Marina Prior calls him ‘a triple threat talent’. As an actor, singer and dancer, Nigel Huckle has performed to audiences internationally.
He recently played Barnaby in ‘Hello, Dolly!’ for The Production Company, was a finalist for the Rob Guest Endowment Award and is about to embark on a US tour as the newest member of Australia’s internationally acclaimed singing sensation, The Ten Tenors.
I caught up with Nigel to understand what’s it’s like to be one of Australia’s next generation of musical theatre stars.
It’s an unusually warm 30 degree November day in Melbourne and we’re sitting at a balcony table overlooking the Yarra River. Nigel came straight from a voiceover recording session and will spend the rest of this afternoon preparing for an audition he has to fly to Sydney for tomorrow.
As we order coffee, I notice his accent and assume he’s American. “I was born in Australia, but I grew up in the US. My family immigrated to the US when I was 8”.
Although he first moved back to Australia two and a half years ago he’s still facing the challenge of identity and how he fits in. “I’d like to be considered an Australian actor. I was born here, but if you listen to me, I’m American”.
Now settled in Melbourne, the 26 year old tenor is ambitious, determined and, having seen him perform, certainly has what it takes to do great things.
While I suggest that being based in the US, would surely present more opportunities for roles, he says he finds the quality of life in Australia outweighs that benefit. “Lifestyle in Melbourne is second to none”.
You could say he literally wears his heart on his sleeve. A tattoo on his bicep reads, ‘And rain will make the flowers grow’, a line from his favourite scene from Les Misérables. “I like the sentiment that bad things may happen, but it makes the good things better”.
Growing up in the US in Roanoke, Virginia, his first audition was at the age of 8, for Peter Pan at the Mill Mountain Theatre in which he won a role as one of the Lost Boys.
He took weekly voice lessons at the Kevin Jones Performing Arts Studio and was part of the musical theatre ensemble, but hadn’t considered it as a career. “I was thinking of going into law, maybe going to the military and then joining the JAG core. I’d done my research and really wanted to study law, especially criminal law, like being a criminal prosecutor and then maybe be a district attorney”.
When a friend pulled him aside one day and said ‘You have to be an actor, it’s what you’re good at, I can see you enjoy it and you have what it takes’, he decided to give it a try, especially when someone else believed in him so much.
His role models are actors who have experience with ‘golden age’ musicals, like Matt Cavanagh and Gavin Creel (who recently won a Tony Award for his role as Cornelius Hackle in the Broadway production of ‘Hello, Dolly!’). “I feel more comfortable doing older style musicals, it’s where my voice fits”.
Summer stock, the US regional theatre scene, provided him with some experience, and while in college he played Sherriff Joe in The Spitfire Grill at the Highlands Playhouse in North Carolina. The following summer, he was in Hairspray working in the ensemble alongside actors who worked on Broadway.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from Shenandoah Conservatory at Shenandoah University in Winchester Virginia, he went on to play Marius in Les Misérables and then Chris in Miss Saigon at the Midtown Arts Center in Colorado.
“I loved playing Marius. I also love the role of Chris in Miss Saigon. Chris is a powerful story to tell”. The Colorado Theatre Review was encouraging, “Huckle was excellent as Marius in Midtown’s “Les Miserables,” but that role did not showcase his talents as well as “Miss Saigon.” He is an awesome performer!’
Moving back to Australia initially proved difficult as he wasn’t getting the traction at auditions like in the US. He was also conscious of the recent controversy that saw a number of Australian musical producers cast international performers in lead roles. “I’m not an import!” he jokes, “but I haven’t gotten the answer yet as to whether the industry sees me as Australian. If a show had to do media interviews, how would they feel about an American actor doing interviews?
He remained resilient and when the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival offered him the role of Lt Cable in South Pacific, he temporarily moved back to the US and then to New York.
It was short-lived. “5 months later, I got the International tour of Les Mis, which was the previous Australian production that moved to Asia. It is such an epic experience”.
He played Feuilly and was the understudy for Enjolras. “I covered Enjolras on the opening weekend with 4 hours rehearsal on the day. It’s much more of a challenging singing role, but I knew it was my job. This is where I flourish. I’ve come to learn that I can handle 8 shows a week.”
On returning to Melbourne, he finally secured his first professional Australian theatre role playing Barnaby Tucker in ‘Hello, Dolly!’ alongside Marina Prior, Australia’s queen of musical theatre.
“I really enjoyed working with The Production Company. It was a great experience. This was the chance to share the stage with Marina Prior, of all people. She was so sweet and so welcoming. It was a dream”.
Marina says, “Nigel is a great young triple threat talent who has an incredible charm and ease on stage, and a fantastic light comedic touch. He is also a generous, delightful guy to work alongside”.
The reviews he received for the show were positive. ‘Nigel Huckle charms…’ claimed the Sydney Morning Herald.
“It was great to share what I have with the Australian community. Barnaby was a lot of fun and was the first time in a long time I’d been in a show where nobody died!”
Nigel was also a finalist for this years’ Rob Guest Endowment Award, one of Australia’s scholarship programs providing financial assistance and support to help emerging young performers in the musical theatre industry. On the process, he explained, “You audition and choose your own material. You get to go in and show yourself off. I sang ‘Why God Why?’ from Miss Saigon, one of my favourite roles.”
This was another encouraging sign that he was on the right track. “It was an honour getting recognised and to get this far in my first year auditioning.”
Always keen to learn and experience new things, when he’s not being an actor on stage, Nigel is also an emerging filmmaker. Earlier this year, he was assistant producer on a film called The Red Palace with Jenna Cosgrove, a production designer and stylist from Melbourne who runs Resurgence Productions.
He also co-produced a short film called The Hunt, with Tropfest finalists, Catherine Mack and Holly Hargreaves, who also wrote, directed and acted in it.
However, it’s Terminal One, a film he produced that is currently in post-production that he’s most excited about. It was funded through Kickstarter and is a story about heartbreak and masculinity. “Society tells us that men can’t cry, that they can’t show emotion in public. ‘Man up’, they say”.
Terminal One takes place in the Philippines and is about a couple who’ve had an abrupt break up. “We see them in a taxi on the way to the airport to drop off the departing partner. We see the struggles the departing partner goes through on his way home. We wanted to explore an avenue where men can experience emotion from heartbreak”.
His experience as Producer meant he was involved in everything from securing locations to assembling cast, crew and equipment. “It was insane! It’s a massive role. Luckily I was doing an internship with Emma Haarburger at Fiction Films and she was supportive. She helped me a lot”.
The film, he hopes, will be finished before June and there are plans to show it at film festivals. “We have a composer working on score, a sound designer and a colour grader in place. The visuals are beautiful. Our editor has done a beautiful job.”
In a surprising, but temporary departure from musical theatre, Nigel was recently announced as the newest member of The Ten Tenors, Australia’s most successful touring groups. “It was a new opportunity and new avenue to explore”.
In January 2018, he will join the group for a gig in Germany and then will embark on a US tour of the West Coast in February/March. “I’m excited to see Germany and the West Coast of the US. I’m an east coast boy, I’ve never been to the West Coast.”
Despite exploring these different projects, which will keep him busy for the first quarter of 2018, he’s made it clear that he considers himself as an actor first and he wants to be working in musicals. He’s keen to do an Australian tour in a lead or feature role. “There’s something really special about working with Australian actors. Because the opportunities are so limited, they are so tenacious and when you get a job it’s about doing it the best you possibly can, so I’ve learned so much working with them.”
What are his dream roles? “Tony from West Side Story, of course, and there’s a show called The Light in the Piazza, which played in Melbourne last year. It’s by Adam Guettel. He’s a newer composer. It’s a lush score, and is set in Italy. There’s a character named Fabrizio who I’ve always been dying to play”.
He also has his sights set on Broadway at some point in the future, and that’s understandable for any actor, but especially one who was raised in the US. “I’ve always said my personal level of success is to have been on Broadway, but it would be about wanting to represent Australia and take everything I’ve learned from actors here and carrying that over with me to the US”.
As for right now, Nigel will spend the rest of this afternoon preparing for his audition in Sydney tomorrow. He’s planning on singing ‘Moon-faced, Starry-eyed’ from Street Scene, a 1940s American Opera by Kurt Weill. “It’s a bit of musical theatre and a bit of opera.”
I wish him well for his audition and I leave with the confidence that he will achieve what he sets out to do. Hopefully, it’s not too long before we see him back on Australian stages, perhaps in that elusive lead or feature role.
In the meantime, you can check out some of his work at www.nigelhuckle.com