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In a recent interview, Nicole talked with us about what her three productions have taught her about IN THE HEIGHTS, what life is like for a working newlywed actor, and what it’s like launching a cabaret act with your husband.
The SpeakEasy production is your third production of IN THE HEIGHTS. Tell us what it is about this show that keeps you coming back.
My journey with Heights started in 2011 as a swing/understudy for Camila, Daniela, and Abuela Claudia on the 2nd National Tour. I ate, slept, and breathed Heights for almost an entire year, and I can honestly say I never tired of this show…not once. What I love the most about Heights is that there is something for everyone. The ideas of family, community, finding where you belong, and dreaming of a better life are themes that almost anyone can relate to; and I love the way audiences everywhere respond to that. I would be remiss not to mention how well constructed this show is, from the book to the score (just try and resist the urge to shimmy in your seat or toe tap along to the beat). Also, it is so refreshing to see the Latin community portrayed onstage without stereotypes. I wish the neighborhood I grew up in was this vibrant, friendly, and tight-knit!
What is your favorite moment in the show?
I remember seeing Heights on Broadway in 2009 and being absolutely awestruck by “Paciencia y Fe”. It is, in my opinion, one of the greatest numbers in the history of musical theatre – a fantastic fusion of all of the elements (music, choreography, lighting, etc.) used to tell such a beautiful story – and our version here at SpeakEasy does not disappoint.
What is it about the SpeakEasy production that makes it unique from the other two productions you have been a part of?
Being a part of SpeakEasy’s production of Heights has been a huge honor for me. My husband’s family is from the Boston area, and many of them have never seen me perform and have loved coming out to see the show. In fact, my husband has seen the SpeakEasy production 4 times (so far) bringing the total number of times he has seen the show up to 14. This is also the first time I have done the show without the original choreography/staging, and it has been so exciting to be a part of a fresh take on something that I know so well. We couldn’t ask for better leaders and interpreters of the material than [Director] Paul [Daigneault], [Choreographer] Larry [Sousa], and [Musical Director] Nick [Connell]. I have particularly enjoyed working with Santina Umbach as my daughter Nina and Tony Castellanos as my husband Kevin. They are such brave and generous actors, and I am so very proud of the work we do every night.
Would you be open to doing IN THE HEIGHTS again? Or are three times enough for now?
I am totally open to doing the show again…I love Camila, but I would be excited to try my hand at another role!
Tell us about the character you play – Camila.
Camila is a loving yet tough-as-nails mother and wife who came to this country with her husband at a young age in search of a better life. She works incredibly hard and is very proud of what she and Kevin have accomplished, and even more proud of their daughter Nina.
Are there any traits you have in common with the character?
Too many to list here!! But I would say that we both are extremely hard working, sensitive, and devoted.
How do you approach her signature song “Enough”?
“Enough” comes from a place of love…a place of loving her family so much and believing that they can get through anything as long as they communicate and work together. It also comes from a place of hurt and frustration that the two people she cares about most in this world are at each other’s throats and have made some pretty important life decisions without checking in with her first.
Tell us about growing up in Los Angeles.
I loved growing up in Los Angeles. Specifically, I grew up in the Venice/Marina Del Rey area and it will always be the place I call home. I must say that, after living away from it for a bit, I finally realize how much I took the weather for granted. What are these seasons that you East coasters have?
What was your first theatrical experience?
My first theatrical experience was the title role in my school’s production of Hark the Herald Angel in third grade – and it was all downhill from there (KIDDING!) It never dawned on me that I could actually make a career out of performing. I always considered it more of a hobby and chose to use my talents to dominate karaoke competitions at local dive bars (I wish I were kidding!) until I woke up one day in my late 20s and realized that I could sit in a cubicle for the rest of my life or I could try to do something I was really passionate about. I enrolled in musical theatre school a year later, and two years after that, graduated with my BFA. Two months after graduation, I began my journey with Heights.
In addition to your stage work, you also have a cabaret act with your husband JP Sarro.
Our cabaret concept was born out of the need to share the hilariousness of the events that led up to our wedding day. JP asked me to marry him, and a month later, I was on the road with Heights, planning our wedding from my pink laptop backstage while he was doing Hairspray and Aladdin in Utah. It seems that playing the mother of strong-willed young women is what we both do best…I’ve seen my husband dressed in drag playing the role of Edna Turnblad in Hairspray multiple times (almost as many times as he has seen Heights). Top all of that off with a cross-country move and adjusting to New York City living…the material really wrote itself. One of my favorite numbers in the show is a tribute to our downstairs neighbor. She is very “sensitive” to our noise level and could win Olympic gold for her dexterity in smacking our ceiling with what I assume is a broom when we are “too loud”. We pay homage to her with a rewrite of Tony Orlando & Dawn’s “Knock Three Times”. JP sings lead while I sing backup and play a variety of household items as “instruments”.
You were married here in Boston just last October. Is it hard to be a newlywed and have to leave for a show on the road?
I wish I could say that being apart for work gets easier but it’s always difficult. Thank goodness for technology!
Where can we see you next?
I will be appearing as Paulette in Legally Blonde with the Ocean State Theatre Co. in Warwick, Rhode Island, July 8-28!