Tony Award nominee Chad Kimball (Memphis), returns to Broadway in the rave-reviewed new musical Come From Away. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, 38 planes were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, and in Come From Away, Kimball’s character (well one of his onstage personas) was a passenger. A true ensemble piece, each actor plays multiple roles in the intricately staged work by Broadway newcomers Irene Sankoff and David Hein. But Kimball has been an actor in New York City for over 17 years. He esetablished a vast repertoire at Boston Conservatory, but one audition song consistently served him well to book jobs, from his Broadway debut in 1999’s The Civil War and beyond. Here, Kimball reveals his go-to song and the rest of the pages in his audition repertoire.
What song did you sing to book Come From Away?
Chad Kimball: I actually sang from the show, and I knew the creative team going in, so that was a plus. They knew my voice. I sang a couple of numbers from the show. I believe they were “Welcome to the Rock” and “28 Hours,” so I learned those babies, and tried to memorize them the best I could because one of them flies by pretty quickly.
What about for your big break (and eventual Tony nomination) as Huey in Memphis?
The original production at North Shore Music Theatre I sang “The Mason” by Craig Carnelia. I’m a huge fan of Craig’s work. His lyrical ability to tell a story speaks to something in me. I wanted a song that was at the same time both sad and hopeful and pop. That one did the trick. For my Memphis audition for Broadway, since I was the only one who would had ever played the role I simply sang “Memphis Lives in Me” with a surprise ending: some of the sheet music out there has a D-flat – above high C – at the end of this song. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and as I was packing to fly to New York to audition, I was playing around with the song and riffing and that note was born. Well, David Bryan and the rest of the crew loved that note and we kept it. I have apologized to subsequent Hueys for my creative endeavors on that note. I think they've forgiven me.
What are your go-to audition songs you sing? Take me through your book.
Well, I prepared pretty extensively in college. My emphasis—or minor, I guess you could call it—was Musical Theatre Repertoire, so we went through decades of various genres of music and pulled out little snippets of songs from each era, and really focused on 16 bars, 32 bars…and then one or two full songs. Honestly, since I’ve been in the city, which is 17 years, I’ve used only three or four. It’s incredible. You keep gravitating back towards the ones that really are successful. The one I used for a long time was “Lost in the Wilderness” [from Children of Eden]. That was the one I booked my first Broadway musical with, which was The Civil War, and I used it for a good 10 or 11 years. I finally retired it, though. I had a ceremony—I took the page out of my book, [filled] the plastic with other sheet music…
What were the other few songs you would go to?
I have a couple other go-tos. I love “The Only Home I Know” from Shenandoah. It’s simple, the melody is absolutely gorgeous. It’s always nice to see people’s reaction to it because, since it is so simple and so beautiful, it’s almost like a pause in the action for [the casting directors], too. And it’s short, so I’ve had some success with that one. It is interesting, when you’ve had success with a song, then it goes to the top of the list. [Speaking of] Craig Carnelia, and one of the songs that I love to use as well is “What You’d Call a Dream” [from Diamonds]. I know that’s a very popular song, but I also love baseball, and I’m a real [believer] of picking something that means something to you and is grounded in the realities of your life, so I love to sing “What You’d Call a Dream.” I also sing a lot of Elton John. His stuff is really fantastic to sing, so I’m constantly finding new Elton John [music]. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” is a fun one for me to sing. It’s a soaring melody. I also sing a song that he had written about John Lennon called “Empty Garden [(Hey Hey Johnny)],” which is a song that I never knew existed. I didn’t knew that he wrote it, which is interesting because I did the show Lennon, and when I found it, I just gasped out loud. It’s a beautiful song.
You said you were studying rep in college, so what were you looking for, in terms of great pieces to present at auditions? How do the songs in your repertoire speak to you?
Back in college, I was running the gamut, making sure that I had every corner of the audition sphere covered. Some of them I didn’t need as much as others—some of the songs from the ’50s I haven’t used at all, but there are also songs, like in the ’40s, that I definitely have used. “I’ll Be Seeing You” I’ve used quite a bit. I think it’s just finding that favorite song that really fits in your voice and that people really respond to and just running with it and not being ashamed of using it time after time.
Where do you look for inspiration when it comes to finding new music?
If I hear something that just really speaks to me, that hits my heart, that says, “I’ve got to sing that,” then I look it up, and I find the music or I get it transcribed, and I put it in my book. That’s the long and short of it.
You said that you were very versed in rep at college, so where do you go in search of music in genres other than musical theatre?
A lot of mine come from pop music, and what I like to do now [is use] apps like Pandora or Spotify, where you can put in the song and it will search “like songs.” Being able to have an algorithm that searches a song and says, “Okay, if you like that song, then you’re going to really like this song and this song and this song. It has the same cadence, it has the same lyrical quality.” Using that as a tool is really effective.
What helps you nail an audition?
My terrible audition stories come from times when I haven’t put as much work as I should of into a song that I’m supposed to prepare, and that’s a tough lesson to learn, but I’ve learned it, My advice to anybody would be, “You’ve got to just know the stuff going in.” When they say the person who knows it the best is really the person who gets it, I think [that] is probably true. So I try and really, really hunker down and learn my material as best as I can before I go in.