Most recently, Nicola Espallardo performed at the London Coliseum in the cast of The Pirate Queen – The Charity Concert in February, shortly after finishing her run in Les Misérables: The Staged Concert in November last year as part of the ensemble, with their final performance screening live to cinemas, and throughout the run she also covered one of the lead roles, Eponine. In 2018, Nicola made her West End debut in the cast of the original production of Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre, after booking her first professional role the year before in Working at Southwark Playhouse, directed by Luke Sheppard. Answering our questions, Nicola talks about being part of The Pirate Queen, performing in Les Misérables: The Staged Concert and her professional debut in Working.
You most recently performed in The Pirate Queen – The Charity Concert at the London Coliseum, can you tell us about the evening?
It was an amazing evening. It was the first time I had ever been to the Coliseum and I couldn’t get over how massive the space was. It truly was an honour to stand on that stage. Especially with such female powerhouses like Rachel Tucker and Hannah Waddingham. They’re both such talented and kind women and it was a dream to get to work with them and see them play those strong female roles.
How long were you rehearsing for the concert and how was it being part of the cast?
We rehearsed the concert for three weeks. Honestly, everyone in that cast was a gem. We really pulled together as a team and had a lot of fun together. It was a shame the process was so short. Also, hearing THE Rachel Tucker sing every day was amazing and a constant masterclass. Can you tell I’m a major fan? I don’t know how I internalised the fangirling on the daily.
You were part of Les Misérables – The Staged Concert as Ensemble and Cover Eponine, what was this like to do?
It was an absolute dream. Being a part of Les Mis in any way is a dream. But being cast in the concert alongside alumni that I had looked up to and been a fan of for so long was something else. I count myself so lucky. Eponine is one of my dream roles and being able to cover her meant a lot to me. Putting on the hat and coat for the first time was really special and I’ll never forget the time I had with her.
What was the live cinema screening like to do?
Terrifying! But also the biggest jumble of emotions. We were excited to be filming the show, nervous about making any mistakes, and sad it was our final time doing the show together. I had to keep telling myself to not get emotional but I’m pretty sure we’re all crying our faces off at the end. I used to watch the 10th and 25th Anniversary concert recordings when I was younger and it feels so full circle to get to appear in this one. We’ll always have it to look back on and think: “I was a part of that”. What a gift.
Having previously performed in the Queen’s Theatre production of Les Misérables, how different did you find both shows?
I guess the big obvious difference would be no revolve. But mostly I think the concert version was a chance to take the show down to its bare bones and to further shine a spotlight on the beautiful music written by Boubil and Schönberg. Plus, the actual spotlights shining on us in the show made us feel like rockstars which was pretty cool. The Queens Production will always be very special to me. Especially being part of the closing cast. That final night was nothing like I’ve ever experienced in my life. We stood on the shoulders of giants. It was so sad to say goodbye.
Do you remember how you felt stepping out on the West End stage for your first night?
I remember standing in the wings waiting to go on to pick my imaginary peas. My entire body was shaking with the excitement and I was scared I wasn’t going to be able to move. But luckily the show really whisks you away (so does the revolve) once you’re in it and then you’re just having the time of your life. All the tracks in Les Mis are tough and busy so I had to really stay on it. Keeping present in the scenes and then being ready to rush off to my next costume change to come on as a completely different character. I loved every single second of it.
How was the experience at West End Live?
West End Live was unforgettable. The roar of the crowd was massive. When you walk out onto the stage it just hits you like a wave. Theatre fans are amazing! They sang with us, cheered and cried. Again it was pretty special doing it as the final original production cast. I was so aware that was the last time West End Live would see that One Day More marching choreo.
How did you feel booking your first professional role in Working and being directed by Luke Sheppard?
I feel incredibly lucky to have been cast in Working. Again, alongside people I had been such a fan of. It was the best first professional job any grad could hope for. I was also cast alongside five other grads so it felt nice we were all experiencing our first professional job together. Throughout the process, it was clear they wanted our individuality as performers to shine through into our performances. Luke Sheppard is a detailed director. We found a lot of truth in the scenes through discussion work and sharing our own experiences. Our incredible choreographer Fabian Aloise gave us movement that expressed storytelling in its clearest form. Being part of a creative process this detailed and collaborative for a brand new piece of theatre was a great first experience of professional musical theatre.
The show ran at Southwark Playhouse, what was this theatre like to perform at?
I love this theatre. Being so close to the audience, you really feel like you’re taking them along on your journey. You can look into their eyes and connect. It makes for a completely different audience experience.
Is there anything you enjoy most about workshopping productions?
I love being a part of new work. I really enjoy the collaborative process. It’s always a lot of fun because much of it is based on what you as a performer can bring to your part and what discoveries you can make from this. In particular, working on The Lost Ones (written by the wonderful Sevan K. Greene and Dylan Wynford and directed by the powerhouse lady that is Tania Azevedo) stood out to me as another gem filled with wonderful people.
What’s the most recent theatre show you’ve watched?
The most recent show I watched pre-lockdown was Come From Away. It was for the second time. And it was still incredible. I love that show, it warms my heart. It’s such a perfect representation of what the world could be like if we all acted with love and empathy first like the people of Gander.
Was there anything that helped you decide on a musical theatre career?
When you audition for drama school the panels always ask you why you want to do musical theatre. So, I thought about it a lot in the time I had preparing for auditions. Watching musical theatre opened up my world to stories that have taught me so much about love, hope, mental health, discrimination and the inequalities of life. That struck a chord with me and I wanted to share the experience with others. Now, as a musical theatre performer, all I want to do is tell good stories that might open up your world to experiences you didn’t know or hadn’t thought of before.
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