In July, Nicole-Lily Baisden is set to join the cast of Anything Goes playing the role of Hope Harcourt when the show opens at the Barbican Centre, and with theatres reopening briefly at the end of last year, she made her West End debut in A Christmas Carol at the Dominion Theatre before they had to close after only eleven performances. Before the pandemic, Nicole-Lily made her professional debut when she toured with The Book of Mormon in the role of Nabulungi, and whilst training at Arts Educational Schools, she appeared in Newsies and Once On This Island. Nicole-Lily chatted to us about her upcoming role of Hope Harcourt in Anything Goes, making her West End debut in A Christmas Carol and playing Nabulungi on tour with The Book of Mormon.
You will be playing Hope Harcourt in Anything Goes at the Barbican Centre later this year, what are you looking forward to most for playing the character?
Hope is completely different from any character that I’ve played before so I’m really excited for the challenge. I think I’m most looking forward to the choreographic elements of the show, there are so many iconic numbers so to be able to be a part of them is such a privilege. And alongside the score, it’ll really be something special.
Also, the costumes! I had a Zoom meeting recently with Kathleen Marshall (director and choreographer) and Jon Morrell (costume designer) to discuss costumes and have a look at the sketches. Every single one was beautiful and so true to the style of the show. I can’t wait to get them on.
How did it feel finding out you’d booked the role and can you tell us about the show?
I was over the moon when I got the call from my agent! It was my first in person audition for almost a year so there were a lot of nerves. Anything Goes is such a joyful show so I couldn’t think of a better way to end a crazy year. The cast is incredible and I’m so looking forward to working with all of them.
How was it making your West End debut in A Christmas Carol at the Dominion Theatre when theatres were able to reopen briefly?
To be able to put together a full musical in such an uncertain time was a great achievement and I’m so thankful I was a part of it. It was definitely a challenge to adapt to rehearsing in a mask, being tested twice a week, staying socially distanced in the rehearsal room and on stage, but it worked and we were lucky enough to do eleven shows before we went into lockdown again! The planning that went into putting the show on and keeping everyone safe was crazy. Also, performing with the entire LMTO really made the show special, they are the best out there. The first note in the sitzprobe blew me away!
Before theatres closed in March last year, you were touring as Nabulungi in The Book of Mormon, can you tell us what it was like playing the character?
Nabulungi really is like a ray of sunshine, always positive and optimistic. She sees the best in everyone and can’t help but strive for better for herself and the people around her. Playing a smart, headstrong, positive woman was a privilege and I think I could take a leaf out of her book.
How was it having the show as your professional debut and how did you find the experience touring?
I’m so grateful to have had such an iconic show as a professional debut. The cast and crew really became a family over the rehearsal process as we started completely from scratch. This really helped calm my nerves going in as I was so nervous and overwhelmed. It helped that it was so much fun and we were always laughing, Ali Pollard (our associate director) always said ‘laugh now because you won’t be able to on stage!’.
Touring was great, it was my first time being away from home so it really threw me in at the deep end! We were lucky that we spent a minimum of three weeks in every theatre so we had enough time to settle in and really explore each stop. Amsterdam was by far my favourite, we were there for five weeks but it flew by, none of us wanted to leave!
Do you have any stand-out moments from your time in the show?
Our opening night in Manchester is definitely my stand-out, after rehearsing the show for nearly six weeks it was such a shock to finally do it in front of an audience. The atmosphere was electric, it felt like a concert, I’ll never forget it! Another stand-out moment was when our stand-by Cunningham (Jacob Yarlett) called me Nigel Farage. The show stopped for nearly a minute because the audience were laughing so much, it took everything in me to keep a straight face.
Was there anything that drew you to the musical and had you seen the show before booking the role?
I’d always been really intrigued about the show as I’d been told over and over not to listen to the soundtrack before seeing it. My brother is a huge South Park fan so we booked tickets to go as a family for his birthday the year before I auditioned. I have never laughed so much at a show, ever! The comedy is so brilliant that you really go on an emotional rollercoaster throughout, I knew straight away that I wanted to be in that show.
Whilst training, you performed in a number of productions including Disney’s Newsies, can you tell us about some of them?
Newsies was really a highlight of my time at ArtsEd, I remember when our third year shows were announced, the excitement that day was insane! Our production was the European Premiere of the show so there was a lot of buzz surrounding it. The entire process was so much fun and the creative team (Luke Sheppard, Ashley Nottingham, Laura Bangay) really made the show a dream to be a part of. It was emotional too as it was the last of our third year shows so we really put our all into it.
My other show was Once On This Island, one of my favourite musicals ever. The two shows couldn’t have been more different. Once On This Island was our first experience at ArtsEd putting on a full show so I really learnt a lot about being part of a company and working with a professional creative team. Richard Fitch, Stuart Winter and Bob Broad made it such a collaborative process and we really all built the show together. I’ll never forget our sitzprobe day, the majority of us were in tears by the end.
What did you enjoy most about attending ArtsEd and what encouraged you to train there?
ArtsEd had always been where I wanted to train so when it came to my turn to audition, it was top of my list. I had taken part in an Easter Course a year before and felt really at home for the whole week. I remember being sat in my kitchen when my acceptance letter came through with my mum and dad sat there watching, it was probably one of the most tense five minutes of my life! The training at ArtsEd was everything I could’ve asked for and more. Although it was an intense three years, I felt supported by my teachers and my year to really push myself. I definitely enjoyed third year the most, finally being able to put two full shows together felt like the icing on the cake.
Where does your love of acting and theatre come from and is it something you always wanted to do?
I grew up watching a lot of musicals because my mum and older brother loved them all. Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks were our go-to! I then started at a local dance school (Landon Jennings) when I was three and got more and more involved as the years went on. I remember being driven home from a dance class and turning to my mum to say ‘I want to do that when I’m older’. I did my first musical, Flashdance, when I was fifteen at the Beck Theatre in Hayes. My family supported me along the way as I started singing lessons, attended Easter and summer courses at different drama schools and eventually started auditioning at seventeen. Once I decided what I wanted to do, I’ve never considered anything else.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
The Lion King is one of my favourite shows to watch, I’ve seen it about four times over the years and it takes my breath away every single time. It’s very nostalgic to me because I grew up watching the film over and over again. In terms of shows I haven’t seen but want to, I don’t know where to start. The list is so long! The top three that I definitely want to see when lockdown is lifted are Dear Evan Hansen, Hairspray and Back to the Future.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I’m very lucky that my hobby turned into my career but that did mean after a while I had to try and find other things I love doing. I’ve always loved reading so that was something I picked up again whilst on tour, I was getting through about five books a month at one point! I also really enjoy cooking and I cook with my dad at home all the time. Shopping is a bit of a dangerous hobby of mine but definitely one of my favourite things to do.
Have you been given any advice that has stuck with you and what advice would you give someone beginning their training?
I’ll never forget Chris Hocking (principal of ArtsEd) telling us to ‘stand up to the bear’, he gives this advice to everyone throughout their training to encourage us to be bold and make bold choices. I definitely learnt a lot from being pushed out of my comfort zone.
The main piece of advice I would always say to someone starting their training is ‘you are on your own journey’. I think this one stands out to me because it is so easy to compare yourself to others whilst training. But, everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, you are training because you are all talented in different ways so as difficult as it can sometimes be, try and focus on your own path and growth.
What was it like being in the Ensemble of Musicals: The Greatest Show which was aired on BBC Radio 2 and BBC One?
It was such a joy! Being in the Palladium surrounded by other artists and the fantastic BBC Concert Orchestra was a dream come true. It was a very different experience having to learn all of the material alone with the help of voicenotes from Jon Ranger (our conductor). However, the way the entire ensemble came together in such a short time on the day to create such a great sound was incredible! Every performance was amazing and I’m so grateful I got to be there to experience it.
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