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By Lauren Kay
Three dancers on booking musical theater jobs
The company of A Chorus Line’s national tour. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
A musical theater audition can seem like a daunting labyrinth, with two exits marked “I booked it!” and “Not this time,” separated by a winding obstacle course of dance cuts and vocal challenges. And while it’s possible to leave the maze triumphant on the first try, many seasoned professionals have learned that it takes more than strong technique to make it through—dancers need confidence, flexibility and resiliency.
After years in classical ballet, Marisa Paull sought a second career in musical theater. A School of American Ballet alum and former instructor at both Broadway Dance Center and Peridance Capezio Center, technique wasn’t an issue when booking her recent gig in the Las Vegas ensemble of The Phantom of the Opera, since most of the movement was ballet-based. But Paull’s first audition attempts proved more challenging than expected; she had difficulty picking up new choreography and performing it. “You need a broad dance vocabulary for musical theater and you have to sell it immediately,” she says. “It took me a long time to understand that the movement doesn’t have to be perfect, but you need to enjoy it.”
To improve, Paull attended a wide variety of classes, choosing sessions almost randomly to replicate the audition atmosphere. “I went to teachers and classes far outside my comfort zone—like hip hop—and purposely didn’t go to anyone regularly,” she says. “I’d struggle through, but it let me work on perfecting something to the best of my immediate ability.”
With national tours of The Addams Family, The Wedding Singer and West Side Story on her resumé, it may seem like Lauryn Ciardullo, 27, books shows easily and often. But the SUNY Purchase grad says it’s not that simple. “I always have to go in multiple times for shows,” she says. “It’s a matter of listening and making smarter choices each time.”
Her path to A Chorus Line is a case in point. When she first auditioned for the tour’s choreography re-stager Baayork Lee (who had assisted Michael Bennett and played the original Connie), Ciardullo had already performed the show with a regional company. And though she knew the choreography and felt relaxed through the first jazz sequence, she had to make it through four rounds of auditions with Lee before getting hired. She took special note of her instructions. “In every callback, Baayork kept saying to go back to ballet class,” Ciardullo recalls. “I wasn’t missing the turns, but my technique wasn’t completely solid.” So back to class she went, and the technique refreshers—which produced better turnout and stronger feet—all helped book the job.
Make Bold Choices
Neka Zang booked a principal part in a regional production of 42nd Street immediately after graduating from New York City’s American Musical and Dramatic Academy in 2003. Then she hit a dry spell. “I’d get to the end of auditions and not get hired,” she says. “Looking back, I didn’t know myself. I was giving them what I thought they wanted instead of me.”
In 2005, Zang auditioned for Wicked, and while she was in the running after the dance calls, her audition ended soon after singing. She chose “Take Me or Leave Me” from Rent, unaware the song was an all-too-common choice that didn’t show off her personal style.
Before auditioning again, Zang discussed a new approach with a friend who had performed in the show, a tactic she recommends. In the end, Zang says she stood out—and got the job—when she sang a pop song in a funny, almost psychotic way. “It was so me,” says Zang, who is currently an ensemble member of Broadway’s Rock of Ages. “Maybe you have big hair or are a high soprano. Know that’s what sets you apart and play into it. Safe is boring—be you.”
Quick tips from the pros:
Lauren Kay is a writer and frequent auditioner in New York City.