You know the story of old Broadway, “Listen kid, you’re going out there as a kid, but your gonna come back a star,” or something like that from the hit musical 42nd Street, And, it really can happen just like that. For a local actor, it just may come to fruition sooner than later because he leaves this week to join the national Broadway tour of the hit, The Book of Mormon.
Leaving on a jet plane, Thursday morning, Dana Joel Nicholson, heads off into parts unknown and he don’t know he’s coming back. For his sake, he hopes his return looms in the very distant future, scattered with Broadway successes along his path. His road to Broadway began in October and at the Miller Marley School of Dance when scouts came through Kansas City looking for new talent for The Book of Mormon. Nicholson’s video tape of his audition then went to Broadway producers who later contacted him to come to NYC for further call backs.
“I auditioned and didn’t think a lot about it, and then, day of all days, April 1, April Fool’s Day, I got an email from someone from the show. I thought a friend was pranking me, but I responded, anyway. I was called to come to New York for further auditions on a Sunday and Monday. I made my way to New York, worked with directors, sang, played a couple scenes, and soon after I returned to Kansas City, I was told I had a part.”
Like the rags to riches stories everyone relishes and hopes happens to them, this really did happen for Nicholson. He was told he has a six month contract for the road show and has less than three weeks to be performance ready. He said he flies directly to Toronto to begin study and must be ready to perform toward the end of May.
“At that point, I could go on anytime. If the character is ill, if he needs a few days off, whatever, I am there, in costume, ready to go–even in the middle of a show, should the need arise. It’s so exciting,” he said. Officially, his contract is for under-study, but he knows show undergoes internal changes as other contracts expire or change. So, that makes Nicholson one step closer to his dream.
Singing was Nicholson’s claim to fame as a child and through school, until in high school the acting bug bit and he landed parts in every production from his freshman year onward. Then, college in Springfield, MO furthered his singing, dancing, and acting career.
“I owe everything to my college acting teacher, George Cron. He taught me what I know now and really helped me. I would not be here had he not been my teacher and coach.” Nicholson said equally important was his vocal coach, Andrew Childs, both from Southwest Missouri State University before they changed to Missouri State University.
For the last few years, Nicholson performed around the Kansas City area for Egads! Theater Company, The Coterie, The Living Room, The KC Rep, and others. Most recently, he closed in Carousel at the Rep and just prior to that Shrek, The Musical at The Coterie.
“The timing was right. I just closed Carousel, in March, and this first email came April 1,” he said. The concrete offer came his way in mid-April.
“My first audition here in KC was mid- October. A casting agent was present here in KC. Producers didn’t see me in person until New York City. An email came on April Fool’s day, but my trip to New York City for the audition happened on Sunday, April 21; and call-backs on Monday, April 22. “‘The call’ came that Friday afternoon. So, the initial email came on April 1, and the offer came April 26.”
Nicholson knows the road to Broadway can be paved with gold and heartbreak. Success in one show does not guarantee a career. And, on the other hand, a successful show opens doors to many others.
“I got this opportunity partly because of my size. I play Elder Arnold Cunningham, the chubby, likable sidekick to the lead character, Elder Price. He (Price) is the best in his class, and Elder Cunningham is paired with him to go to Africa and spread Mormonism.
“After Elder Price requests a transfer from Africa, my character is left to convert the natives. The problem is, Elder Cunningham has never read The Book of Mormon, and he makes up and embellishes the stories when he doesn’t know the correct answer to a question. He throws in Darth Vader stuff, sci-fi stuff, whatever he can think of to keep the natives coming to his meetings. And, Cunningham becomes the first Mormon to score a baptism and convert one of the locals. After that initial one, 12 others follow,” he said.
The Book of Mormon won nine Tony Awards including Best Musical. Expected to be over-the-top because its writer, Trey Parker. Parker created the X-rated dialog and characters of Southpark, the TV show. Parker pushes the envelope with his wit, sarcasm, and biting humor.
Parker actually watched Nicholson’s New York audition, and Nicholson swears he heard Parker chuckle at some of his line delivery. That, too, encourages Nicholson to believe in his future with the show.
“I will ride this train as far as it goes,” he said.
The smile, the mirth, the twinkle in Nicholson’s eyes as he recants the stories are convincing enough to make one want to go to Toronto and see his performance. The show, currently in Toronto, moves across the US and Canada to different cities. So, for the next year, the show traverses the continent.
His excitement breeds excitement. He knows not how long the show may run. If his contract renews in 6 months he could encounter new successes. Nicholson may actually get the official part of Elder Cunningham on Broadway, but none of that matters. He’s got his heart set; he’s got the drive; he’s got the exuberance; he’s got the joy. He’s on his way.