Musical Theatre For Dummies
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Have you thought about being in a musical? Good! You may, therefore, wonder whether being in a musical is easy. The answer is yes! You may also wonder whether being in a musical is hard. The answer is also yes!

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As contradictory as that sounds, it really is both. Certain things are required for performing in a musical that are intuitive to many people and don’t require training.

However, other things are difficult to do without proper training. And no matter what, the more training you have, the more musicals you’ll be cast in. In this article, I'm covering auditioning, but for more about the skills you need for musicals, check out my book Musical Theatre For Dummies.

Parts of the audition process

Lots of shows hold an initial audition and then callbacks, and then, hopefully, you get the role. But that’s not often the case. There can also be a dance call after the first audition, or another kind of call, like Meet Me In St. Louis, which had an ice-skating audition. (Yes, the Broadway show had an ice rink for Act Two!)

Here are some of the common types of auditions:

Initial audition

This is the first time you’re auditioning for the show. The audition requirement might be to sing something from the show, something in the style of the show, or perhaps just sing something that shows your abilities.

If a whole bunch of people are being seen, perhaps the casting office is just asking for 16 bars of music (16 measures is about 1 minute).

The creative team might be at this audition or, perhaps, just the casting director or casting associates are. It’s very rare that anyone is offered the job after this audition unless it’s an audition for a role in a show that’s running and they’re bringing in people whom they know are right for the role. That usually means the creative team is at the audition and they decide that day who gets the gig.


This is the audition after the first audition. Often there’s more than one callback. And sometimes there are lots (like more than five!). Multiple callbacks happen for various reasons:
  • Sometimes you’re given additional material to learn.
  • Sometimes you’re given an acting note to work on and come back.
  • Often, as they whittle down the final candidates for the role, more and more powers-that-be are brought in to watch the audition — like the producers, the writers, and so on.

Dance calls

For ensemble dance roles, auditions usually begin with a dance call. You audition in a group by learning a dance taught by the choreographer or an associate. After that, they usually call out the names of those whom they want to stay and show more. Everyone else knows to leave. Sometimes you’re asked to stay and sing or sometimes you’re asked to dance a different combination.

This is for the ensemble who are labeled as “dancers who sing.” The reverse happens for ensemble members who are “singers who dance.” You come in and sing, and if they like what they hear, you’re asked to come to a dance call.

The same audition process happens with roles that have some dancing. You audition with a song (and maybe a scene) and then you may be asked to return and do a dance call specific for that role. Often it’s with a bunch of other people auditioning for that same role!

Chemistry calls

Sometimes a show holds chemistry calls, in which two people audition together to see if they connect well onstage.

As you can see, there’s no set number of auditions one can have for a role.

Peeking inside the audition room

Though the amount of auditions vary, the majority of them look basically the same. They’re usually held in a rehearsal room at a rehearsal studio. A pianist is present with the people leading the audition sitting behind a table. Sometimes one person is behind the table, but usually a few.

Typically you’ll see the casting person, director, and music director. The further along the audition, the more people. Depending on the role, final auditions can have many people there to give their approval — 10, 15, 20!

If you have an audition time, you sit in the area outside the rehearsal room with other people who are also waiting to audition. If it’s an open call, meaning anyone can audition, you usually line up and wait — sometimes for long periods of time.

The process of waiting can be tedious, but you can chat with the people around you, which is how friendships are formed. Just don’t be the annoying person who can’t take a hint and chats nonstop as a fellow auditioner is trying to prepare, and don’t be the blowhard that keeps talking loudly about their various amazing auditions and upcoming gigs (#Shunned).

After your name is called, you walk in, make small talk with the people behind the table, and hand the pianist your music. You then sing, make more small talk, and then sometimes you’re asked to sing another song you have with you or perform your own monologue.

Sometimes, you’ll be asked to read something from the show that you received in advance. If it’s not a monologue, you’ll do the scene with a reader. A reader is an actor who’s hired to perform various scenes with everyone auditioning. (By the way, these readers are good. Santino Fontana began as a reader before he won his Tony Award for Tootsie!)

After you’re finished, you’ll usually be thanked, and you’ll find out later whether you got a callback. Sometimes you’ll be asked on the spot if you’re available later for a callback. It’s always a delicious feeling to walk out of an audition room knowing they want to see you again! But try not to smirk too much when you walk by the other peeps auditioning.

Dance auditions are similar in terms of being in a rehearsal studio with a pianist. The studio has walls with mirrors so you can watch yourself as you learn the dance.

The audition that's not an audition

The most frustrating type of audition is one where you don’t get to actually audition. That’s when the powers-that-be type you. This happens during auditions where there are lots and lots of hopefuls.

They bring in groups of around 10 to 20 people who stand in a line, and the person in charge of the audition looks at everyone and decides what types look right for the show. Those people who pass the physical test are asked to stay … and everyone else is asked to leave — without ever having auditioned!

When that happens, it means you’ve been typed out. You’ve waited for hours just to have someone look at you and say no … in about 20 seconds. It happened to Priscilla Lopez when she auditioned to be one of the young girls in the original production of Gypsy. But years later, she won a Tony Award, so there!

Focus on these tips for auditioning

Preparation is key. Here are some quick tips for auditioning, no matter what level of musical theatre you’re doing:
  • Have a few great go-to audition songs. Have a song (or songs) that shows who you are. It doesn’t have to have incredibly specific lyrics. A general song about happiness or love can be great because you can bring your specific self to it. The way you express the lyric makes you unique. Think about how you would say “I love Paris in the Springtime” and think about how your mom would say it. I bet it’s totally different.

    My point is, if you express the lyrics as you really would in real life, you’ll be special. And always be thinking when you’re singing and when you’re not singing.

  • Make sure you’re always thinking and that it shows in your facial expressions. “What good is sitting alone in your room?” (Thought: Here’s a great idea for you to cheer yourself up!) “Come hear the music play!”
  • Avoid going blank-faced between phrases. “What good is sitting alone in your room?” (Blank-faced) “Come hear the music play.”

The way you look when you’re thinking or expressing that thought in the air is uniquely you, and that’s what will make you stand out at an audition.

  • Know exactly in what key you sing your audition song. You may sound fantastic on a sustained belted A, but the sheet music you have ends on a C. Change the key! Find the key that fits your voice.

    You can do this if you’re singing an audition song not from the show you’re auditioning for. But if you’re auditioning for a specific part in the show, the music you sing should be in the key of the show. It’s not that common for a theatre (except Broadway) to transpose the key of a song from a show that already exists.

No matter what, always run your audition song with a pianist in advance. I’ve played piano at so many auditions where people bring music they’ve never rehearsed. They buy the sheet music thinking it’s the same as the recorded version they’ve sung along with … and it’s not! They wind up singing something that doesn’t suit their range at all — too low or too high — or it’s a version of the song with a different ending than what they know. The result is the same: a bad audition.

  • You can sing from the show if you want, but you don’t have to. I suggest you bring a song that’s similar to the role you want to get. After you’re done, the people behind the table making the casting choices may ask you if you know a song from the show, and if you do, that gives you another opportunity to sing for them!
  • Remember that the people behind the table have a problem, and they want you to solve it. They need to cast this show, and it would be great if you were the person they could cast. Then they can move on to the next phase of the show.

    So, don’t think they’re sitting there thinking, “How dare this person think they can be in our show?” They want you to succeed. The meanness of the judges on American Idol isn’t how Broadway (or other theatres) is. Yes, there has been the random hostile director, casting director, music director, or whatever, but it isn’t the norm! So go in there confident that you’re the person they want.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon host of “On Broadway” on SIRIUSXM®. Seth has played piano and/or conducted more than a dozen Broadway shows, including Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, and Grease. He co-wrote and starred on Broadway in the New York Times Critics pick musical DISASTER! During the COVID lockdown, he and his husband James Wesley raised more than $1,000,000 for the Actors Fund with their online show Stars In The House. For more info go to

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