Before she was Christine Daaé in Broadway’s longest-running musical, The Phantom of the Opera, Ali Ewoldt made her Broadway debut in the first revival of Les Misérables as Cosette and returned to the Main Stem in Lincoln Center’s The King and I. She also played Maria in the first national tour of The Sound of Music. But how did the soprano book these gigs? Ewoldt flips through her book of songs and reveals her audition repertoire, including what she sang for her first professional musical—Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s Phantom.
What song did you sing to book this job?
Ali Ewoldt: To book Phantom, I had two songs that they gave me [from the show], “Think of Me” and “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.”
You also did Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s musical, Phantom, as a child actor. What did you prepare for auditions at such a young age?
What’s so funny is: That was the only thing I did as a child, and I didn’t have anything prepared, so I sang “Happy Birthday” for them. But what’s cool is that “Home” from that Phantom is opening my concert Sunday, [and] it also has become my go-to song in my book because it’s just one of those songs that I viscerally and emotionally respond to, no matter what my day is like. It speaks to me, so it’s become my standard.
What are two other go-to audition songs you sing?
“I Have Dreamed” [from The King and I], which is also in my show, and “Much More” [from The Fantasticks] I use sometimes. I occasionally will throw in a little “I Feel Pretty” [from West Side Story] as an uptempo, which is fun. If it’s something really soprano-y, I’ll do “The Hair Song” by [Sam] Carner and [Derek] Gregor from their musical Unlock’d because it shows off a lot of fun coloratura kind of things, but it’s not “Glitter and Be Gay” that everybody else does.
Have you ever been asked at an audition to switch to an 8-bar cut?
I have, and I feel like it’s the last note of “Home,” or sometimes that’s when “I Feel Pretty” works because it’s really short. There are a lot of words you can fit in, so you can present one phrase—like [the] eight bars at the end. But, yeah, when it gets down to eight bars: Pick your best high note!
Any advice on finding the perfect cut? Do you work with a rep coach?
I have worked with a rep coach in the past, but it’s been a number of years. There are just songs that immediately speak to me, and I know I can sing no matter what time of day it is or how I am feeling, either physically or emotionally. From that small list, [I’ll use] whatever happens to have a complete phrase and feels like it has at least a tiny bit of character development in 32 bars or 16 bars—something where I can also show off who I am as a person as well as a singer.
How do you keep your book fresh?
I like to see all of the [current] shows—as many as I can. Actually, in my show this weekend, I’m singing “The Secret of Happiness” from Daddy Long Legs because I got to see my friend Megan McGinnis in that. She was amazing, and the music is really beautiful, so that gave me a lot of ideas. Any time I go to [a] concert or showcase, I’ll steal those [ideas], too, but [I’m] really trying to keep up with the new musicals and be exposed to as much happening in the business as possible.
Do you have a terrible audition story, or was there a song you used that you’d never use again?
The hardest thing that I ever had to do—and this happened somehow twice in one week—was they had me improv a song in the audition. They were like, “Just sing something… Make it up and move around.” And that was atrocious! [Also,] there was a song that I had a friend transpose from a recording that I had done once—a song that wasn’t published that I tried to sing—but I never tested out the accompaniment that my friend had written. It didn’t work very well, at least not the way that I thought it would. That was a good lesson—best to hear a human play the music before you try it out in the room trying to get a job.