The best Patter Songs for musical theatre auditions, showcases and concerts

The best Patter Songs for musical theatre auditions, showcases and concerts_550
Photo Credit: Huntington Theatre Company via cc
A good Patter song is always an audience pleaser, they are usually terrific for showcases and concerts and I always find them good choices for actors who are not 100% confident singers as they can usually act the socks off them and they are normally written with an easy range.
A Patter Song is characterised by a moderate fast to very fast tempo and a rapid succession of rhythmic patterns where each syllable of text corresponds to one note. They are most famous in comic opera, especially Gilbert and Sullivan, but if you look hard enough you can find patter songs in contemporary music, in cartoons, in movies and in musical theatre.
As long as you have a really good vocal warm-up and know the song backwards then they can be really terrific audition songs, as they demonstrate a confidence and security with performing to music.
A word of warning if you drop a word these kind of songs can be a real nightmare and there is normally no way out from a mistake. I think this is probably why they are such audience-pleasers, just like watching a tightrope walker, we don’t want them to fall off but we get a buzz out of the tension knowing that at any minute with one false move it could all come tumbling down.
Best “Patter Songs” – Musical Theatre Auditions
When you are choosing a song for an audition then remember that you don’t only want to show that you are a great singer, you are choosing a song which shows that you are a great actor too.

Patter Songs are difficult to pull off as one wrong word can spell disaster!

If you are more of an actor than a singer then spend a bit of time perfecting a Patter Song and it will be an audition song you can showcase confidence in delivering words to music (‘Rex Harrison’ the hell out of it!), you will also have a terrific party piece which you can ‘show off’ with.

We would love to know what your favourite Patter Song is, let us know via Twitter@actorhub.

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  • “Glass of Water” is a song from the cartoon series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (yes, I’m serious).
    In the song, the nefarious trickster spirit Discord (voiced by John de Lancie of Star Trek fame) is sick, so he asks his “friend” Twilight Sparkle and her sister-in-law Cadance for a simple glass of water, among other things. Hijinks ensue.
    The song was composed by Daniel Ingram and written by Ed Valentine for the episode “Three’s a Crowd”. It also marks de Lancie’s first solo number as Discord, performed in a sprechgesang style of half-speaking and half-singing.
    Beyond being filled to the brim with countless blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pop culture references in the latter half, the song perfectly captures Discord’s zany, off-the-walls personality that makes him — and the show, to an extent — so popular. (It also helps that the role was originally created as a tribute to his role from Star Trek as “Q”.)
    ”I’d like that glass of water please
    Some magic spell to cure disease
    A firm ‘gesundhoof’* when I sneeze
    A fresh bouquet of roses

    Some lozenges will soon appease
    My wheezing when I start to sneeze
    A wig to keep me from the breeze
    And blankets for my toes-es”
    * “Gesundheit” meets horse pun
    Please note this episode aired early 2014 and so the amazon links are to songs from earlier seasons of this show, not this particular song
  • Billy Joel’s 1989 song is a run through of headline events from January 1949 (the year Joel was born) to 1989 when the song was released. The song was a number one hit in the USA.
    Interestingly the lyrics were written before Joel wrote the melody and therefore the tune is sometimes a little clunky! Here is what Joel had to say about the song:
    “I had turned forty. It was 1989 and I said “Okay, what’s happened in my life?” I wrote down the year 1949. Okay, Harry Truman was president. Popular singer of the day, Doris Day. China went Communist. Another popular singer, Johnnie Ray. Big Broadway show, South Pacific. Journalist, Walter Winchell. Athlete, Joe DiMaggio. Then I went on to 1950 […]. It’s one of the worst melodies I’ve ever written. I kind of like the lyric though.”
    Like all Patter songs this one is a nightmare to perform Billy Joel himself has said he dreads performing it live ‘because if I miss just one word it is a train wreck!’
    “Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland,
    Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev,
    Princess Grace, “Peyton Place”, trouble in the Suez.”
  • Comedian Tim Minchin’s musical of Roald Dahl’s Matilda is one of the biggest shows of recent years and is full of delightful songs for auditions.
    ‘The Smell of Rebellion’ is sung by the children hating disciplinarian headmistress at Matilda’s school, Miss Trunchbull. MIss Trunchbull is played by a male actor and is a wonderful part to play, especially if you are able to search for the truth in the role, really explore it and find the truth behind why she hates children so much. Playing it just as a Panto villain will be a one dimensional performance.
    The song is sung as Miss Trunchbull forces Miss Honey’s class to undergo a gruelling PE lesson to try and wheddle out the bad apples!
    “The simpering and whimpering,
    The dribbling and the spittling,
    The ‘Miss, I need a tissue’
    Is an issue we can fix.”
  • “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” from Gilbert and Sullivna’s 1879 comic opera The Pirates of Penzance is the king of patter songs!
    The song itself is a satire of the idea of the ‘modern’ educated British Army officer of the late nineteenth century. The Major General is showing off as he describes his impressive and well rounded education and the song is therefore littered with historical and cultural references.
    In performance this needs some pompous performing as you play this bombastic Major General, it is worth noting that the stage directions tell us that at the end of each verse the Major-General is ‘bothered for a rhyme’ so include some business as he searches for the rhyme and then finds it and ends the verse with a flourish
    The song is a truly tricky patter number to deliver due to the fast pacing and some of the tongue twisting lyrics.
    “Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform,
    And tell you ev’ry detail of Caractacus’s uniform
    In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
    I am the very model of a modern Major-General”
  • The Name Game is a song written by Shirely Ellis and Lincoln Chase and was released in 1964.
    The song was recently performed by Jessica Lange in a surreal dreamlike sequence in an alysum in the TV show America Horror Story.
    Ellis told Melody Maker that the song itself is a rhyming game which you can play with any name, and which she used to play as a child. Once you get the hang of it you can subsitute people’s names into the song to make it completely unique for your audience.
    A verse is created for any name. Here’s some algebra (yikes!) to show you how … With X as the name and Y as the name without the first consonant sound (if it begins with a consonant) a verse is built as follows:
    (X), (X), bo-b (Y)
    Banana-fana fo-f (Y)
    Fee-Fi-mo-m (Y)
    My name, Jamie, becomes:
    Jamie, Jamie, bo-bamie, Banana-fana fo-famie Fee-Fi-mo-mamie Jamie!
    If the name starts with a vowel or vowel sound, the “b” “f” or “m” is inserted in front of the name.
    And if the name starts with a b, f, or m, that sound simply is not repeated. (For example: Billy becomes “Billy Billy bo-illy”; Fred becomes “banana fana fo-red”; Marsha becomes “fee fi mo-arsha”.)
  • Company is a Sondheim show dealing with relationships. The plot centres on Bobby, a single guy who is a commitment-phobe and his relationships with his friends who are married and his three girlfriends.
    The show is a series of comic vignettes as Bobby learns about himself.
    ‘Not Getting Married’ is a hilarious number at the end of Act One. Paul and Amy have lived together for years but today is the day of their wedding, as an upbeat Paul harmonises about his rapture at marrying Amy she is in a complete state of panic and meltdown and sings a patter song with a list of reasons why she is ‘Not Getting Married Today’
    “Listen, everybody, look, I don’t know what you’re waiting for,
    a wedding, what’s a wedding, it’s a prehistoric ritual
    where everybody promises fidelity forever, which is
    maybe the most horrifying word I ever heard of, which is
    followed by a honeymoon, where suddenly he’ll realise he’s
    saddled with a nut, and wanna kill me, which he should”
  • Bob is a fun little song by the parodist singer-songwriter Weird Al Yankovic. He is known for his comedy songs which make light of popular culture and are often themselves parodies of specific songs by contemporary acts.
    Bob is a song which is styled like a Bob Dylan number, the fun patter aspect of the song comes from the fact that the whole song consists entirely of palindromes, the title itself Bob is a palindrome. A palindrome is a word or phrase which is the same when read forwards or backwards.
    This is a really clever little song which is best performed as a party piece or a cabaret number and is especially hightened by having the ‘lyrics cards’ as in the music video (itself a parody of Bob Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ video)
    “No lemons, no melon
    Too bad I hid a boot
    Lisa Bonet ate no basil
    Warsaw was raw
    Was it a car or a cat I saw?”
  • Kander and Ebb’s 1966 Broadway musical is most famous for being an Oscar winning movie starring Liza Minelli, however this number never made the movie and is often now replaced in stage productions with “The Money Song” which was performed in the film by Liza and Joel Grey as the Emcee. “The Money Song” also has a patter section, but for me “Sitting Pretty” is a terrific showstopper and would make a great audition number.
    The song is a commentary on Cliff being offered a job to carry a suitcase from Paris to Berlin which is ‘easy money’. The Emcee sings this hymn to money as what Cliff is, unwittingly, laundering money for the Nazi’s.
    “I know my little cousin Eric has his creditors hysterical
    and also cousin Herman had to pawn his mother’s ermine
    and my sister and my brother took to hocking one another too

    But I’ve got some talents which build up my balance
    so even my banker’s agreed that me, I’m sitting pretty
    I’ve got all the money I need”
  • Tick Tick Boom is a musical written by the musical composer Jonathan Larson who is perhaps most famous for Rent. The show tells the story of an aspiring composer called Job who lives in NYC in 1990 and his worries that he has made the wrong choices in life. It explores this along with his relationships with his girlfriend Susan and his best friend Michael.
    The song ‘Therapy’ is a phone call between Jon and Susan who has phoned wanting to see Jon on an evening when he had planned to spend composing. They argue throughout this song in a very passively agressive and psychological manner which barely seems like an argument and more like a therapy session – hence the title!
    A deliciously funny duet with lots of room for humour and the brilliant show-offy factor of having a huge Patter section!
    “I was afraid that you’d be afraid
    If I told you that I was afraid of intimacy
    If you don’t have a problem with my problem
    Maybe the problem is simply co-dependency”
  • ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’ is a country and western patter song written in 1959 by Geoff Mack and released by Lucky Starr.
    The original song is a list of Australian towns and anyone who can get their lips around the fast tongue twisting lyrics of this number really do deserve a medal!
    The song has been rewritten by Hank Snow for a North American audience.
    The song has been made popular through such artists as Johnny Cash, Lynn Anderson, Rolf Harris and Harvey Reid.
    Aussie version:
    “Been to:
    Tullamore, Seymour, Lismore, Mooloolaba,
    Nambour, Maroochydore, Kilmore, Murwillumbah”
    US version:
    “Been to:
    Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow
    Sarasota, Wichita, Tulsa, Ottawa, Oklahoma,”
  • Yakko’s World is a song from the cartoon series Animaniacs.
    I am all for searching out songs wherever you can, I probably wouldn’t encourage you to sing this at an audition as it doesn’t really have a character behind it to get your teeth into but it is a perfect party piece!
    Yakko Warner names all of the nations of the world to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance, the song was written in 1992 so there might be a few (or less) nations when you read this.
    The song was written by writer Randy Rogel when he was helping his son study geography and realised that “United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama” rhymed so he set out to find the other rhymes around the globe and the result is this infectious and fun ditty!
    “Norway, and Sweden, and Iceland, and Finland,
    And Germany, now in one piece,
    Switzerland, Austria, Czechoslovakia,
    Italy, Turkey, and Greece.”
  • The Mikado is a comic opera by Gilbert and Sullivan and contains the comedy patter number ‘As Some Day it May Happen’
    The song is sung by KoKo, a prisoner who was condemned to death for flirting, who has himself been appointed the Lord High Executioner – and couldn’t possibly cut off his own head so no executions can take place!
    KoKo asserts his authority and power by reading his list of people who would not be missed if they were to be executed, this list forms the patter number “As some day it may happen”
    “There’s the banjo serenader, and the others of his race,
    And the piano-organist — I’ve got him on the list!
    And the people who eat peppermint and puff it in your face,
    They never would be missed — they never would be missed!”