03 Jun 2016
When English musical theatre doyenne Elaine Paige tells you to go to London, you go to London. Especially if you happen to be a talented actor with a fabulous singing voice.
For National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art (NASDA) graduate Nic Kyle, Paige's advice has paid off. Kyle has landed a starring role in the Arts Theatre's world-premiere of Savage, in the West End of London, one of the premier theatre districts in the world (the other is Broadway).
It's a challenging play. Savage explores Nazi Germany's proclivity for experimenting on prisoners of war, in this case with a 'cure' for homosexuality. Kyle plays the partner of a man kidnapped from Denmark at the start of the war and forced to participate in these experiments. The outcomes were, predictably, catastrophic and often fatal for those involved. Savage exposes the lesser known story of the Danish doctor behind the experiments, Carl Peter Værnet, who escaped justice.
Savage opens at the end of June it marks Kyle's successful transition from musical theatre into the gritty realms of realism.
You could call it a lucky break but, as so often happens with lucky breaks, Kyle's success has been accompanied by hard work, courageous choices and being seen by the right people.
Who's in the audience?
His career in theatre would never have begun had his drama teacher not talked him into auditioning for Les Miserables back in high school. He was not convinced, but auditioned and won a part.
"It was the most fun I had ever had," he says. "I was hooked."
Stephanie McKellar Smith was in the audience. A tutor from NASDA at Ara Institute of Canterbury (then CPIT), she advised him to audition. Three years later he graduated with a BA in Performing Arts and the skills needed to take on the local theatre world.
His voice earned him work in musicals but there were straight plays too and some gigs in Melbourne, the city he was about to move to - until Elaine Paige came along.
Paige needed a singer for her upcoming tour of New Zealand. A musical director friend put Kyle's name forward. Six months later Kyle was asked to send a recording. Another three months later, Kyle was offered the job.
Singing Paige off the stage?
Working with Elaine Paige, one of the best in the business, was "amazing… she was very supportive and helpful with song stuff and nerves before the first show. I remember after we got the first review, which basically said she was OK and I sung her off the stage, I thought, 'This is it. I'm fired.'
"She walked over during vocal warm up and asked if I had seen the review? I said I had, and she replied 'careful'. Then she started to walk away and suddenly turned around laughing and said, 'just kidding darling, it's wonderful! I'm so happy for you!'
"From then on she was nothing but funny and lovely. She even shed a little tear on our final night in Brisbane when she was thanking me at the end.
"She told me, 'there are not many actors in London who can sing like you do – you have to go to London'."
So he did. A fundraising show in Christchurch funded a one man performance in London at Sadler's Wells Theatre. Kyle spent all his money on one chance to get established.
The biggest risk yet
London is a tough town. 250 agents declined Kyle's invitation. "Only two agents came to the performance, but one of them was Chris Davis, who took me on. He is wonderful. I talk to him regularly. I have friends in London who don't know their agents at all, so I really like having that access and that relationship."
The work followed. "The end of my first year in London I was cast in a revival of the Jerry Herman musical The Grand Tour, playing the Colonel, one of the lead roles. It was at a lovely little theatre called the Finsborough Theatre and it sold out."
Who's in the audience? 2#
In the audience was Claudio Macor, who was writing Savage. "He came to see The Grand Tour and afterwards he sent me a Facebook message, saying 'well done'. Four months later he made contact again and told me he had a role for me; could I come in and read it? So I did."
False leads are endemic in the theatre business and Kyle kept his hopes in check. "But a couple of months later, Claudio had some interest from the Arts Theatre in the West End. We had a two day workshop there and the theatre loved it."
Savage opens on 29 June at the end of Gay Pride week. Kyle can't wait to start rehearsals. And who knows who might be in the audience this time?
Listen to Kyle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTvATyK4j9o