Book Review: Musical Theatre Audtions and Casting

Music-TheatreMusical Theatre Auditions and Casting: A performer’s guide viewed from both sides of the audition table
Neil Rutherford, with a foreword by Barlett Sher
Methuen|Drama 2012
Available at

“Be prepared.”

Any book on auditioning that is worth its salt boils down to one statement: be prepared.

The rest of the book explains, shows and tells you how to be prepared for that one audition that could change your life.

Musical Theatre Auditions and Casting: A performer’s guide viewed from both sides of the audition table, may well be the only book on preparing for auditions that you’ll ever need – not just for musical theatre but for any audition, frankly.

The author, Neil Rutherford, has the credentials to write such a book. He worked steadily for 15 years as an actor in London’s West End and in regional theatre, before transitioning into a new career as a casting director. But there’s more than just Rutherford’s knowledge and experience on display here. He also presents advice from such theatrical luminaries as Bill Deamer (choreographer), Richard Eyre (former director of the National Theatre), Christopher Gatelli (director and choreographer), David Gilmore (director), Jamie Lloyd (director), Christopher Luscombe (director), Joey McKneeley (director and choreographr), Stephen Mear (choreographer), Jerry Mitchell (director), Vanessa Scammell (Music Director/Conductor), Dominic Shae (Director/Choreographer), Bartlett Sher (director), David Taylor (director) and Gareth Valentine (musical supervisor).

Americans readers of this book may never have heard of any of those names, but they are the names in the theatre world in the UK.

Don’t be put off by the fact that this book was published in the UK, mentions a lot of British theatres (like the Savoy, the National Theatre, etc.) and uses a bit of British slang in the example portions. Auditioning is the same all over! The knowledge you need is the same, the personalities you meet in your journey through the theatrical community are the same.

In every section of the book you’ll find essential information, shared by someone who has been there, done that, many, many times.

Take a look at the current listing of professional musicals and you’ll probably find something spanning every decade in the last fifty years. Yu need to be ready to audition for all of them. You may not like all the genres, but it’s not enough in today’s competitive world just to be able to sing in one style. You may also feel more comfortable singing in one style over another, but you need to be able to perform a variety of genres if you want to help your chances of being regularly in work.

Rutherford divides this book into six chapters, and breaks down the chapters into several topic areas:

  1. How the audition process works. Everything from “Who are casting director and what do they do?” to “Your photographs and CV” to “Networking” and “Reputation.”
  2. Preparing for your Audition. Covers such material as “Types of auditions” to “Your repertoire songbook” to “spoken monologues and acting scenes”
  3. The Day of Your Audition. Many topics including “The night before,” “clothing and hair,” “audition checklist basics”
  4. The Audition. “First-round singing audition,” “Entering the room,” “False starts and forgetting,” and “the non-dancers at a dance call.”
  5. Call-backs and beyond, with info on such topics as “New members of the [casting] panel,” “New material,” “Asking questions,” “Rejection” and “Feedback.
  6. Final thoughts

Each of the chapters except 6. Final thoughts, has “Words of wisdom” from several directors, choreographers or musical supervisors – the wisdom that only people who have worked in the business for decades are able to impart.

There are so many gems in this book…the first and foremost is “be prepared”, but this book will show and explain how to be prepared.

Another is to remember that every audition does double duty. While you are advised not to audition for a role you do not want (just to get seen by a director whom you’d like to work with in future), it’s essential to remember that everyone who sees you will be working on shows in the future and you want them to remember you and your abilities.

And, of course, there are the things not to do.

Rutherford shares an anecdote of the auditions for a musical in which he didn’t cast an actress even though she was a better dancer/singer and actress than the woman he did cast. But he found her attitude throughout the entire audition process very off-putting and did not want to have to deal with her antics throughout a whole show.

In the Words of Wisdom for the call-backs section, Joey McKneely had this to share:

Let me leave you with this… I learnt how to audition by going to every audition and watching and dancing my butt off every time. I remember I got cut from an audition in LA once, but the choreographer told me she loved my dancing. The next year she remembered me when I auditioned for her for another show. Her name was Arlene Phillips. And she hired me for my very first Broadway show. See, you never know when the moment will arrive. This is why you make every moment count!”


This entry was posted in Books, Musical theatre, Reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.