As big breaks go, actor John Riddle’s was pretty epic. He made his Broadway debut starring alongside Chita Rivera in John Kander and Fred Ebb’s The Visit, playing the younger version of Roger Rees’ Anton. Now Riddle has followed that up with Disney’s Frozen, where he plays Prince Hans of the Southern Isles—and sings the beloved score by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. The singing actor stepped in to Playbill’s studio to sing through his audition book and share his secrets behind finding the tunes that helped him book the job.
Listen to Riddle sing “Go Slow Johnny/I’m Shooting High,” “Lonely House,” and “I Gotta Go” in the video above, accompanied by Jesse Kissel.
How do you find your audition songs?
John Riddle: I always believe in just singing stuff that you love to sing. Some of those I found way back in college. I’ve just held on to them because I like singing them and I like to stay away from things people know and hear all the time. I think it helps to come in with a fresh ear. We were singing all the time and we had an audition class so I had a lot of opportunities to figure out things that worked and didn’t work.
Which maybe helped you find something by Nöel Coward that maybe not everybody was listening to on their iPod.
I was more of a musical theatre nerd than I am now. I think one of my friends from school gave me the album of the musical Sail Away, which Elaine Stritch did.
What song did you sing to book your first professional gig?
I sang “On The Street Where You Live” to get my Equity card. I used to sing “If I Loved You,” but I never got any jobs from that so that’s retired. I have a John Legend song in my book, “Stay With You,” Sam Smith “Lay Me Down.” I’ve sung “All the Things You Are.” In the last few years, I’ve been mainly going in for new [musicals] and they give you stuff from the show, which is why it’s my worst nightmare when they say sing something from your book. [Laughs] For Frozen there was “Love Is an Open Door” but [the Hans part is] two seconds long. They needed something else to hear because they’re not going to give out the new material for the lab to have a bunch of people go learn it and share it, so you have to sing something from your book.
What kinds of songs speak to you overall?
I cater to the character. If you’re playing the villain, you’re not going to come in and sing “On the Street Where You Live”—or you could, but you’d have to do it as the sheisty ass, which might be kind of interesting... But I try to pick things that are congruous with the character. But sometimes you don’t even know what you're auditioning for and in that case I go for something that tells a story and shows off my voice.
What is your best audition advice?
The thing that I learned, because my first year or so [auditioning] I was just failing horribly at auditions. I remember sitting on the train thinking, “I’m doing something wrong.” I learned that you have to be the most prepared person that comes into the room and you have to give a final performance when it gets to this level. You have to come in and be off-book; it’s helpful to know your material inside and outside and actually give a performance and not just, “Hey I learned this music yesterday and here’s a whack at it.” The person that’s going to get the job is the most prepared and spent a lot of time on it. That being said, sometimes you do get an audition the night before. That happened for me with Frozen and I had never seen the movie. I was at a bar with my friends and had to run home and learn “Love Is an Open Door” and watch the movie real quick.