Top Sondheim Songs for Musical Theatre Auditions – Ballads

Top Sondheim Songs for Musical Theatre Auditions - Ballads_550
Photo Credit: Sarah Sierszyn via cc
Most audition coaches, musical directors and vocalists will tell you to avoid Sondheim for auditions. The music is usually considered too complex for most accompanists, and the last thing you want when you are auditioning is for you to be thrown by something the accompanist plays or fluffs.
Sometimes only Sondheim will do. If you are auditioning for a Sondheim show and they specifically ask you to choose a Sondheim song what should you pick?
With Sondheim’s work it is vital you choose a song which speaks to you, you need to fully understand it and the character who is singing it because Sondheim really demands that you act the hell out of a song. These are songs which need to be performed in a context to fully do them justice.
Sondheim Songs for Auditions – Ballads
If you are choosing a Sondheim song for an audition then remember that you really don’t pick a Sondheim song to show that you are a great singer, you are choosing it to show that you are a great musical theatre actor.

Most of his songs are not built around a ‘money-note’.

I always recommend you approach a Sondheim song as a monologue first, really learn it as a speech and act it first. Get inside the character and situation behind the song first before you approach the singing of it, this process will give you a tremendous head start when you begin putting the words to music.

Choose a song which reflects the character you are auditioning for because with Sondheim songs the character is all important and the acting of it will shine through. We would love to know what your favourite Sondheim ballad for an audition is, let us know via Twitter @actorhub.

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  • Do I Hear A Waltz was conceived as a small chamber musical and is one of Broadway’s lost gems.
    The story deals with the loves and lives of a group of visitors to and the inhabitants of Venice.
    Stay is sung by the character of Renato di Rossi who has fallen in love with New York secretary Leona Samish.
    It is a strange but beautiful ballad which needs to be delivered with total honesty and conviction. It is a proposal from a married man, who is totally laying his cards on the table:
    “I am not the dream come true – But stay – Not perfection, nor are you – But stay”
  • One of Sondheim’s few flops ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ has recently been revived to great acclaim thanks to the wonderful Menier Chocolate Factory.
    The song appears in the show twice. Sung once by a man and once by a woman – this means it should be easy for you to find the song in both male and female keys.
    This also lets you choose which way you want to sing this song – once it is sung at the beginning of a romance, full of the initial glow and thrill of love, it is also sung full of hurt and pain as it is looking at a relationship which just won’t heal.
    The version in this video is the male version full of the excitement of new love. Sung by Frank as vows at his wedding to Beth.
  • Passion is a wonderful Sondheim musical adapted from an italian film Passione D’Amore. It explores the theme of love also touching on obsession, beauty, sex, power and manipulation.
    ‘Loving You’ is a beautiful song sung by the ailing and plain Fosca who has fallen in love with the young soldier Georgio. He does not love her and pleads with her to give him up and with this song she explains that hers is not a love she is able to ‘give up’. Her love is not a choice, it is who she is, all she is, and she would gladly die for him.
    ‘This is why I live, You are why I live’
  • One of Sondheim’s few flops ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ has recently been revived to great acclaim thanks to the wonderful Menier Chocolate Factory.
    The song appears in the show twice. Sung once by a man and once by a woman – this means it should be easy for you to find the song in both male and female keys.
    This also lets you choose which way you want to sing this song – once it is sung at the beginning of a romance, full of the initial glow and thrill of love, it is also sung full of hurt and pain as it is looking at a relationship which just won’t heal.
    The version in this video is the female version full of hurt. Beth tells Frank she is leaving him as she can’t be with him after he has been unfaithful to her, she still loves him but can’t be with him anymore.
  • Sooner or Later comes from the movie Dick Tracy and is one of the songs which Sondheim wrote for Madonna’s character Breathless Mahoney, a seductive and sultry singer from Club Ritz.
    The song oozes sex appeal as Breathless is desperately trying to seduce Dick throughout the movie, however the double meaning of the song refers to Dick Tracy and how he ‘always gets his man’ ie: he always captures the bad guy.
    Reveal your inner vamp and sexy side and play with the double entendre’s and enjoy it!
    “And no one I’ve kissed, babe, ever fights me again. If you’re on my list, it’s just a question of when.”
  • Later comes from the musical A Little Night Music and is sung by Henrik a frustrated young man who is in love with his father’s new young wife. He is constantly teased for being a seminary student and no-one takes him seriously or let’s him talk.
    The video here is Sondheim himself helping a student to work on the song. It is tremendously useful to see how he works with the young man on the emotion of the song.
  • Not While I’m Around from the deliciously macabre and dark Sweeney Todd makes a wonder audition song.
    The song is sung by Tobias a young boy to Mrs Lovett who he has come to care for as a mother. He is trying to warn her of the ‘dangers’ of Mr Todd. It is a sweet and simple song but behind that sweetness is a real danger, the fear of a serial killer and the all encompassing protective love which Toby feels for Mrs Lovett.
    The singing of this must not be sweet and saccharine you need to give it emotional truth and it must be both real and felt.
  • Finishing The Hat is a perfect song for us actors, artists and creatives to relate to. It is about our creativity at work – how we can put something out there which wasn’t there before and the sacrifices we have to make.
    For me personally this song is a tour-de-force of songwriting with music which seems to perfectly capture the spirit of the song.
    Handle with care if you choose to do it for an audition or casting but if you do then really handle it as an acting piece and act the socks off it!
  • The fairytale musical Into The Woods has many terrific solo story songs but this one is perhaps my favourite.
    The Witch sings this song at the end of the show and it is perhaps the most important moral of the whole story. Be careful what you pass on to your children.
    The song has been sung by lots of musical theatre heavyweights so don’t try and compete or copy their version, give us your version. Tell it from who you are and your take on the character.
    “Children will look to you for which way to turn, To learn what to be, Careful before you say “Listen to me” – Children will listen”
  • Good Thing Going is another example of a perfect sweet, simple but also so, so clever, Sondheim song.
    It comes from the musical Merrily We Roll Along which was a huge flop when it originally played.
    The song perfectly expresses the feeling of looking back at a relationship. In the show the song is rejected by some producers as not being ‘hummable’!
    The song is one of those haunting Sondheim songs which plays in your mind a long time after you’ve heard it.
    It isn’t big and showy, its small, heartfelt and perfect – just like love!
  • Evening Primrose is a television musical movie based on a short story about a poet who seeks refuge from the world by hiding in a department store. There he meets a society of ‘night people’ who live in the store and he falls in love with a young girl called Ella.
    Ella has never seen the outside world and wants to leave with Charles and experience the world.
    It is a wonderful song and is full of innocence and hope.
  • A beautiful ballad from the musical movie Evening Primrose.
    The character of Ella barely remembers the outside world having been raised from the age of six, after she fell asleep in the hat department, as part of a society who live within a department store ( … I know, just go with me on this one!)
    She has not seen the sun for thirteen years, but she tells Charles what she remembers with this song. She likens the natural world of the outside to the artificial world she has been raised in.
    “I remember trees – Bare as coat racks – Spread like broken umbrellas.”
    The song is full of long phrasing and so requires great control. It was written for a woman to sing but I have heard men sing it too.
  • Saturday Night was Sondheim’s first musical which was written in 1954 but was never produced until 1997 due to an unfortunate set of events!
    Set in 1929 in Brooklyn a group of friends spend their Saturday Nights restless because they have no dates. Gene, who works in Wall Street in a menial job dreams of escaping Brooklyn and becoming a member of the exciting Manhattan society. He crashes a party and meets Helen (also a gatecrasher).
    As the weeks go by, Gene is so desperate to impress Helen and climb the social ladder that he invests his friends money and even sells their precious automobile.
    Helen tells him that she hates what he is doing but admits that she is in love with him with this song.
    “So many people in the world, And what can they do, They’ll never know love, Like my love for you”
    This ballad requires support due to some of the long phrasing, although for sopranos it is worth noting that this song will use their lower notes which need to be expressive.
  • Sweeney Todd is melodramatic and almost operatic throughout, this song is one which can really show off a true soprano.
    Johanna is being kept by Judge Turpin almost as a prisoner and in this song she is likening herself to a caged bird. Keep your spirit and voice bright and ‘bird-ish’ when singing it. Each phrase ends with a long note, try to hold it and not decrescendo.
    Outside the sky waits, Beckoning, beckoning, Just beyond the bars. How can you remain, Staring at the rain, Maddened by the stars?
  • Knowing your history of musical theatre is really important as a performer. Here is a brief look at the life and works of Stephen Sondheim, along with our favourite Sondheim songs to read about and listen to.
  • Choosing a favourite Sondheim song is difficult, it all depends on my mood! Here is a selection of my favourites along with videos of the songs in performance.
  • Sondheim doesn’t necessarily write the easiest songs to use in auditions – but his songs do show off acting ability so well that it is a shame to not sing them. Here are some uptempo songs which might work for you.