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It isn’t just the first Broadway musical of the season, it’s the first national tour to play South Florida since the pandemic shutdown.
“Come From Away” tells the true story of airplane passengers stranded in a welcoming small town in Newfoundland after the 9/11 terrorist strikes, when all air traffic was grounded. The production bowed on Broadway in 2017 and was nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning one for best direction.
The North American road company makes two stops in South Florida. First up is the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale for a two-week run Nov. 3-14. Then the show is at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach for a one-week run Nov. 16-21.
Both venues say that they are eager to resume the Broadway seasons because of the economic impact, both at the centers and in the communities.
“The impact of touring Broadway shows is a vital component of the significant economic impact of the arts on our community,” explains Kelley Shanley, president and CEO of the Broward Center. “Broadway shows attract a larger and more diverse audience than any other type of performance we present. We are excited to see this important economic engine restarted here in Broward County.”
Shanley adds, “ ‘Come From Away’ is a perfect story to kick things off, with themes of coming together in the face of challenging times. The return of Broadway will deliver in many ways – bringing our community together to experience the magic of live theater while driving economic growth to our local businesses, restaurants, hotels, shops and more.”
The Kravis Center reports that the 2021-2022 Kravis On Broadway series, featuring seven shows with eight performances each, is estimated to have a $12 million economic impact on the local community.
In the cast will be Nick Duckart, playing — among others — two pivotal roles in the ensemble show: Kevin J. (one half of “The Kevins,” a gay couple) and Ali (an Egyptian Muslim chef).
Duckart was born and raised in Hialeah, attending Hialeah Senior High School and New World School of the Arts. He and his wife Mariand Torres — who starred as Elphaba in “Wicked” on Broadway and in the first national tour — now live in Queens, N.Y.
We talked with Duckart in advance of his return to South Florida.
Your resume is filled with stage skills, as it should be. But one of the most impressive talents that you list is your ability to grow a 5 o’clock shadow by 3 o’clock.
“My beard is something that is always a sort of conversation starter. It’s like, Nick you just shaved. How do you already have a shadow? Yeah, it’s true. I don’t have any hair on my head left. It’s all gone to my face.”
On the website for entertainment agency Broadway Plus, it says to not forget to ask you about getting hit in the face by a flying bat during a performance of “Come From Away.” So what’s that all about?
“We were doing a show in Ottawa…at the National Art Center, a beautiful, beautiful venue. And we’re getting ready to go on stage. And as soon as we started walking on, usually the audience just kind of gets quiet and they’re just in the world of the play. But [this time] they just keep talking. And I was looking out, trying to figure out what people are talking about and there were these bats flying in the audience. As soon as I look out, a bat comes right at my face, literally right to my face … and the entire audience is losing their minds. The first five minutes of the show, we’re trying to compose ourselves because I almost got hit by a bat.”
You were in the show when it played in Miami in June 2019. What do you remember about that run?
“I love being able to tell my cast mates, my crew mates, different places to go in Miami. I got to play super guide for a week. I brought them pastelitos the first day we were there. I got to bring them a little piece of my culture, my home, to the show. And then I remember just be surrounded by so much love every night. There was this one time my entire family came for the evening performance and my in-laws, my wife’s family came to the matinee. Being able to share that with them was really, really special. That was the highlight of my week, just getting into reconnecting with people I love the most.”
What is the first thing you’re going to do when you get here to South Florida?
“I’m literally flying in, getting in the car and then going to the theater. I’m probably going to stop and get pastelitos again because that is like my No. 1 craving whenever I go back home. I want the Cuban pastry. That’s my jam. I’m hoping to get that and then the day after I’m — weather permitting — I will be on the beach. You can guarantee we’ll be on the beach.”
When you lived here where did you hang out?
“I hung out everywhere. I spent a lot of time at Westland Mall with my mom. That was a thing we did together. She loved going to the mall. My dad too, rest in peace, we used to go there a lot. I would go to South Beach a lot. I would go to Wynwood a lot. I did a lot of shows at Actors’ Playhouse, so I spent a lot of time in Coral Gables. Miracle Mile was like our thing. We do shows at Actors’ Playhouse and then go the Irish pub across the street, John Martin’s [Irish Pub & Restaurant], you know, [Miller’s] Ale House down there. That was sort of the vibe.”
Is it true that the first time you saw “Come From Away” in New York City was because your friend Caesar Samayoa was playing the roles on Broadway that you now play on the national tour?
“Yeah, it’s really cool. He was like, ‘Yeah, I’m a part of the show that’s going to come to Broadway and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s about 9/11.’ He went on and on about this special show. And then it finally got to Broadway. And I just could not believe what I saw. I don’t know what my expectations were, but it wasn’t what I saw. And I remember just thinking this piece is incredible. And I was sobbing and laughing and laughing and sobbing at the same time. There was so many emotions. And when I saw him after the show, I said, ‘Like I don’t know what to do in this moment. I want to hug your face off. This is so special man. You are a part of something so special.’ So fast forward in a very strange full circle moment, Caesar’s fiancé is my agent. So, my agent called me and said, ‘You want to audition for Kevin J and others in ‘Come From Away?’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ And then I found out I got the role in Disney World. That was the best day ever.”
What is chair-ography? I keep running into that word when I read about the show.
“I love that word. So, our show isn’t a big dance show. We’re just a show with actors who can sing and move. There’s a lot of chair movement, as opposed to having lots of set pieces. To sort of give the world of the play, we have 12 chairs on stage and two tables. That’s it. That’s all we have. So [we’re] moving the chairs, doing the chair-ography. And everything is very very specific. It’s all set to musical counts. So as opposed to dancing with our bodies and painting pictures with our physical bodies, we create pictures by moving these chairs. And it’s incredible how just lining chairs up in a certain way gives the optical illusion of being an airplane or give an optical illusion of being on top of a hill. It’s quite a masterful piece of choreography and Kelly Devine, our choreographer who won the Olivier Award for her work in ‘Come From Away,’ she was nominated for a Tony also. She’s a genius. What she did is just nothing short of genius.”
How do you think the show fits into today’s world with the global pandemic, deep political divides, unchecked violence and everything else?
“It’s 100 minutes of people being kind to each other, which is therapy for us as it is for the audience. What’s great about the show…one of the things that makes it so special, regardless of what sort of trauma we’ve experienced as a society, this show feeds your soul. So, that’s what makes it timeless in my opinion. Even though it’s been 20 years since September 11, 2001, we still feel that day, right? We still remember that day. We still mourn. And we get to have this 100 minute musical about a completely different 9/11 narrative that’s just based on people being good to each other. And that’s really what makes the show special.”
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What’s the best part of playing those roles, night after night after night, year after year?
“Making new discoveries every night. So what’s kind of cool about doing the show is we get permission … to try to keep it fresh every night. We all play different characters. I play Kevin James, one half of the Kevins, and then I play Ali, who is an Egyptian Muslim chef. The are both stranded plane passengers. They are two completely different characters. So, it’s a fun acting exercise to do every night. I really get a kick out of that. But also the two characters are going through very human emotions that aren’t just like, oh, like I’m embracing this kindness. No, like without giving it away, they both have their hearts back home. And they’re suffering through this because the people they love the most are trapped at home. That is what makes playing these roles so exciting for me; Because I get to play with a different dynamic.”
Is there a part of the show that you’d like to spotlight, pun intended, maybe one of your favorite scenes or songs?
“There’s a moment in the show [with a song] called ‘Prayer’ where everybody’s praying together. This is just a very special moment, my favorite moment in the show. And I think the story that ‘Comes From Away’ is trying to tell, a mix of kindness and acceptance and just be open to other cultures and other people and other religions, is most represented in that song ‘Prayer’ because you’re hearing stories from different religions, people dealing with this tragedy in their own way. And it is also a beautifully arranged musical song, period. And to witness that on stage, I remember the first time I watched for that first time in New York, that’s when the chills really started coming in. Because I just thought, ‘My goodness, if people need to learn to be more accepting of other people, this is the [moment] they need to see.’ ”
- “Come From Away” runs Nov. 3-14 at the Broward Center, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Show times are 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays (and Tuesday, Nov 9); 6:30 p.m. Sundays; matinees are 2 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays and 1 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $30.50-$125.75. To order, call 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org.
- The musical’s tour then runs Nov. 16-21 at the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd. West Palm Beach. Show times are 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturdays and matinees are 2 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $33-$93. To order, call 561-832-7469 or go to Kravis.org.