Cabaret Chronicles Exclusive: 15 Questions for Nicolas King!
Listen up, folks: there's a new King in town, and his name is Nicolas! This rising star on the cabaret scene and he's been making some very big waves for himself - most recently with an outstanding performance to close the 22nd Annual Cabaret Convention. It is a select group of people in this world who have the distinction of having been in three Broadway shows. And it's an even more select group who reach this milestone bye the age of 11! Not only does the 20-year-old Nicolas King belong to this category (Beauty & The Beast - Chip; A Thousand Clowns - Nick; Hollywood Arms -Malcome), but he's also taking the cabaret and jazz worlds by storm. I've had the pleasure of seeing several of his solo shows over the past few years and each time, I find myself marveling at the sheer talent possessed by this young man. Possessing maturity, poise, and musicality that belie his youthful years, Mr. King never ceases to amaze his audiences. And what's more? He's one of the nicest, most down-to-earth guys you'll ever meet. I recently had a chance to catch up with this rising star and ask him a few questions.
Jenna Esposito: So, Nicolas, are you still on Cloud 9 from your performance at the Cabaret Convention? You were the talk of the town!
Nicolas King: Yes! It was such a blast for me, and especially to close out not only the Saturday night show, but the entire convention! What a thrill! And I was so excited because I got to perform an original song by Glen Roven which was well received. Definitely an adrenaline rush to stand on that stage and pour your heart out, nothing like it.
JE: You've been in the business for a lot longer than many people. Can you tell me a bit about how you first broke into it?
NK: That's true. I started singing when I was about 2, and have been singing professionally since I was 4. Actually, the first song I memorized was "Ring Them Bells", all 6 verses of it! I was surrounded by a musical family, an aunt who was a lead singer in a dance band, and my grandmother (Angela Bacari) who is also a singer, and has been for many years. So growing up hearing music constantly, I sort of fell into performing myself. I don't recall any of my family ever trying to push or coerce me into singing; I actually was the one dragging them to auditions and shows! ... I won "Talent America" in 1995, and that got me started meeting agents, doing voice-over work and filming TV commercials.
JE: As a child performer, what excited you most?
NK: I really just enjoyed what I did so much, it's kind of hard to explain. Someone once said to me "You must have a little piano in your head at all times", to which I replied "Uhm, it's more like a symphony." [Laughter] But it's true, I just always wanted to get up on that stage and just sing what I heard in my head, nothing else gave me such euphoria.
JE: You made your cabaret debut at a far younger age than most performers! What inspired you to put your first show together, and what was that experience like?
NK: That's right! I was 11, I had just finished my run in "Hollywood Arms" (by Carol Burnett and directed by Hal Prince), and I wanted to stay in the NY scene, so I decided to try a night at "Don't Tell Mama's"! I had no clue what to do, I had never done something like that, but thankfully I had the guidance of two intelligent women, my grandmother and Liza [Minnelli]! I'll never forget sitting on Liza's bed a month or so before the show, and showing her my ideas which I scribbled on a pad. She took that pad, and made a few adjustments, added a few ideas, gave me some 'schtick' to do, and then the show took form! It was so much fun. Where could I get better advice?
JE: Where, indeed?! Doesn't every 11-year-old cabaret performer have a heart-to-heart with Liza Minnelli before their debut show? Now, you're not 11 anymore, but you're still doing cabaret. I've seen a number of your shows over the past few years, and am very impressed by how you continually set the bar higher for yourself. What inspires you?
NK: Other people, I think. I'm fascinated by the talent of others. So anything I see from other performers or musicians that wows me, I view as a Master Class. And working with Mike Renzi has been an education and complete awakening for me. We work together so well, and the guy is so brilliant, and I think when you play with brilliant musicians or other people, it inspires you do want to do better. There's no room for mediocrity, so you constantly have to learn, and get better.
JE: You and Mike Renzi make a fantastic team. How did you first meet, and how has your relationship grown?
NK: We're both Rhode Island boys actually! We met at a pizza place in Newport after a gig my aunt was playing, around 2am. I knew all about him, and was very anxious to try and work with him. This guy is an institution in the biz, playing for Mel Torme, Jack Jones, Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, you name it! So, my family and I had him over for dinner one night, a big Italian spread, and once he sat at the piano, we began to instantly connect, and create medleys and ideas! He then told me if I ever wanted him to play for me that he'd be happy to, so I took him up on his offer, and we've been working together ever since.
JE: Wow, what a great story! Now, I know you and Mike have a show coming up at Don't Tell Mama on November 7th (which I'm really looking forward to!). What would you like our readers to know about it?
NK: That it's going to be a blast! [Laughter] I really can't wait for it. For extra pleasure, I've called upon the talent of my pal Terese Genecco to be my special guest for the night! We did a 4-night run in June, and it was very well-received. Liza again resumed her role as "behind-the-scenes contributor", and Mike's arrangements were magnificent! I was so happy with the turn-out, having people there like Gina Lollobrigida, Marilyn Maye, Liza, and of course YOU!
JE: Awww, shucks! It was my pleasure! You also have another frequent collaborator, and that's your grandmother, Angela Bacari, who is a pretty amazing woman. What's it like to be able to share the stage with her?
NK: It's quite interesting, because we're related it's some strange DNA electric explosion really. We both know each other's vocal techniques so well, that I think we complement each other. She's also probably the smartest singer I know. She sings correctly, has taught me so much vocally and besides that, it's just plain fun!
JE: And that fun always shines through when you sing with her! Besides your grandmother and Liza (of course!), what performers inspire you? What music do you listen to for fun?
NK: Oh, that's a loaded question. I'm very drawn to music that evokes emotion. Maybe it's the Italian in me, I don't know, but I love listening to "Vesti La Giubba" by Lanza, or "May I Come In?" by Nancy Wilson and just get my heart torn out! [Laughter] But my iPod is extremely diverse, it ranges from Maroon 5 to Eydie Gorme, Chris Brown to Kay Thompson, Bobby Darin to Jonas Brothers. If you picked it up randomly, you'd say "the owner of this iPod must be clinically insane".
JE: Funny, that sounds a lot like my iPod! And speaking of music on iPods, I've got this great recording on mine...a CD called Nineteen...perhaps you've heard of it? I don't know...it was recently released by this young singer and it seems to be doing very well for itself! Haha, in all honesty, first of all, congratulations on the success of Nineteen - it's a terrific CD. Any plans to record again in the near future?
NK: It IS doing well! In fact, it just was placed on the nomination ballot this year for the Grammy's! So we'll see what happens. I did just record a track for an upcoming album featuring the songs of Tracy Stark's, so that will be fun when it's finished! I don't have any set plans at the moment to record a new album for myself, but my wheels are always spinning to do something new. I don't sit still very well.
JE: You've had some pretty amazing co-stars. Who has been your favorite person to work with?
NK: I've been very privileged to have worked with a lot of kind and genuine co-stars. Tom Selleck was perhaps the most down-to-earth co-star when I did "A Thousand Clowns". Of course, working closely with Liza Minnelli has not only been a dream come true, but the most educational experience. She's been so supportive of me; I've had to pinch myself many times! Working with Neil Simon was a treat; I'm simply in love with his work. Carol Burnett was a delight to work with, and still remains a great friend to me today.
JE: Name dropper! Seriously, though, what an incredible ride you've had so far! You've accomplished so much at such a young age...what goals are on the horizon next?
NK: To keep working. I've never set out anything specific in my career, I've just always wanted to work and make people happy with music. So whatever comes along, I'm ready for I t! My heart has always lain with Broadway, so that's a goal down the road I hope to achieve again. But whatever happens, happens. I happen to absolutely love my job, which is a rare thing today, so as long as I still love what I do, I'm gonna do it!
JE: If you could hang out with any performer, living or dead, who would it be?
NK: It'd have to be a 3-way tie. Jamie Cullum, just ‘cause he's so talented and innovative, Sammy Davis Jr. 'cause he was the coolest cat to ever step on a stage, and Don Rickles because I love to laugh my face off. If that ever became a reality, I just might combust!
JE: When you're not dazzling audiences with your amazing talents, what do you like to do?
NK: Dazzling? I love that, thank you! [Laughter] I love being active, so if I'm not performing myself, I like to go out and watch others perform, or go be entertained with some friends somewhere. But if I'm not doing that, I'm probably sprawled out on my couch DVR'ing "Chelsea Lately" or "The Nanny".
JE: Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview, Nicolas! Just one more question, and then I'll let you go: Yankees in 2012?
NK: You betcha!
Nicolas King will be performing at Don't Tell Mama (343 W. 46th St.) with the Mike Renzi Trio on Monday, November 7th, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. Reservations (highly recommended) can be made by calling (212) 757-0788.
Photo of Nicolas King courtesy of Alexis Evanoff
From This Author Jenna Esposito