theatre coming through the pipeline (He did go on to be a very effective audition coach and busy working actor.)

He recommended I get the new book of John Bucchino songs, Grateful.

There was one song in there that would be great for me. It was called “Better than I,” and it was written for The Prince of Egypt prequel.

Aaron, the recommender, hit the nail on the head with my vibe.

The song was faithy, sung directly TO God, and was, indeed, communicated by a hero of the Old Testament, Joseph.

🎵 Go go go Joesph, you know what they say…🎵

(You’re welcome for the week of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat ear worms.)

I used this song all the time.

No one else was singing it. It was pretty. It had high notes, a terrific key change, and it suited me.

I don’t think I ever got called back when I took it in the room.

It is a beautiful song, but it’s about someone who already figured something out.

There was little conflict, and while I do believe one can sing to God, it makes the make-believe harder in an audition room. It just does.

But, this song was so particular to me, and I developed a feeling of ownership and attachment to it. And I should have sung it in my club act.

It wasn’t doing what an audition song is supposed to do:

Tell a clear story with a beginning, middle, and end, demonstrate the ability to sing with artistry and authentic heart connection, and solve a specific casting problem for the production you’re auditioning for.

But, I believed this song was the perfect song for me, and I thought it helped me stand out.

It may have been perfect for a Wednesday night at the Unitarian Universalist Open Mic Fundraiser, but it didn’t do me any favors at my Dr. Zhivago callback.

And that’s because I believed terrible advice #2 — there’s the perfect audition song for you, and your choice of material alone will cause you to stand out.


There are thousands of theatre songs. So, there are hundreds of songs that could be perfect for you depending on many factors.

And your clever choice of material isn’t going to help you stand out.

No one’s going to be behind a table and say, “Well, that lacked conflict, drive, and clarity, but wow, you sure went deep into the Lincoln Center archives. Let’s collaborate 7 hours a day in a rehearsal hall.”

If you sing the crap out of “Popular” and put a specific point of view on it that’s yours alone, that would stand out to me.

Remember that singer who sang freaking “Popular”? Broke out into the Charleston during the la la section? Epic.

So, remember — there are hundreds of songs that can be perfect for you.

And your material choice alone cannot make you stand out. You stand out when you prepare, do excellent work, and open your heart.

Which brings us to the third falsehood you can disabuse yourself of and therefore lift a heavy, unreal audition burden off your shoulders.

This one is tricky, though, because this one is false until it’s not. I’ll explain what I mean later. As in most things — more than one thing can be true.

Imagine you go to a party, and the host of the party is a director you want to work with.

You’ve met them a few times before, and there’s rapport, but you really want to make a great impression.

You arrive with a couple of friends, and it’s a daytime party, and your host, the director, directs you to the drinks station where they’re serving just one cocktail. (Ina Garten always says, “Just serve one cocktail. How easy is that?”)

It’s a delicious, fresh gin, cilantro, and cucumber situation with sparkling something, and everybody’s sipping their glasses talking about how zingy and clean it is.

The problem is, cucumber makes you irrationally gag, you have the gene that makes cilantro taste like soap, and you haven’t drunk gin since an unfortunate evening of questionable life choices at an Irish pub on 2nd Avenue in 2003.

Your host hands you a tall glass of icy cocktail goodness with muddled cukes and Dawn dish detergent, and what do you do?

Ask for a water?

No! You choke down your bevvy, and lightly wretch/exclaim, “What an interesting flavor!”

Your host tops you up throughout the party, and soon you’re sneaking into the bathroom to empty the contents of your glass into the toilet only to surreptitiously re-emerge declaring that you need to switch over to water since you’re driving.

Your friend says, “No worries, I can dr—”

“NO!” you shout like Moira Rose. “I’ll drive.”

We do all kinds of dumb things to please people who can give us things we really want like jobs and shows.

And this shows up in people’s audition books all the time.

Agents visit schools and ask students, “What are you going to use for this show that’s currently running on Broadway?”

College seniors graduate from BFA programs thinking they need to be ready with perfect cuts suited to 7 Broadway shows.

In the meantime, they completely forget about the hundreds of regional theaters across the United States producing golden age revivals, Stephen Sondheim revues, and the complete works of Kander and Ebb.

There’s a wide breadth of style and representation of eras in musical theater.

If you don’t naturally vibe ’80s hair band, then it’s not wise for you to target all the regional productions of Rock of Ages.

What I’m saying is this.

There’s a style world, a narrative world, and a an energetic world that appeals to you on a cellular level.

You might want to do high-knee time steps in 42nd Street for the rest of your life, or your dream might be to play Fosca in every production of Passion in perpetuity.

There’s a way of doing musical theatre that appeals to you, and it’s important you know what that looks like.

I ask voice students at the beginning of the semester to describe what their dream career and work would look like. Go ahead and ask yourself.

What kind of shows would you do?

What kind of stories would you tell?

What style of music would you sing?

What would production aesthetics look like?

What kind of venues would you be performing in?

What kind of people would you be working with?

This gives them and me a sense of what their narrative and artistic values are.

Then, we can make a clear judgment about what kind of repertoire resonates most powerfully for them.

It’s super important to know this because you may be able to make the right sounds singing “Crazy on You,” but there’s somebody who rolls out of bed breathing that style like Pat Benetar and Animal from The Muppets had a rock monster baby.

You might be more at home singing “Not a Day Goes By.”

If that’s true, it’s important that you know it.

Pay attention to what styles and stories resonate deeply and satisfy you. That’s going to be the direction where you thrive effortlessly.

So, the bad advice here is that your book needs to be filled with everything that makes you current and marketable right now.

You need to have multiple contemporary commercial songs that apply to all the different styles being produced on Broadway stages so that you can be ready for any and all auditions.

All I’m saying is — it’s okay for you to know that you’re not the vibe for Hadestown or Oklahoma!. You’re more of a Beautiful: The Carole King Story kinda gal.

When you know what you love and what lights you up, your audition book will reflect who you are because it’ll be full of songs that shine your values.

You won’t have to worry about branding and setting yourself apart. Singing the things you love will tell that story.

Now, a distinction has to be made here — there’s a big difference between shoehorning yourself into a musical style because you think that’s what’s getting hired now versus opening yourself to possibility.

When I was in my 20s I got called in for Rent a lot.

Every time I went in, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I actually could sing this? I can’t do this style.”

And sure enough, a rock singer I was not.

But I kept getting called in, so casting felt like I had potential.

Every time I went in, my head kept saying, “You’re not right for this. You’re a fake rock singer. This is so stupid. Why did they call you in?”

I’m not saying that I would’ve been Broadway’s next Roger, but what would have happened if I’d taken in the information that table folk saw that possibility in me?

Several years later, I got called in for Deaf West’s production of Pippin — for Lewis, Pippins brother. I’d always wanted to work with them ever since I saw their Big River in 2003 (not the same night as the Irish pub gin debacle).

The breakdown asked us to to wear a form-fitting T-shirt so they could see the bods. (Do they even do that in breakdowns anymore? Oof. I get anxious remembering it.)

That freaked me out because it was LA, and I was like, if they want a major gun show, they can find it. My agent, the inimitable Gerry Koch, said, “Dan, just go in and let them decide if you’re not right for the project.”

I ended up getting called back in for the voice of Charles, and I got to collaborate with one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with — Troy Kotsur.

The Academy thought so, too, because his skill got recognized with an Oscar a couple years ago. If you don’t know his work, look him up. He’s tremendous.

If I’d stayed home and not gone in and sang my Don Henley cut at Center Theatre Group that day, I would’ve missed out on one of the best theatre experiences of my life. Questionable casting breakdown and all.

And one quick PS on this, if you want a clear guide about what to include in your audition book, I recommend casting director Merri Sugarman’s book From Craft to Career.

She shares a very clear breakdown of categories that are flexible and will cover your bases as a music theatre singer.

She also wrote one of the most straightforward explanations of how to talk to an audition pianist. It’s an excellent book, and if you do what she says, you’ll see results.

So, quick review of our three audition book falsehoods —

Number 1 — You have to choose new, clever, and obscure material for you book.

Nope. Familiar works great, and things are usually overdone for a reason. Go ahead and sing those songs with skill and wholeheartedness.

Number 2 — there’s the perfect audition song for you, and your choice of material alone will cause you to stand out.


There are thousands of great songs, therefore hundreds that can share your best skills. And you don’t get points for clever song choice if you’re not actually delivering on it.

And Number 3 — your book needs to be filled with everything that makes you current and marketable right now.

I mean, an audition book filled only with Gilbert and Sullivan will have a very narrow usage, but the truth here is — focus your book on the styles and aesthetics that ring truest to you.

Feature your strengths, and at the same time, open your heart to embodying possibilities your ego might rule out because it’s new and unfamiliar.

Don’t sit in a chair in the middle of an audition room singing “One Song Glory” thinking, “Why’d they even call me in?” They called you in. Prepare, make clear choices, and then do them the courtesy of letting them make their own decisions.

That’s the beauty of being a theatre singer, after all —

You get to embody a different identity with every song you sing. Your irreplaceable voice and soul empathizing and looking through someone else’s ego lens. You get to make all kinds of sounds.

And speaking of new sounds, have you ever started working with a new style, started making the sounds — you were getting nods from teachers and music directors, but your brain was like, “That’s not YOU! YOU don’t sound like that! Who even ARE you?” Just me?

Well, I made a video for you — 3 simple questions that’ll unlock any style you want to sing.

Then you’ll be tootling off to your South Pacific audition in the morning followed by your Jagged Little Pill callback later that day and maybe some My Fair Lady tomorrow. How easy is that?

And please always remember, no matter what song you’re giving a tempo for, there’s only one you, and somebody needs to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much, Dan

PS Here’s Christina Saffran’s website.

PPS Here’s Merri Sugarman’s book that’ll tell you how to set up your audition book, talk to an audition pianist, and have more satisfaction and control in your career — From Craft to Career: A Casting Director’s Guide for the Actor