Booking It! Broadway, Film and Recording Industry Go-To Vocal Coach Liz Caplan

By Adam Hetrick
and Michael Gioia
14 Feb 2014

Stephen Colbert, Liz Caplan and Neil Patrick Harris

What takes priority in an audition — vocal technique, story telling, hitting the high note?
Caplan: If vocal technique has been ongoing, then it becomes easier to concentrate on the story telling. I truly do believe that the story telling is most important. But, if vocal health is in question, it will get in the way of telling said story, so the two need to meet and work together harmoniously. Your voice is your poetry, how you best express yourself. We feel your voice before we hear it. So the story is being told with your instrument and your command of it.

There are exceptions here. I find that when coaching a student on a song and we hit a wall, I have them speak the lyrics, find out what they mean in this moment. We discuss why the composer might have put these words with this melody and then discover how we can make it the students' own; it does usually mitigate the initial vocal crisis. The way to work is what is best with that particular student in that particular moment.

How do you advise singers on finding new material for his/her book? Where should they begin?
Caplan: The building of a book should be a realistic view of the singers' capabilities to date. It should contain music of all genres. Today this means Motown songs, Sting songs, Sara Bareilles songs, Alannis Morrisette songs, Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown, Stephen Schwartz, traditional music theatre pieces from all eras, standards; and inside of all of the above, the most riveting songs that you absolutely love to sing (in the right key) because that will resonate so deeply and clearly for whomever you are auditioning. It's best to be over prepared with music of all genres (ballads, uptempos and comic pieces), as you never know what production might be on the horizon.

Songs should be chosen because you feel as though you had written them yourself. The lyrics should feel like you'd speak them. The songs that get people work are the ones that they can inhabit fully with their spirit and their personality.

Speaking of a performer's book, how wide-ranging should a singer go? Is it preferred to have a bigger or smaller selection of songs?
Caplan: I think it's better to not offer a large selection of music for a single audition. It's too overwhelming for both the actor and the casting director. An actor can have a large main book with all their music alphabetically organized, or in some cases, organized by style, uptempo, ballad, etc. It's advisable to carry a smaller book for each specific audition. Contained in the audition book should be a maximum of three to four pieces appropriate for this particular audition. You choose the first one. If you are so lucky to have piqued more interest from the room, the casting director might ask what else you might have for them. That's when you can offer up your other selections. They can decide what they might need to hear to complete their idea of what they think/hope you can do.

Do you find certain songs to be overdone? If so, are they still okay to use in your audition if you sing and perform them well?
Caplan: I'm in a position now as teacher and coach where the calibre of students with whom I'm lucky to work usually get material from the shows for which they are auditioning. The "too done" songs have not been a week to week concern of mine. But my opinion has always been that if you know a song is overdone, in that you've heard it outside audition doors a great deal, avoid it. There are massive amounts of material available. You could certainly find an alternate piece that might even say more than your original choice and elevate your audition experience.