Bermudian actor, singer and dancer Nicholas Christopher is currently appearing in Hamilton, the hottest show on Broadway.
Nominated for a record 16 Tony Awards and winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for drama, the hip-hop, R&B-inflected musical tells the story of US statesman Alexander Hamilton, who was killed in an 1804 duel with vice president Aaron Burr. Mr Christopher joined the cast of Hamilton in April. He is a stand-by for the parts of Aaron Burr and George Washington.
Mr Christopher, 25, is the son of Corporation of Hamilton Town Crier Ed Christopher and his wife, Theresa. His brother, Jonathan, is an opera singer based in Europe. He got his start singing with his family and acting out ‘story nights’ along with Jonathan and their sister, Vanessa.
He attended Harrington Sound primary school, and graduated from Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, Massachusetts after his family moved to Boston. Mr Christopher then attended The Boston Conservatory for a year before transferring to New York’s famed Julliard School.
He also attended Stagedoor Manor, a performing arts training centre in New York’s Catskill Mountains for three summers. Stagedoor’s alumni include Natalie Portman, Jon Cryer, Mandy Moore and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Mr Christopher left Julliard after a year when he was recruited for the professional stage production of In the Heights, which featured the same creative team as current hit Hamilton.
Since then, he has appeared in Motown the Musical both on Broadway and on its US tour, and off-Broadway in Rent, Hurt Village, Whorl Inside a Loop and Lazarus.
He has also appeared in the Shakespeare in the Park production of The Tempest – and in April was one of 15 performers invited to sing at the acclaimed annual concert series Broadway Sings. This year, the series featured the music of Whitney
Houston; Mr Christopher sang Saving All My Love for You, putting a jazzy spin on Ms Houston’s Grammy Award-winning and Billboard-topping hit – and then did so again in May at New York’s Highline Ballroom when the show was reprised due to popular demand.
In addition to his involvement with Hamilton, Mr Christopher is in rehearsals for an anticipated Broadway run of Whorl Inside a Loop in 2017. Emmy-nominated actress Christina Hendricks, most recently seen in Mad Men, is to feature.
RG Summer spoke to Mr Christopher about his upbringing, his artistic education – and his career on the stage.
The whole Christopher family is musical. What was it like growing up in an environment where the arts were valued?
I can’t even imagine another way of growing up. We were constantly making up songs and harmonising with each other in corny Brady Bunch style. We would always watch movies. Anything from the Disney catalogue to Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal to Shirley Temple were on repeat all day long. I remember taking my sister’s tap shoes and stomping around on the kitchen floor just to hear the noise the taps made re-enacting the Bojangles and Shirley Temple dance scene perfectly in my mind. It probably sounded more like pots and pans falling down stairs than a choreographed dance but instead of telling me to stop my mother would encourage me to keep going.
Although my mother has never been in the spotlight she is a huge reason we kept at it. She was constantly making us costumes and props as well as being the perfect audience and nurturer. It’s easy to point to my father to understand why we love the spotlight so much but that is not all we got from him. At home he was very quiet and would sit and (don’t tell him I told you) work on needlepoint for hours. Attention to detail and how he observes people and his surroundings even when you think he isn’t is a huge lesson he taught us by example. Our parents set up a safe place where we could journey to ourselves and have compassion for others as they journey to themselves. Us kids are so lucky to have them both within us.
Moving from school to the professional stage, what was the biggest adjustment for you?
I was fortunate enough to go to some of the best acting schools in the US. I learned so much about art and myself as an artist while in attendance. One of the things that was the biggest adjustment for me crossing over into the professional world was the eight show a week schedule. Other than actually doing it I’m not sure if any programme can prepare you for the discipline and stamina it takes to give the same quality of performance eight times a week. Eight times A WEEK. Whew.
The beauty of live performance is that we are all experiencing this story together. For one night this thing lives and breathes and then will never exist again
Your lead role as Smokey Robinson in the US tour of Motown the Musical came after a meeting with the man himself. Can you tell us about that meeting and the role itself?
I was in Dallas working on a new musical when the deal was finalised for me to play Smokey Robinson. I had met Smokey a couple times before while I was a part of the original Broadway cast of the show, but I never really had much time with him. I knew him to be very nice and warm. When we learned he would be performing in Dallas while I was there I was given two tickets and backstage passes to see him. I was floored. I went to the concert with a friend and was very surprised. This smiley teddy bear in person became a smooth sexy SANGIN god on stage having men and women losing their minds in the audience. When the concert ended I went backstage and was met with a huge hug from Smokey and a signed copy of his biography. That thoughtfulness, selflessness and smoothness is really what I tried to highlight when I portrayed him on stage.
Recently, you appeared in Lazarus, a musical that one-time Bermuda resident David Bowie co-wrote featuring songs from his catalogue. How did his death affect you and the production?
Working with the late great star man himself was truly out of this world. I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with a lot of celebrities and people who are masters at their craft, but never have I ever met a person who is so grounded and yet also gives themselves permission to let their imagination run wild; who came into the rehearsal room knowing everyone’s name and who pushed us all to be better not only by challenging us but showing us by example. I found out Mr Bowie passed on my way to a recording studio to work with him and my fellow cast members of Lazarus. It still doesn’t seem real. We kept going to the theatre and did our jobs to serve David’s vision just like he would want us to, but each word had a little more weight, a little more importance. Rest easy DB.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day for me starts at around 7.30am. I go to the gym then eat a good breakfast (bacon, egg and cheese is my JAM!). Then I go home and shave the stubble off this bald head and shower. I pick out a good outfit. Normally the outfit is something practical for rehearsal, but still looks good in case I end up going out after. I ride the subway to Times Square to the theatre for rehearsal. Rehearsal is normally on stage in regular clothes with the associate director, associate choreographer and rehearsal pianist. For about four hours (give or take) we run the show and go over trouble spots with choreography and I ask a million questions that I have been thinking about since our last rehearsal.
On my dinner break I run across the street and get pizza or sushi. After I have had a very healthy meal I run over to get a slice of pie or a cookie from my favourite dessert places. I then roll back to the theatre just in time to sign in half an hour before the show starts. I set up in “The Gym” where I meet understudies, swings and standbys for what we call “Swing sing!” We all then pick a part and sing through the whole show. After about two and a half hours of learning and relearning parts we break for the night. I am normally hungry again so I will meet up with other friends in other shows and we pick a place to eat. I then get on the subway back home to dive into bed to do it all over again the next day.
You have spoken about how, as consumers of culture, we live in an age when we spend a great deal of time passively watching television and movies that don’t require us to react or interact. How is theatre different for audience members and performers?
I think the goal is to not have any difference between audience members and performers. The beauty of live performance is that we are all experiencing this story together. For one night this thing lives and breathes and then will never exist again. It’s special and we are all a part of it. We, the performers, trying new things and you, the audience, reacting at different times for different reasons and we feed off of each other. I feel television and film do more talking at the audience and in theatre it is more of a conversation.
Bermudian Rebecca Faulkenberry (Rock of Ages, Spider-Man Turn off the Dark) has also appeared on Broadway. Have your paths crossed in New York?
Rebecca is one of my best friends in NYC although we rarely see each other because of our busy schedules. A normal hang out will consist of either ginger tea or Dark ‘N’ Stormys while we catch up on what we have been up to.
What has been your favourite role to date, and why?
Picking your favourite role is like picking your favourite child! That’s crazy — I couldn’t pick.
Is there a role that you have your eyes on to play?
It’s a dream of mine to come back to Bermy and do a Pantomime at City Hall with my family. No specific role though.
What is next for you?
Top secret endeavours.
This article was first published in the 2016 RG Summer magazine.