Best Musical Theatre Audition Songs for Character Actors

Best Musical Theatre Audition Songs for Character Actors
Photo Credit: Warren B via cc
I am a proud character actor, I relish the variety of roles which come my way and always enjoy getting my teeth into a new script! However as a character actor with no formal musical theatre training I know all too well the dread that can overcome you when you have to face a musical theatre audition. The feeling of being out of place amongst all the West End Wendy’s in their jazz pumps and sweat pants, the fear of having to learn a simple routine with a choreographer and then falling over your two left size nines!
Musicals always need a good character actor. The director will often be looking for a character actor for the comic role in the show as a lot of pure musical theatre performers don’t have the sense of comic timing or acting ability which a good character actor might have. They might want to take a risk on you, they might need something different for a certain role. If you get a musical theatre audition ….. DON’T PANIC ……. they want you to do your best, they don’t want to humiliate you, they actually want you to be right for the part, and if I am completely honest if they wanted a great singer, they would hire a great singer, you offer them something different so relish your uniqueness and give it your all!
But the big question is “What do I sing for an audition as a character actor?”
You want to sing something which gives you a chance to show off the fact that you can ‘hold a tune’, but more than that you want to show off your acting skills, you want to show that you really know how to create a character and how to deliver your creation through performance.
Something to look out for when choosing a good ‘character song’ is does the piece work as a monologue as well as a song? The ones I list below all would make terrific monologues so are great choices, but there are tonnes out there and if you do your homework you will find one which suits both yourself, your ‘type’ and the role in question.
If I have a musical theatre casting once I have chosen the song I will work through it as I would a monologue. I really find out all I can about the character, his story throughout the piece, the facts, what people say about him and what he says about himself. The I play around with the song, whilst following the music I see if I can make some bold choices and add my own personal stamp to the piece.
I then think it is always worth visiting a good singing teacher and running through it with them. Make sure they know that you are an actor first and foremost and that you want to show the audition panel that you are an ‘actor who sings’ rather than a ‘singer who acts’. If you work with a good teacher they will help you overcome the nerves, and help you find the best way round the notes, they will also appreciate the acting choices you have made and find a way to incorporate them into the song or tell you honestly if you need to change some choices to follow the score. Work in collaboration with them, keep an open mind and they should too.
Remember that the audition panel have chosen to see you for a valid reason, they want you to be right. Be bold, be brave and most of all have some fun.
Character Actor Songs for Musical Auditions
The songs below represent a small sample of the ‘character actor audition songs’ out there. Maybe one of these is right for you and the part, if not keep looking and if you find something else let us know via Twitter @actorhub and we can add your choice to the list.

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  • The Drowsy Chaperone didn’t survive long in the West End but I was lucky enough to see it before it closed and it still remains once of my favourite musicals.
    The show concerns a middle-aged, slightly nerdy musical theatre fan who plays the audience the record of his favourite musical, the (fictional) 1928 hit The Drowsy Chaperone. The show comes to life onstage as he wryly comments on the music, story, and actors.
    Aldolpho is a self proclaimed famed Latin lover who is hired to sabotage a wedding by seducing the bride. Aldolpho mistakes the ‘drowsy’ chaperone for the bride and she happily lets him seduce her with this song.
    Lots of room for some wildly over the top comedy, including a Spanish accent to die for!
  • The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a musical telling the story of a fictional spelling bee (US spelling competition for school kids) set in Putnam Valley Middle School. Six quirky adolescents compete in the Bee, run by three equally-quirky grown-ups.
    William Barfée was the runner up last year in the Spelling Bee, has only one working nostril and a ‘touchy’ personality. Magic Foot shows us his unusual way of spelling words which has led him to glory, he spells the words out on the floor using his ‘magic foot’.
    Full of quirky personality and a truly offbeat character, Magic Foot is a song I have used at audition and love to play around and have fun with.
  • The 1980s Kevin Bacon film Footloose was turned into a musical in the late 1990s. Any musical set in a town where dance is banned is bound to be a winner with me!!
    Ren a Chicago teenager moves to a small town in the middle of nowhere and finds that rock and roll is considered the root of evil and a law has been passed forbidding dance!
    Mama Says is sung by Willard Hewitt, a slow witted cowboy teenager who has become Ren’s best friend and who Ren is trying to teach to dance. Willard sings Mama Says when he is trying to give Ren the confidence to face the town council and ask if he and his friends can throw a dance for the teenagers.
    Some Country and Western fun for a fella with tonnes of character and comic timing, and lots of dumb fun to be had with the lyrics!
  • The Addams Family by Andrew Lippa is a musical based on the famously spooky and ooky family from the tv show, comic books and movies.
    Wednesday Addams, the gothic teenage daughter of Mortica and Gomez, has fallen in love with a ‘normal’ boy and has invited him and his parents for dinner at the Addams home.
    Pulled is the song Wednesday sings as she tortures her brother Pugsley on a rack. She sings how her new love is changing her and ‘pulling’ her in a new direction.
    The song is very funny as Wednesday describes all the things which are suddenly making her happy, the lyrics are a joy and you can have a lot of fun with this song.
  • Sondheim is often a big no no for auditions if you aren’t the worlds greatest singers. Chances are the director knows the song a lot better than you, and will be judging you on other performances of that song.
    However a list of great character songs wouldn’t be complete without a Mrs Lovett song.
    This song comes when Sweeney Todd, a convict, returns to his house where he left his wife and child before he was framed and sent away to jail. The shop beneath his old lodgings is now a pie shop run by the incredible character Mrs Lovett, who will soon be using the corpses of Todd’s victims as pie fillings!
    This is the song she sings when she believes Todd is a customer and wants him to sample her wares ‘the worst pies in London’! A lot of room for character and some great lyrics to get your head round!
  • Agnes Gooch is such a great character in the musical Jerry Herman musical Mame. She is a bookish, gawky nanny who brings a ten year old orphan into the life of his wealthy, eccentric, ‘party animal’ Aunty Mame in the 1920’s.
    In Act Two Aunty Mame and her faithful equally eccentric companion Vera give Gooch a make over and send her out to experience life as a ‘swinger’ or ‘flapper’. Its a dash of lipstick, a shot of whiskey, a sexy new dress and heels for the plain Jane Agnes Gooch.
    She returns six months later back in her bookish outfit having ‘experienced life’ and now sporting a large pregnant belly. Its at this point that we hear ‘Gooch’s Song’.
    A great song with loads of scope for showing off your comedy, storytelling and acting skills.
  • This is a wonderfully funny character song about how an Alto never gets the chance to sing the melody!
    It is full of strong comedy moments for any character actress. The end of the song is pure genius where the Alto gets to demonstrate her fabourite tunes – but her alto parts …. the harmonies!
    If you want to showcase not only your comedy skills but your singing skills then you will have a blast with this truly fun number!
  • Reefer Madness is a comedy musical based on the 1936 crazy cult classic Reefer Madness. The film was a proaganda film telling the story of some clean cut US high school students who are led astray by the wicked world of marijuana!
    Jimmy Harper and Mary Lane are a pair of loveable wholesome teenagers who only ever have pure thoughts for one another. Jimmy falls in with the bad crowd and becomes addicted the the demon weed! He turns from good egg to bad apple and much to her horror he tries to tongue kiss Mary Lane. She runs to church in tears and alone there she sing “Lonely Pew” a song of hope that Jimmy will regain his senses and return to her.
    The song is very funny but needs to be handled completely striaght. There can be no ‘knowingness’ about the comedy, Marry must be 100% pure, innocent and wide eyed.
  • The Rothschilds is little known 1970 musical which had a revival off Broadway in 1990. With a book by Sherman Yellen, music by Jery Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.
    The story tells of the rise of the Rothschild family from humble beginnings in Germany to having a financial empire which helped them to secure a declaration of rights for European Jews in an oppressive era.
    Im In Love, Im In Loveis sung by Nathan Rothschild, the youngest son of the Rothschilds dynasty who has been sent to London and has fallen in love with Hannah Cohen, an aristocratic englishwoman devoted to charity work known as the ‘Jewish Joan of Arc’.
    This song is charming and is also a rarity, which probably means they haven’t heard it before. It is a really fun uptempo baritone song.
  • Jason Robert Brown’s Songs For A New World is a musical with no overall story, its a collection of story songs.
    “Surabaya Santa” is an in-joke pastiche of Surabaya Johnny from the Brecht musical Happy End. It is sung by Mrs Claus and tells of the woes she has in her life being married to Santa!
    The song is really funny and daring and allows you to show off your best decadent Kurt Weill German nightclub style, which soon dissolves by the second verse as she gets more desperate and pathetic! A truly funny song.
  • A Man Of No Importance is a musical by Flaherty and Ahrens based on the 1994 Albert Finney film about an amateur Dublin theatre company putting on a production of Salome at their local church. Alfie Byrne the director of the theatre company is struggling with his own sexuality as well as with the church’s objections to his theatrical endeavours.
    Burden Of Life is sung by Alfie’s devoutly Cathloic sister Lily who has delayed her own marriage to Mr Carney, the butcher next door, until Alfie is wed. He has been her ‘burden’, she belives he has met a girl and is happy for him as now her life might begin.
    The character of Lily would suit an older actress, the song has humour as well as pathos and would make a great audition piece.
  • The Pebble and the Penguin is a 1995 animated movie from MGM. It is based on the true life mating rituals of the Adelie Penguins in the Antartic. The songs are written by Barry Manilow and this shy and gentle love song is a terrific choice for an actor who plays ‘best friends’ and ‘the guy next door’
    Adelie Penguins present a rock at the foot of their future mate securing their position as that Penguin’s lover! this could be seen as the Penguin’s getting engaged!
    In the movie the central penguin Hubie is shy, gullible and kindhearted and in love with the beautiful penguin Marina. This song is sung eary on in the film when the shy Hubie opens up to Marina about his dreams and wonders.
    It is a beautiful song which gives lots of room for character and acting to shine through.
    “Sometimes I wonder
    What the colors mean
    Why the sea is green
    Like your eyes”
  • The Great American Trailer Park Musical is a 2004 comedy musical about the relationships between the tenants at the Armadillo Acres Trailer Park in Florida.
    Flushed Down the Pipes is sung by the girls in the show, but is easily made into a solo song!
    It is comical, heartbreaking, tragic song comparing love to plumbing. “My marriage is in the hands of the Tidy Bowl man / plopped face down in the can, and then flushed down the pipes once again!”
    Lots of comic emoting and country and western realness!
  • Another classic song from a classic show. Do I really need to tell you the story of Oliver?
    The show tells the Dickens story of the orphan Oliver Twist who dared to ask for more in the workhouse. His life has led him to London where he has joined a gang of thieves led by Fagin. He has also met the cockney prostitute Nancy, the classic Tart with a heart.
    This song is pretty much a showstopper and doesn’t really move the story along at all. It is sung by Nancy in the Three Cripples tavern. It is pretty much a music hall number with lots of innuendo and saucy fun. Oom Pah Pah is used as a euphemism for both sex and drink!
  • What could be more bold than singing a song from Evil Dead the musical!
    This hilarious, tongue firmly in cheek. musical is based on the 1980s schlock horror film. Five college kids spend the weekend in an abandoned cabin in the woods and unleash an evil terror!
    Good Ol’ Reliable Jake is a good ol’ fashioned untrustworthy redneck who the lost kids enlist to help them find there way back to the cabin when they are lost.
    This song is again full of fun and contains perhaps my favourite line from any musical theatre song “who can sneak a dead hooker out your hotel room”!
  • A classic comic character song from one of the old classics “Kiss Me Kate”.
    The show tells the story of a musical version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, both on stage and backstage.
    One of the stars of the show has fallen foul of some gambling debts and is being chased by two gangsters who follow him backstage. The gangsters accidentally find their way onstage and improvise a song and dance tribute to Shakespeare and how knowing your way round the Bard is the key to romance.
    Easy to make it a solo song full of word play and a great chance to show off some classic shtick!
There are tonnes of great characters in musical theatre, and therefore tonnes of great character songs. Have a look around and see what you can find. Be bold, daring and creative and you can’t go wrong.