At the start of this year, Nicole Farrar began her run in the UK and Ireland Tour of The Sound of Music playing the role of Liesl von Trapp, which saw her make her professional debut, however the tour came to an end earlier than expected in March when theatres around the country closed for the foreseeable future. Nicole graduated from Mountview Academy last year, and whilst there, performed in shows including Crazy For You as Patricia Fodor and Dance Captain, and American Idiot, and she had previously trained at Arts Educational Schools. Answering our questions, Nicole tells us about making her professional debut in The Sound of Music, playing the role of Liesl von Trapp and performing at Magic at the Musicals.
What drew you to the role of Liesl von Trapp in The Sound of Music and what was she like to play?
I must admit, when I initially got the audition through, I was just excited to get an audition as it wasn’t long after I had signed with my agent. However, finding out it was for Liesl added extra excitement. I don’t come from a stereotypically musical family, however, The Sound of Music was always a family favourite and I had probably watched the film every year as a child. I am also not naive to the fact that, despite the five-year age gap, I could convincingly play a sixteen year old… being 5’2 and baby-faced came in handy haha!
When it came to playing her, I loved it. Being able to play a named role for my first job out of drama school was amazing and I felt so humbled to be given the opportunity. And playing a part that explored all three aspects of theatre (acting, singing and dancing), was a dream. It was also exciting to reverse the years and become a teenager again and finding everything that comes with that, whilst exploring it through such a pivotal time in history, in Nazi Austria.
What was it like being part of the cast and how was it rehearsing for the role?
The cast were an absolute dream. Touring meant we spent so much time as a cast, if we weren’t on stage together, we were backstage, sharing digs, eating… I honestly couldn’t get enough of everyone and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. The cast size was small, and the ages – not counting the kids – ranged from twenty-one to sixty-nine, which was amazing as I was able to connect with so many people I would never usually get the opportunity to spend time with. Touring is a very unique experience and they became a family away from home and my support network – I am so thankful for them.
For me, the rehearsal process was three weeks. I spent the first week with just the kids, as other than me, there were three different teams to play the rest of the von Trapps aged seven to fourteen. It was nice as it gave me a chance to get to know them all properly and develop a relationship with them before the rest of the cast arrived. But after that, I was then able to explore Liesl in more depth as a character and a young woman, rather than just one of the children.
What was it like performing a well-known musical to an audience?
Performing such a well-known and loved musical like The Sound of Music brought both positives and negatives. Positives because there was almost a safety in feeling that whatever you did on stage it would be received positively (especially being one of the kids), but on the other hand, it came with an expectation and the pressures to live up to that.
What was the atmosphere like on opening night and how did it feel making your professional debut?
I must admit most of what I was feeling on opening night, initially, was fear. However, the excited, supportive atmosphere and buzz before the show and backstage was exhilarating and infectious. Then getting such an amazing response at the end of the show was completely overwhelming and unforgettable.
As well as mine, it was a couple of people’s professional debut within the cast, which made it all the more special as it was lovely to be able to share such an exciting achievement with other people.
How had the tour been going before theatres closed and what were you enjoying most about touring with the production?
Touring came with an array of challenges, but ultimately it was a joy and I was having the time of my life. We had been getting a good response from our audiences in each venue and it was great to be able to visit towns and countries I hadn’t been to before. We spent the first month of the tour in Dublin, then travelled up to Derry, and having never been to Ireland or Northern Ireland before, it was amazing.
What I was enjoying the most at the time though, and what I now miss, were the backstage antics with the cast and the times before and in-between the shows.
When did you start learning dance and musical theatre and what came first?
I feel like I have been singing and ‘pretending’ for my whole existence, but I remember wanting to do it ‘properly’ after becoming Mary in my primary school nativity. Now, at the same time, I was naturally put in dance classes, however, I was never a natural dancer and remember hating it and avoiding the classes as much as possible. I was, however, a passionate gymnast from an early age, so for a while, I was just a gymnast that sang and acted until I began to train in ballet and jazz in my early teens.
I think initially dance intimidated me because I was a perfectionist, therefore when I wasn’t naturally great at it, I thought it was easier to just say I didn’t want to do it, rather than make a fool of myself. Luckily, that fear of dance definitely shifted. I trained hard in the discipline both at ArtsEd and Mountview, and left with a solid foundation in various styles and also found a love for it. Therefore, when I originally got offered Liesl and learned that I would get to dance a five-minute pas de deux, it was quite overwhelming, as I’d never thought I would have the opportunity or be good enough to do something like that. And subsequently, being able to work directly with choreographer Bill Deamer and his associate Kylie Anne Cruikshanks, as well as getting to dance every night with my amazing Rolf, Michael Anderson, it was a dream come true.
Had you always wanted a musical theatre career and can you tell us about your training?
I think I did always want a musical theatre career, despite never seeing many productions growing up. I always said my dream was to be in the West End, but I don’t think I realised I could have a career in it and that drama schools existed until I was around fifteen. From the ages of seven to sixteen, I went to an after-school/weekend performing arts school, Scala Performing Arts in Leeds. Then after GCSEs, realising that I couldn’t go much further with my training in my little town in West Yorkshire, I decided at sixteen, to move to London.
I began at ArtsEd in the sixth form, where I completed two years of training in musical theatre whilst doing my A-Levels. I was then lucky enough to get a place at Mountview, where I spent the following three years training on the BA Musical Theatre course. My three years at Mountview were undoubtedly the hardest, but most enjoyable years of my life. The training was intense, yet well rounded, and focused predominantly on acting and the importance of storytelling, both on its own and through the other disciplines, which was exactly what I expected and wanted in my training. I also gained not only knowledge and skills about the craft, but I felt that I was able to grow as a young adult and a person.
How was the experience as Patricia Fodor and Dance Captain in Crazy For You in your last year at Mountview?
Patricia Fodor was a great character. She was extremely different from my usual casting, however, she was great fun and I was able to have a good laugh when finding her character. And due to the fact my character and her counterpart were quite separate to the show, I got to work closely with our director Paul Foster, which was amazing.
My experience as Dance Captain was hard. The choreography was intense compared to shows we had done previously, and I felt the pressure as it was a third year show, however, it pushed me so far out of my comfort zone and seeing the end result was extremely gratifying. We were also very lucky with our creative team, along with Paul, working with Sarah Travis and Emma Woods was a joy and I learnt a lot about how to be in a rehearsal room and what a professional rehearsal process may feel like.
Whilst training, you played Extraordinary Girl in American Idiot, what was this like?
I loved doing American Idiot and playing Extraordinary Girl, it was my first rock musical and I had a blast performing it. As well as her, I played a collective of other characters, on top of split tracking, which was a great and challenging experience as I had to learn to split my attention and time to each character effectively. And with the angsty nature of the show, it was extremely cathartic to perform and I loved belting out Green Day every night.
What can you say about playing Esther Horgan in Dolly West’s Kitchen?
Which ended up being a surprise to me, I loved playing Esther Horgan. She was a middle-aged, unhappily married, Northern Irish woman and a character polar opposite to my ‘usual’ casting type. I was originally scared to play her, however, along with having the joy and task of learning the Northern Irish accent, and with the advice and knowledge from the incredible director Harry Mackrill, Esther pushed me out of every comfort zone and was such a rewarding experience. It was also the first straight play we had properly worked on at Mountview, and it ended up being the piece I was probably most proud of out of all the performances we did, and I will forever be grateful for the experience.
How did you find the experience performing at the Royal Albert Hall for Magic at the Musicals?
The experience was amazing, being able to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in front of thousands and to then get to hear it later on the radio was extremely exciting! It was also an honour to get to perform various iconic musical theatre medleys with the likes of John Owen-Jones and many current West End leads, as well as my whole year group.
You’ve been in Scrooge the Musical a couple of times, what are some of your favourite memories of the show?
Yes, I first joined Scrooge when I was about ten, playing one of the youngest characters, then because I hadn’t aged much when it came back four years later, I was lucky enough to play another character within the child cast, which was a great experience. I remember, at the time, loving the costumes and I loved playing a character alongside all of the professionals. I don’t have too many memories of it now… but I do remember getting to miss a biology class to attend the press call, which as a fourteen year old, I thought was pretty cool.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I like walking (only if it’s in the Yorkshire countryside… and preferably with a dog), eating and being able to spend time with friends haha. However, during lockdown, apart from binge-watching series, my favourite new pastimes have been, bullet journalling, listening to thriller audiobooks and scooting around London finding parks and places I haven’t yet been to.
What are some of your favourite musicals to watch on screen or stage?
My favourite musicals are actually ones I have never seen… Next to Normal and 36 Questions. However, the best ones I have seen are probably Come From Away and Fun Home. I love a good gritty musical.
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