Although Nicholas Rodriguez made his Broadway debut in Disney’s production of Tarzan, it was the most recent gender bending production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company that put him back on the Great White Way, and it’s his versatility that is quite remarkable.
How many performers can boast a range of characters that include: Ramon in Love, Valor, Compassion!, the prince in Cinderella, Che Guevara in Evita, Claude in Hair and Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music?
When not on stage, Rodriguez also finds time to volunteer for The Harvey Milk School in New York City and SMYAL (Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders) in Washington, D.C., which garnered him the 2011 Outstanding Community Ally Award.
Nicholas, when did you first know you could sing? And when did you know you wanted to pursue a career in the arts?
I grew up singing in church. My grandmother was the choir director at our church and I started singing at a very early age. I just thought it was a very normal thing that everybody could do, because that’s how it was in our family. When I entered high school, I found my first voice teacher and started taking lessons. It just kinda clicked and I knew it was something I had to pursue.
Most currently you were in the Broadway show of Company. What was your journey like? Audition process? When did you know you were on board?
I loved being in Company. It was a rather long audition process. I first auditioned in Dec of 2019. I was doing Holiday Inn down in Atlanta, and I flew in for a final call back and I didn’t end up getting it, the first go round. Then over the pandemic, when the show had been shut down, they were looking for a couple of actors to replace. Over the summer I did a series of call backs via self-tape and then went in to audition in person in August to do a dance call and sing for them and found out mid-September. I was doing my solo show on a cruise ship somewhere out in the Caribbean when I got the call that I was doing the show. Thank goodness for technology. But it was a very long journey. I think I auditioned for 7 parts, not necessarily even the ones I ended up covering, but it was a really fun journey. Ultimately, I became understudy for 5 different characters.
What was it like working with director Marianne Elliot? She just oozes with “outof-the-box” creativity.
I absolutely agree with you that she oozes out-of-the-box creatively, and being the visionary that she is and having such great ideas, she was always willing to listen to the actors and what they wanted to do. I loved that it was a completely open rehearsal process. From day one, not only were the principle actors in the room but the understudies were invited, too. And before we would stage any scene, we would always talk about it. During table work, we’d go around and list our objectives and intentions and then just go with the text. She would start with questions and there was a lot of talking before we even got on our feet with it. That was an amazing thing, to be invited in from the very beginning of the process and to hear what and why decisions were being made, especially for an understudy.
Mr. Sondheim was very hands on with this show and so supportive of this gender bending revival of Company, but he passed on November 26, 2021 and the show opened on Dec 9, 2021. Was he able to see any previews?
He did get to see one of our previews before he passed. I believe it was the week before and you could see him sitting on the aisle and throwing his head back with laughter. At the end of the show, our producer Chris Harper opened up the bar for the cast and crew and the musicians to sit and talk with Steve. Mr. Sondheim stood there for over an hour just telling stories and lavishing praise on this production and Marianne. It was so awesome to be in his presence, to meet him and hear his thoughts.
You understudied the characters Larry, Paul, David, and the New Yorker. I know you went on several times for Paul, how about the other roles?
Yes, I understudied Larry, Paul, David and the two New Yorkers. I went on several times for Paul, I believe that’s the show you saw. I actually went on for all 5 of the roles I covered. I added it up and did 56 performances of the total of 250-something shows. That’s kind of amazing to me knowing that so many under studies rehearse and never get to go on. People often ask me which is my favorite role, and it’s so hard to have favorites especially in a situation like this. Paul, being a gay man and getting married to his boyfriend Jamie, never in my wildest dreams as a young kid, did I think I’d get to be that guy on Broadway. So that is near and dear to my heart. Playing Larry and getting to work opposite Patti LuPone (the character Larry is married to Lupone’s Joanne) and to be 6 inches away from her as she was singing “Ladies Who Lunch” was incredible. Just to work with and spar with her was amazing.
You also did Tarzan on Broadway.
Tarzan was an awesome experience. It was my Broadway debut and I had the pleasure of joining the cast 6 months into the run. I was the first replacement. It was a unique experience in that I got to watch the show before I auditioned, so I knew what I as getting into. It was incredibly physical. Never in my life, would I have dreamed while going to school for music that I would be harnessed and flying across the stage at The Richard Rogers Theatre, entering from the back of the house on a zipline as Tarzan. And I’ve always been a big fan of Phil Collins’ music. It was a pretty awesome experience.
Your album titled The First Time is a wonderful collection of Broadway, Blues, Jazz and Pop songs. I love your arrangement of “Sooner or Later!” How exciting was it to record? It’s your first album, yes?
“Sooner or Later” is the first Sondheim song I ever knew and it was the from the movie, Dick Tracy. I fell in love with Sondheim via Madonna. It made me want to learn more about him. It was my first album and it’s been such a joy to share. So few of us actually get to live that dream of recording an album and I’m very proud of this one.
I’ve also heard your rendition of “Marry Me A Little,” a gorgeous Sondheim song. It seems as though you sang it, possibly at a slower tempo, which offered you a chance to get deeper into the lyrics. It’s the first time listening to the song, that I really understood it. Now that you’re married, did it shift your interpretation?
Yeah, I do it a bit slower than in the show (Company). I sang this song in the show Side by Side by Sondheim in grad school, and I didn’t quite get it. It was a different time in my life, and the older I get I realize marriages can take on all different types of forms. But the most important thing is that you have communication, trust, and empathy, and that you can make your own rules. “Marry Me A Little” doesn’t have to be from a non-committal person’s point of view, it’s just a person who’s being completely frank and honest about what they want and need. And now that I’m married, the song definitely takes on a different tone every time I sing it.
Speaking of marriage, you are married to theatre director, Matt Lenz. How did the two of you meet?
Yes, I am married to Matt Lenz, an amazing director. We got married during the pandemic, officially in October 2020. They say marriage changes you and it does, it’s a pretty spectacular thing. Even though we’ve been together for 19 years and married for a year a half, I wouldn’t change it. We met doing a production of Love! Valor! Compassion! He directed and I played Ramon.
August 14, 2009 you joined the cast of the TV soap opera One Life to Live playing the out and proud gay character Nick Chavez. That was huge! How was that experience?
Again, another amazing experience. And to play a gay character. I was originally only supposed to be on the show three and a half episodes and it ended up being seven or eight months. It was a very exciting time. We were having a gay wedding before it was legal in our country. We were talking about adoption and abuse, things you didn’t see on daytime television. I got to be in on a lot of gay firsts. The first gay kiss and the first gay wedding, and it was really wonderful to have the support of the cast.
And you starred opposite Kathleen Turner in the Arena Stage’s production of Mother Courage And Her Children. How was it working with such a powerhouse?
It was awesome, in a nutshell. She’s incredibly intimidating when you meet her because she is this ferocious powerhouse and she’s an exacting professional. But she’s just as hard on herself as she is on everybody around her, and let’s be honest, she had to cover the motherload (pun intended) in Mother Courage, it was all up to her. So, rehearsals were exhausting and difficult, but once we moved into the theatre, the Arena Stage, which is a space I had worked in 6 or 7 times at that point, she thought: oh, this guy knows what he’s doing, this guy knows the space. Most of my scenes were with her and our family, in and around that cart she had to lug around the stage, and our bond solidified so quickly. I loved hanging out with her. We’d always go out for dinner on Sunday nights. It was like our little tradition and we became a family. We still hang out in the city. What an icon. I just love her so much and I will always treasure her strength and ferocity and her giving nature.
What’s on the career horizon for Nicholas?
It’s going to be exciting to start auditioning again; it’s been like 2 years. In the meantime, I have my solo show that I do on cruise ships. I’m going out on a couple of Seabourn cruises in October and November taking me to Hawaii and then up the coast to Canada. I also have some symphony concerts lined up in the winter.
If you could speak to “little” Nicholas, what words of encouragement would you give him seeing where you are in your life now?
I’d tell him to hold fast and stay true to who he is. Don’t be in such a rush to get somewhere, your path is going to open up to you when it’s ready. Things may not always pan out the way you thought they would, but the journey is going to be incredible. Nonetheless, surround yourself with people who love and support you because those are the people who are going to be there for you in the long haul. Work hard and be patient. Yeah, that’s what I’d say to little Nicholas and to grownup Nicholas, too, because I’m always one who’s ready to move on to the next thing and charge forward. Patience is a virtue and good things come to you when you wait and you put in the work.