Love Birds: How to cast penguins and parrots in a new musical

In Children's theatre, Edinburgh Festival, Features, London theatre, Musicals, Native, Opinion by Guest BloggersLeave a Comment

How do you cast a new musical that requires a cast of parrots and penguins? After 14 years of casting films, TV dramas and plays,  seasoned casting director Stephen Moore makes his musical theatre casting debut with Love Birds, a family musical by Robert J Sherman (son of Robert B Sherman of the Sherman Brothers fame) which premieres at next month’s Edinburgh Fringe. 


When I was casting at the BBC, a TV script would occasionally require an actor with some sort of musical ability for a particular role – someone who could sing or play a musical instrument – and we would ask the actors to prepare a few bars of a song, or to bring their violin/balalaika/whatever to play in the audition.

I always enjoyed these auditions enormously; whichever way you look at it, watching an actor play a guitar and sing an uptempo number as part of a Doctors audition is always going to be more jolly than listening to an actor read a scene about an ingrown toe-nail.

“One thing that took me slightly by surprise was just how much noise can be made by 15 people tap-dancing simultaneously on a wooden floor. It’s loud. Very loud.”

I’ve seen hundreds of musicals in the theatre, and I’ve worked in casting for fourteen years, but Love Birds is the first musical I’ve cast. Whatever you’re casting, the process is essentially the same: you read the script, and talk to the director about the project and about how he/she sees the characters, and then you try to find actors who will bring something interesting to the roles.

In Love Birds, most of the characters are parrots or penguins, who are also performers in an all-avian revue. The songs the characters perform in the show are often the numbers from the revue so it was clear that we were going to be looking for ‘triple threats’ (ie, performers who can sing, dance and act) in order to make the show work.

Love Birds penguins: Rafe Watts, Jonny Purchase, Ryan Willis and George Knapper

Love Birds penguins: Rafe Watts, Jonny Purchase, Ryan Willis and George Knapper

We started the process of casting Love Birds with a day of group auditions to find our parrots and penguins. We saw performers in groups of around 15 and began each session with a ‘dance call’, which was a new experience for me (we didn’t have dance calls on EastEnders) in which director Stewart Nicholls taught everybody a short tap routine to the jaunty tune of Anything Goes.

One thing that took me slightly by surprise was just how much noise can be made by 15 people tap-dancing simultaneously on a wooden floor. It’s loud. Very loud.

After we’d seen everyone dance, we let the group have a rest and change out of their jazz slacks before asking them to come back in to sing for us individually. The actors had been told to prepare a number in the ‘legit’ style for the singing part of the audition – preferably something from the golden age of Broadway musical theatre. (“Younger than Springtime” was a very popular choice for the boys and, perhaps surprisingly, the song we heard most frequently performed by the girls was “A Little Bit in Love” from the musical Wonderful Town.)

“I was struck immediately by how much more courage actors need to have when auditioning for musicals… Auditioning for musical theatre requires real guts.”

As someone who has mostly cast for TV and film, I was struck immediately by how much more courage actors need to have when auditioning for musicals…

Love Birds previews at London’s Lost Theatre on 28 and 29 July 2015, before premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe, running at the Pleasance Courtyard at 12.35pm daily from 5 to 31 August 2015.

 

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Guest Bloggers on Twitter
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MyTheatreMates welcomes submissions from guest bloggers and other occasional contributors, including theatremakers commenting on aspects of their shows. Please email your suggestions to Mates co-founder Terri Paddock or submit them via our Contact Us page.