Abby Nichols is portraying Clara Johnson in Four Seasons Theatre’s THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, running December 4-13 in the Overture Center’s Playhouse.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Abby Nichols and I am a Madison native. My father, John Stevens, was the tuba professor at UW for 25+ years so I grew up in a very musical household, in this wonderful, artistically rich town. I moved to New York City after high school and attended Pace University where I earned a BFA in Musical Theatre. After that, I worked as an actor, traveling the country with two National tours and working a bit in regional theatre. In 2011, my husband and I moved back to Madison from NYC and I began teaching musical theatre voice and an early childhood music program called Music Together. I now teach full-time and perform when my schedule (which includes spending time with my 17 month-old son) allows.
What training, teachers, or experiences helped you to develop as a performer?
The training I received in college from the musical theatre and voice faculty was life changing. I learned how to create a character from the bottom up, how to maneuver through my voice in many styles of music, and how to act through song. More than anything, I learned how hard I needed to work. Musical theatre requires a huge amount of discipline and commitment. It is all about multi-tasking. Am I singing the right notes? Am I singing the right words? What does my character want right now? Am I in my light? Am I doing the right dance step? When do I make my next costume change? Can the audience see me? Whose cell phone is going off?!? All of those things can be going through your head simultaneously when you are in a musical, so the more work you do ahead of time, the less you have to think. Then you can just be in the moment.
What attracted you to THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA?
When THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA was on Broadway, I was a sophomore in college at Pace University in New York City. I had heard such wonderful things about it from my classmates, so I went by myself and bought a student rush ticket, which for that particular show was in the front row. I was completely entranced by the piece. The gorgeous, sweeping score was like nothing I had ever heard, the plot was very moving and uplifting, and the performances were magnificent. (And the 1950s costumes were to die for!) I left the theater inspired and excited to be a part of this business. I knew I had to play one of the roles at some point so I was thrilled when FST announced that it was part of their season. The role of Clara is both a vocal and acting challenge, and like no other role I’ve ever played, so of course I was drawn to it.
What inspires you?
My son and my students. My son inspires me because he keeps me grounded in reality. I don’t sweat the small stuff nearly as much because I know, at the end of the day, he’s what really matters. My students inspire me because they help me remember why I fell in love with musicals in the first place—you get to sing and dance and wear pretty costumes and pretend to be someone else! I was telling one of my (10-year-old) students about THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA and the character I was playing and she said, “It’s so cool! You’re always such a big part!” It made me realize how lucky I’ve been to have had the opportunities I’ve had in this business.