Made in China, An Original Musical by Nicholas Weinbach

Nicholas Weinbach continues to offer us a glimpse into the world putting together a new indy musical. 

Since my last entry, director Ashley Cowan and I have held auditions for Made in China and are currently in the process of making a decision about a final cast list. Auditions are interesting: they can be long and tedious and enjoyable at once. It’s nice to sit behind the other side of the table and watch actors come in and basically try to impress you. The exciting part is looking forward to what the next actor will bring – if he or she can bring anything – to the table. You hope that that next actor will be right for a part. It sucks when they’re not. You end up tediously going through the motions of reading the same sides with people whom you are not very likely to cast. The fun part comes when the actor does have a spark, and you smile at the idea of possibly including this person in your cast.

Because I’ll be playing the lead character in Made in China, it was important for Ashley to have me read with the other actors, especially those whom we would possibly consider to play the role of Amber, my character’s love interest in the musical. When the chemistry wasn’t there, I was bored. When it was there and there was something intriguing about the actress reading opposite me, anyone could recognize the magic. There were a couple of girls whom Ashley and I both instantly thought, “This girl is it. She’s the one.” It can be very relieving to know that you’ve found someone who can potentially fill the role as if the search can be over at that very moment. But, you have to give a fair shot to everybody else. Subsequently, when another girl comes along who also evokes a similar chemistry, you’re left racking your brain as to who would be the better choice. It’s hard. You feel bad if you don’t cast an actor who is very talented but wasn’t quite right for the part, but when he or she is right for the role but someone else is just a little bit more right, you feel worse not casting that actor.

For a musical, you not only have to audition for acting skills but also singing skills. There are a lot of factors that go into the singing alone. It’s not enough, sometimes, that an actor can sing well the song that he or she chose and prepared for the audition. You have to test the actor’s ability to adapt his or her voice to the music of this particular musical. You have to test how well he or she can pick up the melodies that you are presenting right then and there. If the actor can sing this new material on the first try, you know that you won’t have as hard of a time teaching him or her the music during rehearsals and time can be better spent working on something else.

Another related question concerns the actor’s vocal range This is so important. Even if the actor sang his audition song well, would he or she be able to hit all the notes that your musical’s music demands? Does the actor read music? This is something Ashley and I are currently worried about for a particular actress who seemed to have the magic when reading a side but didn’t seem to adapt as quickly to the musical material. We know that if we cast that particular actor, a lot more work will be needed to mold and strengthen the actor’s singing voice into something as magical as the chemistry she elicited during our reading together.

In order to accomplish a better understanding of each actor’s musical adaptability, during the callbacks, I taught two groups of five or six actors at different times two different songs. I would sing the melody with the piano accompaniment played by our pianist, Jon Gallos. In fact, I would sing line by line and then have the rest of the group repeat what I just sang. We’d repeat lines over and over again until it seemed to me that they should feel comfortable with the melody. After singing the melody (and this is just a little snippet from each song, not the whole thing) a few times as a group, I would call upon each actor to attempt to sing the new melody on his or her own. How well was each actor able to learn the melody within the short span of five to ten minutes? How many mistakes did each actor mistake? If the actor made a mistake, did that necessarily disqualify him or her from the final casting decision? These are all question we had to take into account during the auditions and thereafter.

There’s a lot to consider when casting for a musical. The skills required of an actor in a musical makes the musical audition process more difficult than casting for a normal play. I suppose, by the next time I write a blog entry, we’ll have made our final casting decision and begun prepping for our first rehearsal. Look forward to telling you more in two weeks!