In less than 48 hours you have an audition for Pal Joey. Despite the fact that you have a BFA in Musical Theatre and/or a copy of every cast album from the last 50 years-- or so you thought-- you are completely unfamiliar with the show. A quick internet search reveals very little. Bewitched sounds familiar. Zip is fun, but contains a muddling amount of lyrics. Between now and the audition, you have two other appointments, a ten-hour catering shift, and brunch plans with your college roommate, who's in town from Zimbabwe. What to do?
Panic gets you nowhere. Calm down and look at what's in your book. If you're like me, you have a second or even a third audition book, which contains: a. songs you rocked in college, but haven't used for auditions yet; b. a list of songs you love, but lack the sheet music to; c. songs that come easily to you, but for which you haven't crafted an 16 or 32-bar cut. Take all of them out and spread them out on your living room floor. Pull up www.sheetmusicdirect.us or www.musicnotes.com, or plan a trip to the NYPL for Performing Arts. (Note: if you're hella busy and hella broke, you might have to wake up and get there hella early. Deal.) NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO LEARN A NEW SONG! REPEAT: NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO LEARN A BRAND-EFFING-NEW SONG.
2. Sing the Show.
If you have a song from the show FOR THE ROLE YOU'RE GOING IN FOR, sing it. If you have a song from the show that's not from the role you're going in for, sing it if you think you have a better chance of booking that other role. If you have a song from the show that's diametrically opposed to the role you're going in for, keep looking.
Use your discretion here. (By "discretion," I mean that BFA.) If your audition is for Laurie, but you see yourself as an Ado Annie, sing Ado Annie. Show off your comedic chops to casting, who for some reason see you as an ingenue, not a comedian. However, if you're called in for Ariel, and you have Ursula in your book, keep looking for a Disney princess instead of singing a villain. Chances are, they're looking for an entirely different type for Ursula: someone older, fatter, or with a voice like a chain-smoking trucker. Could be it's already cast. You don't want to run the risk of confusing casting.
Casting directors are frequently overwhelmed, underpaid and under a tremendous amount of pressure from the higher-ups. Treat them as though they are on two hours of sleep and their fourth cup of coffee. Even if it's totally obvious to you that you're perfect for the show, make it a no-brainer for them to cast you. If you slay a song from the show, sing it. I'm going to go on a limb here and say even if they ask you not to sing from the show, sing it anyway, provided you really slay. Best case scenario, you'll be the only one to sing from the show. You can even say something like, "I'm so sorry, but I love this song so much I just had to sing it for you." Say this in a completely unapologetic, but friendly and fun tone. And then launch into it.
3. Sing the composer.
Take the example of Pal Joey. Don't know Bewitched? How about one of Rodgers and Hart's standards? Johnny One Note? The Lady is a Tramp? Have You Met Miss Jones? In this case, it's also okay to do Rodgers and Hammerstein. Don't have any Rodgers and Hammerstein? Um... okay... how do I put this nicely? You need to ACQUIRE SOME FOR YOUR FUTURE. It's not like they weren't prolific or anything. But for now, move on to tip #4.
4. Sing the Era
Okay, so you don't have any Rodgers and Hart or Rodgers and Hammerstein, and you still hope to have a future in musical theatre. Let's Google Rodgers and Hart. Wikipedia informs us that Rodgers and Hart worked together until Hart died in 1943. While Wikipedia may be a dubious source in general, we can pretty much assume that little nugget is true. It also tells us that the boys were born near the turn of the century, so assuming they weren't composing at the tender age of 11, we can assume they wrote from roughly the 1920s to the 1940s. Who else was writing for theatre then? (Let's really put that BFA to use!) Did you say Cole Porter? Good!! Jerome Kern? Excellent! I'm so proud. Continue in that vein until you find someone who's written a song that resides within your (three?) audition books.
5. Sing the DIVA.
If someone famously did this role, feel free to sing from that diva (or divo's) famous repertoire. For example, if you have an audition for Idina's role in Wild Party, you can absolutely sing Maureen in Rent. Going back to the Pal Joey example, Elaine Stritch very famously played Gladys in the original Broadway cast while she was understudying Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam down the street. So you could sing some classic Elaine or some classic Ethel. (Be sure to take into account your age here.) Frank Sinatra played Joey in the film version, while Gene Kelly played him on Broadway. Use that. Find a song that Frank or Gene might have sung, and wring it for all it's worth.
6. If all else fails, sing your favorite song.
If you've taken the first five steps and still turned up empty handed, fuck it. Sing whatever you love most. Remember, you aren't just auditioning for that one show. You're auditioning for anything else any of the creatives might be doing or will do in the near future. So ultimately it's your job to represent yourself well. It reads when you hate the song, when you're nervous about learning it, or when you don't see yourself in the role. So embrace your talent, love yourself, and show them who you are, not what you think they want.