After understudying the role of Effie White in the West End production of Dreamgirls, Nicole Raquel Dennis has been announced to play the lead role full-time in the upcoming UK Tour of Dreamgirls once theatres can reopen. Before lockdown, Nicole had been in the original West End cast of Dear Evan Hansen as Alana Beck, performing at the Noël Coward Theatre, and she had previously been in the ensemble and cover Nurse Norma in Waitress the Musical, and made her professional West End debut in The Book of Mormon. During the pandemic, Nicole teamed up with Ryan Carter to create and organise the online concert Turn Up, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and she recently performed at the London Palladium as part of Musicals: The Greatest Show singing with fellow cast members of Dear Evan Hansen and as a soloist for Dreamgirls. In 2019, Nicole reached the Semi-Finals of The Voice in Team Jennifer Hudson, and during her audition, Jennifer joined her on stage for a performance of the Dreamgirls hit song And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going. We chatted to Nicole about being cast as Effie White in the first UK Tour of Dreamgirls, originating the role of Alana Beck in Dear Evan Hansen and performing on Musicals: The Greatest Show.
You’ve been announced to play Effie White in the first UK Tour of Dreamgirls, how did it feel booking the role and what are you looking forward to most for starting in the production?
It honestly felt surreal and still does! I booked the role in January 2019 when I had just started rehearsals for Waitress so I’ve been keeping it secret for so long. It was and still is one of those pinch me moments. I honestly cannot wait to see the UK! I’ve only been to Edinburgh and Manchester so it will be so nice to explore.
How was it understudying the role in the West End at the Savoy Theatre?
I learnt so much while understudying. Especially with a role that big you really have to look after yourself because you never know when you could be going on. It was tough at times because you’re waiting for that moment to go on so that was tough but when I did get to go on the support from the cast is something I will never forget.
What was it like being cast as the original West End Alana Beck in Dear Evan Hansen and what is she like to play?
Alana was my first character, like actual character. She’s honestly a mirror of my younger self. It was so rewarding playing her. Also, being the only POC onstage out of eight of us came with a lot of responsibility that changed my whole life. The interactions I would have at stage door with people who saw themselves in Alana meant more than words. Alana holds a massive space in my heart.
Can you say how it was rehearsing for the role and how much did you know about the character before reading the script for the first time?
Prior to rehearsals I had been auditioning for Evan Hansen for ten months so I got pretty familiar with the script. I had watched the bootleg a couple of times but didn’t want to over do it as I wanted to make sure I put my own spin on Alana without replicating. Our first week of rehearsals was in New York which was mad! That experience, nothing will compare. Getting to rehearse in the heart of New York really got us all excited. We finished rehearsals in London and it was such an eye-opening experience. There was a lot of freedom, especially with my character, to put my stamp on her.
What did you enjoy most about being part of the Ensemble of Waitress the Musical at the Adelphi Theatre and covering the role of Nurse Norma?
The thing I loved most was being in that cast. The bonds you build in a show like Waitress are so special. I was doing The Voice at the same time so it was so lovely having that strong support system. Covering Norma was a lot of fun, but eating a big slice of pie on stage when you were full from lunch was not the one, haha!
You made your professional West End debut in The Book of Mormon, what was this like to do?
My year at Mormon was the wildest year. I had just moved back from working in Paris and had no idea what to expect. I laughed pretty much every single day on that job. Again, similar to Waitress, the family you build on that job is magic. That year I also learnt so much about my black history because it was the first time being surrounded by beautiful black people.
How was the experience auditioning for the 2019 series of The Voice and having Jennifer Hudson come on stage to duet the Dreamgirls hit song And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going?
Again, another pinch me moment but this time I have video evidence, haha! I will forever be grateful for my time on the show. Good and hard experiences but I came out trusting myself and my choices a lot more which was very big for me. I also learnt soooo much from working with the music team about performance that I might’ve never learnt.
What was it like reaching the Semi-Finals in Team Jennifer and seeing the response to your performances?
I tried not to look too much into the response about performances as there will always be a few negative comments. I looked at the people around me and they were so kind and giving with their words, that’s all that mattered to me. I never thought I’d even get a chair let alone make it to the Semi-Finals so I was incredibly grateful.
Can you tell us about creating and organising Turn Up alongside Ryan Carter and how was it seeing the concert come together?
Turn Up came around at such an important part of my life and the same for everyone involved. At the height of the BLM movement last year we got together almost 100 black artists for this beautiful celebration and watching it back on all the nights it streamed was so powerful. Knowing that we were contributing to people celebrating their blackness during such a scary time was such a beautiful thing.
The concert was received well online, what was this like to see and are there any plans for more Turn Up events?
YES!!! That’s all I will say ha!!
You recently performed And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going from Dreamgirls and You Will Be Found from Dear Evan Hansen on Musicals: The Greatest Show which was filmed at the London Palladium, how was it getting back to a theatre stage and having the concert shown on BBC One?
Overwhelming is the best word to describe it. Firstly, performing at the Palladium is a dream come true but then getting to sing two songs that mean so much to me, doesn’t even sound real. Performing with the BBC Concert Orchestra has also been a massive dream of mine so that was a bucket list moment checked for me.
Can you tell us about some of the other theatre-related events you’ve been involved with during the pandemic and do you have any coming up that you can tell us about?
I did a workshop late last year, did a concert with one of my besties Sam Tutty and I co-hosted Magic at the Musicals. I feel so grateful to have had some incredible opportunities during such a stressful time. I have a few little things that I’m very excited for. One being whenever theatres open and we get the chance, doing the concert version of Hair!
Is a theatre career something you always wanted to do and how did you start?
I always knew I wanted to perform in some way but wasn’t aware that it was theatre till my early teens. There are still so many things I would like to do. I would love to be part of a Sci-Fi TV show or a Marvel film. So many dreams still swirling in my head.
What do you enjoy doing away from theatre and do you have any favourite theatre or TV shows to watch?
I love writing poetry, making music and painting (even though I’m not great at it) and favourite TV shows, definitely Doctor Who!!!
Do you have any stand-out memories from your career so far?
I’ve had so many incredible on stage moments but I have to say some of my favourite stand-out memories are behind the scenes. Like sitzprobes, decorating the dressing rooms, nights out with casts, in between show hangs. Those are the moments that stick 😃.
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