BWW Interview: Make 'Em Laugh, Make 'Em Cry with Joy: A Conversation with Nicolas Dromard
"I think the audience is going to eat up Singing' in the Rain. It is live theatre where anything can happen, and the talent in this cast is really amazing," enthuses the star of Maine State Music Theatre's new production of the beloved classic, which begins its run at Brunswick's Pickard Theater on August 8th. For Nicolas Dromard, the opportunity to play Don Lockwood is a dream come true. "It's taken me thirty-one years, but here I am," he says with a big grin.
Raised in Ottawa, Canada, Dromard recounts how, at the age of six, he was inspired by two movies, Singin' in the Rainand Top Ha,tand their stars Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rogers. "Since that time, I have wanted to play this role [Don Lockwood], " he recalls. Dromard enrolled in a tap dance class at six, then at eight began to study jazz, and at nine ballet, and he performed in countless recitals and dance competitions throughout Canada and the United States. He continued these studies at De La Salle High School, a performing arts institution in Ottawa where he also trained in voice and "the many things required to make it in this business." Dromard says he first firmly articulated his vocation for the stage at age fifteen, when he played the role of Bobby in Crazy for You at the Company Musical Theatre in Ottawa. "I remember thinking, 'Wow, I can do this!'"
Dromard's plans to attend the University of Ottawa, after high school did not materialize. "I went to the University of Life instead," he observes. As fate would have had it, at eighteen Dromard came to New York for a dance competition at the time that auditions for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular in Branson, Missouri, were being held. He was cast and began working in Branson. Following that engagement, he flew back to Toronto where he performed in West Side Story at the Stratford Festival and then in the North American premiere of Mamma Mia!in Toronto. "I always had the intention of going on to the University of Ottawa to study music, but things started to snowball from that point."
One gig led to another. Dromard says that "I have been so fortunate that there has been something magical and special about each show." Among the career highlights he cites: "working with Susan Stroman on my first Broadway show Oklahoma, the Hugh Jackman production of the Boy from Oz, the first national tour and San Francisco production of Wicked,where I played Fyero and got to perform the great music of Stephen Schwartz and work with Joe Mantello, and Mary Poppinson tour and in the closing company on Broadway, where I got to tap dance upside down and bring Bert to life." Most recently, Dromard has played Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boyson tour and on Broadway and off-Broadway, and over the course of his career he has participated in a number of developmental workshops, a process he finds stimulating. "What's fun about the workshops is that you are creating from scratch and bringing something absolutely new to the audience."
But he notes with a smile, his newest role is that of fatherhood. "I am fortunate to have an amazing wife and [two-and-one-half-month-old] daughter, and we have a lot of fun together."
And as he stands poised to play the role he has dreamt about from childhood, Dromard reflects on why Singing' in the Raincaptivates him and audiences so much. "It is the best movie musical of all time. It is so well written, so classic! Who wouldn't want to do it? The first time we ran Singin' in the Rainin a [rehearsal] room, I was crying at the end. It was so emotional for me to be able to do this part and sing that song that everybody, young and old, knows."
Dromard enjoys the challenge of finding the layers of the character. "You can't just play one level. Everybody has layers; these are real people. At first Don Lockwood is a little self-absorbed, but then Kathy Selden sparks that little something in him which makes him reflect. [He thinks] 'No, I deserve to have been made fun of and brought back to earth to question my talent and integrity.'" Dromard says he enjoys being able to bring all that to the role as well as the "essence people expect." He says he is enjoying working with his other two-co-stars - both for the first time- Brian Shepard as Cosmo and Kate Fahrner as Kathy, as well as "all the amazing actors in the cast who bring their talent and experience to the room. We have all this trust, and we have fun experimenting."
Since Don Lockwood begins as silent film star, Dromard notes that finding the right style for the movie clip segments of the production - The Royal Rascalsand The Dueling Cavalier- was essential for the role. "When there was no sound in films, the acting had to be bigger than life," he comments, recounting how the cast had fun shooting these film segments at Searles Castle in New Hampshire this summer.
In addition to exploring the nuances of Don Lockwood's character, Dromard is exhilarated to be working for the first time with director/choreographer Marc Robin. Of Robin he says, "He knows the show so well. This is his ninth production, and it is so much fun to work with someone who knows exactly what he wants, but also allows you to have fun and to bring yourself to the part. If you have an idea, he's the first to say 'Yes, let's try it.' He is willing to experiment, and if something doesn't work, 'Let's try something else.' I am loving every fly ball change with him." Moreover, Dromard says that though he is accustomed to the longer rehearsal periods for Broadway shows (4-5 weeks), he is not daunted by the speed with which Robin and MSMT put up a production. "What's great about Marc is he comes with the blocking all done. You just have to write it down and memorize it. In one week we learned the whole show and after nine days we ran the entire thing without stopping!"
Dromard also waxes eloquent about Robin's choreography - such a crucial element to any production of Singin' in the Rain. He describes what Robin has created as "a champagne pack; it's athletic; it looks good; it feels good to the body. It just flows. It's like floating on air." Once again, he says Robin's method takes into account the dancer's individual strengths. "We developed the ballet together. He had a skeleton of what he wanted, and together we made it fit my skills and strengths. It is so beautiful and so incredible to be able to do it in its entirety."
As Nicolas Dromard passionately describes why Singin' in the Rainmeans so much to him as a performer, he also reflects on what, he believes, is the enduring appeal and significance of the show for the audience. "No matter what is happening in the world or what is in the newspapers, going to the theatre affords an escape. This is a show within a show about the challenges that silent film actors had to overcome to keep a studio successful. It is so much fun; the songs and dances are great. They bring people back to the time they first saw the movie and remind them how magical that was!"
But Dromard insists, it is not only the connection to the movie that draws an audience into the staged musical version. He talks of the excitement of live theatre. "Anything can happen. You can stay at home and watch the movie, but to come to the theatre and see live actors on stage performing this material. I think the audience is going to eat it up!" he declares, finishing the thought within which he began the conversation.
"They are going to get splashed on; they are going to laugh; they are going to cry - from joy, that is! This show is going to pluck everyone's strings!"
Photographs courtesy MSMT, RogerbS. Duncan, photographer & www.nicolasdromard.com
MSMT's Singing' in the Rainruns from August 8 - 25, 2018 at nthe Pickard Theater, 1 Bath Road, Brunswick, ME 207-725-8769 www.msmt.org