BWW Interview: Debut of the Month: DISASTER's Lacretta Nicole
Lacretta Nicole is making her debut as 70's disco diva 'Levora' in Broadway's hilarious new musical Disaster! Set in the wildest decade of the 20th century, the show features earthquakes, tidal waves, infernos and some of the most unforgettable songs of the 1970's!
Today, the talented actress speaks exclusively with BWW about surviving the greatest DISASTER musical to ever hit the Great White Way!
[NOTE: BroadwayWorld's fabulous photographer Walter McBride captures images of the Broadway stars profiled in our monthly column in a special photo shoot. Check out the pics of Ms. Nicole throughout the feature!]
I know you were on tour with BOOK OF MORMON at the time DISASTER played off-Broadway, so how did you become involved with the Broadway production?
Well about five or six years ago I had been involved with a reading for a benefit performance of the show for 'Only Make Believe', and then after that they had a run at the Triad and I was a part of that production. And then I got to do a reading out in LA as well. But then BOOK OF MORMON and a few other things came along which limited my ability to participate in the off-Broadway production.
Your portrayal of Levora is just hilarious. Did you model her after any particular diva from the disco era, or is she perhaps a conglomeration of several of them?
No, actually I'm trying to keep her as human and as honest as possible and someone who is able to live in the moment, someone who has a life outside of that place. From what I know of those divas from that era, it was all about the performance and not necessarily a lot of interviews and stuff like that. So she definitely is more like the women in my life whom I've met and loved or not loved, but not necessarily divas like Tina Turner or Aretha Franklin or Gloria Gaynor.
Can you relate to the character in any way?
Oh definitely! You know it could be challenging being a black woman in the performance industry and although things are getting better now for women of a particular size, you definitely have to make sure that your skill set is a skill set that people are looking for and craving for. So I can understand how moving and devastating it would be for someone like Levora to see her career fade away. Because you really depend on that, not only for your own personal spirit, but also financially - when there's a lull in the work, your money is going out, but it's not necessarily coming in. So I do understand what it is like when you only have four pennies leftover when at one time you've had thousands in the bank and didn't have to worry about anything. I can definitely understand that struggle.
I saw in your bio that you have performed opera as well, probably the furthest thing there is from disco music!
Yes, I got my Masters at University of Iowa in acting, but while I was there, the music department found out about me, they were doing Carmen at the time. I went over and auditioned, not really expecting anything to come out of it because it had been so long since I had trained for opera. So when they cast me as the understudy it was quite a shock! Carmen was my first opera so it was definitely baptism by fire, but I had a blast. It was nice to marry opera and theater, you know combine my acting training and vocal chops together. Because at that time, we were coming out of that era of the pomp and circumstance of opera and then moving into more theater directors directing opera, and trying to bring about a connection with who you were singing to and what you were singing about, rather than just the technicalities of standing there and singing. So that was exciting.
What has it been like working with this cast of Broadway veterans?
It's been amazing! I've learned so much and I just kind of sit and watch and study. I had been on the fence whether or not to get my doctorate or take more classes, but a master class really fell right into my lap with this Broadway debut! So it's been rewarding on so many levels, to get to watch these actors live on stage every night and just be magical and humorous and just have those wonderful tender moments. You know when you have a musical like this, a comedy, sometimes those moments do get overlooked because you're just going for the laughs, but there is definitely a lot of heart in this show, which is what I love about it.
Were you familiar with the disaster films that the show is parodying?
I've seen several of them. I saw the remake of Poseidon Adventure with Kurt Russell. And just the trailer for Airport and all its sequels were just traumatizing. You know when I was on the road we would fly so much from city to city, and just imagining what I would have done in that moment if anything like that would have happened during a flight made me realize that we, as passengers are never prepared. So it was certainly enough to give me a heart attack. I was like 'oh no no no no' - those movies are just too exhausting to watch!
But ironically, as horrible as they were, they make for great fodder to parody.
Exactly! There was always that poor blonde screaming her head off! And also the technology back then is kind of laughable now. I actually talked to my mom about The Birds, and she told me she was just terrified by that movie back then and then I went back and watched it and was like, 'this terrified you?" [laughing] But we see now, because we've come so far technology-wise, when you do go back and watch it, it is laughable, yet I can understand how, at that time, watching something like giant atomic ants attacking a town could be terrifying!
It's true, I guess there was really nothing to compare it to.
That's right. And as a theater kid, I had a great imagination. For me, a cardboard box could be so much - it was a McDonald's drive thru, it was my hospital for my dolls, so even though you could see the strings so to be speak in these films, you could still believe that these people were terrified and it felt like a life or death situation.
And I'm sure that vivid imagination ultimately helped you with your acting career.
Yes, exactly. And it is something that because we are in this modern age, children are losing, and that makes me a little sad, seeing the kids with iPads and all these gadgets. I mean I play video games so I do like a gadget, but at the same time, kids are not coloring anymore the way they used to or playing with Playdoh or even just something like Silly Putty - I mean that pink sticky stuff became so magical when you put it on a comic strip and pealed it away!
You're so right - they don't know what they're missing!
They don't! So I look forward to forcing my children to use their imagination when I have kids some day. They'll play with cardboard boxes and paper towel tubes, play dress up, and watch movies with dragons that look real and put newspaper around their head to become a pirate and all that other great stuff.
I wanted to ask you about the iconic music in this show. How much fun is it to sing some of those 70's classics?
It's just awesome, especially having a parent from the 70's. My mom graduated from high school in '71 so that was her time and for her to pass all that music along to me was amazing. We would listen to the Golden Oldies, everything from 1950 on forward so I definitely had a familiarity with all those songs, which makes doing this show so much easier, because I didn't have to do a lot of that, 'Now what song is that? Who are these people?' So it was much easier for me than for someone like Baylee [Littrell] who barely knows what a cassette tape is! [laughing]
What was the experience like to make your Broadway debut in DISASTER?
Oh it was overwhelming! Overwhelming because I was with my mom when Seth [Rudetsky] called me to come back to New York for that very first reading for 'Only Make-Believe' and to come so far with the show is unbelievable. Now my mom has passed away, so that's the bitter part of the bittersweet, but the sweet is to know that all that hard work, going to undergrad, going to grad school, the times that I had shows consecutively in a year and the times when years went by and I had to work at Staples and had to do what I had to do to get that rent paid, it was all worth it. So to step out and make my Broadway debut, it really means a lot to me because I know the kind of work that I put in. And if a girl from Kansas City can grace the stage with these people, in this kind of show, then there's hope for a lot of people. So I'm humbled and I'm grateful and I'm super-excited!
Congratulations to Lacretta Nicole on making her first appearance on Broadway. The American Musical Theatre Academy is also making its debut in New York! Our school has been grooming young performers in London for five years and we are proud and excited to be opening a school in Manhattan. We're happy to support BroadwayWorld's Debut of the Month, since bringing fresh new talent to the stage is what we're all about. Check out our website www.tamta.com - training takes place in New York AND at our school in London for part of the winter term. All our tutors are working professionals."
About Lacretta Nicole: Lacretta most recently was on tour with The Book of Mormon (Latter Day). Select Regional credits include: A Wrinkle in Time (Coterie Theatre), All Shook Up (FRP), Ragtime (PCS), Avenue Q (Barter). Opera credits include Carmen (Carmen), Gianni Schicchi (Zita). She has appeared on television in "Law & Order: SVU," and "30 Rock."