Kate Shindle, president of Actors Equity Association, is currently out on the road playing Big Alison in the National Tour of 2015’s Tony-winning Best Musical Fun Home. A former Miss America, Shindle proved she had a big voice when she wowed the judges with “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and continued to tackle big roles and big notes—understudying Jekyll & Hyde’s Lucy in her Broadway debut, replacing as Sally Bowles on the national tour of Cabaret, originating the role of Vivian in Legally Blonde The Musical. An understated role like Alison seems outside of Shindle’s usual wheelhouse. Turns out producers thought so, too—at first.
“The producers of Fun Home were producers on Legally Blonde, so when I saw the show I emailed everybody and was like, ‘I wanna be in for this,’” she recalls. “Later, one of the producers told me they were like, ‘Yeah sure let her audition. It's not like she's going to get it.’ In a loving way.” But she auditioned like a pro and booked it! In the video above, Shindle sings through three of her favorite audition tunes (check out that rendition of Ragtime’s “Back to Before”); and in the interview below she reveals her key to choosing songs that speak to her.
Click here to find out if Fun Home is coming to a city near you!
What do you love to sing about? What are the songs that speak to you?
Kate Shindle: Songs with great lyrics I'm always going to gravitate towards. I feel like every song is better if it's a conversation with someone and there are some songs that lend themselves to that and some songs that don't and some that can be adapted to that strategy. That's actually really helped me with Fun Home where most of my "scene partner" work is with the red light in the mezzanine. The whole show for Alison is a conversation with Dad. That helped me from a lyrical and performance perspective as well because if you're having a conversation with someone you don't just stare at them the whole time. You're going to look away or look down if you get a little embarrassed. It just helps to make things really present for me instead of just trying to sing notes. A lot of people can sing notes, and, to me, the telling of the story, whether it's a hard song or an easy song, is always more compelling.
What song did you sing to book Jekyll & Hyde?
For my first audition I did "When I Look at You" from [The] Scarlet Pimpernel because I had just gotten to New York and I had just seen Scarlet Pimpernel on a Wednesday matinee, Jekyll on a Thursday night, and my audition was Friday; but I was so obsessed with that song that I went home and learned it right away.
What else is in your book?
I barely even have a book. I have a hundred books of sheet music and baskets of single sheets. To me the thing to do when I get an audition that asks me to sing from my book—which is less common—I'll go through and find three or four songs I think are right for that. Sometimes I'm wrong. I got pretty close on the original Last Five Years. I remember I went in and I wanted it so badly. I went in and I did "When I Look at You" and, honestly, in that room with those people it just felt like yelling—and I think it sounded like yelling, too. [Last Five Years composer-lyricist] Jason [Robert Brown] picked up my book and saw [Billy Joel’s] “New York State of Mind” and had me sing that instead, which is not what you would think of. But there's a guy who's looking for musicianship in his singers. So I always have that in there. If they ask for a pop song I'll sing "Natural Woman" or something vintage that has range, an actual song that was on the radio, not something from Aida—that's a musical theatre piece. Also "Black Coffee," [which] falls into the "At Last" category.
Is there a song that you would love to sing that hasn't been right for an audition?
There are a lot of songs like that and it's not so much that they're not right for the audition, I think it's important that you don't put something down that's too hard for just any accompanist who's there.
Accompaniment provided by Logan Culwell-Block.