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31 Nicolas King: Act One

Interview Summary

“Most kids kids go with their grandparents to bake pies…My grandmother took me to gigs.”

Nicolas King

Nicolas King’s latest album ‘Act One’ celebrates 25 years as a recording artist. And at 30-years-old, yes, that means he recording at age 5. From hanging out backstage at his grandmother’s gigs, to starring on Broadway, to touring the US with Liza Minnelli and then starting his own act as a nightclub singer, Nicolas has had one heck of a career so far. And it’s only Act One! ⁠

Check out the interview to hear Nicolas’ story, bits of his music, and the importance of staying humble during your career! ⁠

About

Act One starts with a recording from Liza Minnelli, introducing a young man with an astounding voice who is going to open the show for her. That young man is Nicolas King and he was only 12 years old.

Now if you think touring with Liza Minnelli at 12 is impressive – he was already midway through a career most of us can only dream of. He had already been seen in the spotlight on Broadway in Beauty in the Beast, A Thousand Clowns opposite Tom Sellek, and Hollywood Arms.

Nicolas says he had a unique upbringing hanging out on the bandstand at his grandmother’s gigs. Once in a while she would bring him out front and let him sing in his little tuxedo. “I looked like the WB frog,” Nicolas laughs. Hence the recording, “There’s No Business Like Show Business” where we hear 4-year-old Nicolas singing from the stage of a Hotel in New Hampshire, which transitions to a more modern recording of Nicolas King singing the same song 25 years later, swinging the heck out of it.

Not only that did he get that early performance exposure, his grandmother was a renowned vocal coach and he absorbed valuable lessons from the playpen while she taught. As he grew older, he would hang out with the musicians who came through and sit in on those lessons, taking mental note of every piece of advice.

And of course, Nicolas’ early friendship with Liza Minnelli has proved invaluable throughout his life. Their first meeting seemed inconsequential. A fan already at 5-years-old, Nicolas’ parents brought him to one of Liza’s concerts and sat him right up front. During one of the songs, Liza brought Nicolas on stage and sang to him. He went back to his seat and didn’t speak to her again until he was actomg in A Thousand Clowns opposite Tom Sellek. Tom brought Liza to visit Nicolas one night as a surprise. Nicolas says he walked into his dressing room with Tom after the show and saw her there and thought, “Oops, I must have walked into Tom’s room!”

Through a serendipitous turn of events, Nicolas’ grandmother became Liza Minnelli’s vocal coach, and that’s where the real partnership began. Liza asked Nicolas if he would like to open for one of her shows when he was 12, and he said, “Sure, what does that mean?” Nicolas says Liza pulled out a notebook, ordered some Chinese food and help build his very first act. He went on the road with her from 2002-2012.

Of course, any child prodigy must eventually forge a path for their career as an adult. As it turns out, it’s pretty difficult to get a role as a leading male on Broadway when you’re only 5’2, “unless you’re opposite Tom Cruise,” jokes Nicolas. Not sure which direction to take, he decided to try his hand at singing. He called up a drummer about singing at a local restaurant, who told him the gig paid $100 for 5 hours, no food provided, you have to bring your own mic and pay for your own drinks. Nicolas thought, “Well, I’m 17 so I don’t drink, let’s do this!” After that, he found himself falling in love with the jazz tradition and the Great American Songbook.

At that point, he decided to try his hand at building his own nightclub act. So, he called up his mentor Liza Minelli, and out came the pad of paper and the Chinese food and together they crafted up his first shows. He’s been singing in the nightclubs of New York City ever since.

Nicolas says another musician who has shaped his career is Mike Renzi – a legendary pianist who’s worked with everyone from Lady Gaga, to Tony Bennett, to Lena Horne. It’s a truly collaborative partnership, with each one following the other throughout each show and coming up with arrangements on the fly at times. Nicolas says that Mike has great intuition and he trusts him completely – something Nicolas has only found in a handful of pianists his whole. Nicolas describes it as “Falling off a cliff into a net. I don’t even have to think about it, I know that I’ll be caught.”

The album features several other artists in collaboration with Nicolas, including Norm Lewis and Jane Monheit. Nicolas says Norm was one of the best Phantoms he’s ever seen on Broadway, and when he found out that Norm liked his music too, he just about fell out of his chair. Jane was the first person to say yes to the project, and Nicolas says she was a total sweetheart, completely humble, down to earth and insanely talented.

In fact, Nicolas says that humility one of the most important attributes a musician, or anyone else for that matter, can have. The most celebrated and talented people he’s met were also the most down to earth. It’s the ones who haven’t quite made it who are a little bit more on edge. Nicolas adds that he’s known people who could sing the roof off a joint, but are lousy humans, and he’s never been interested in seeing their show. On the flip side, he says it’s the best when people have an incredible talent, and are just total sweethearts.

He adds that the person you are is ultimately more important the the kind of musician you are. We don’t own anything in this world, money comes and goes, the only thing we really have is our reputation. Art is subjective, it can be stolen, borrowed, imitated, nothing is original. The only thing we really have is our reputation and our word. Nicolas concludes, “In the end, it doesn’t really matter what you do, are you a decent human? That’s what it really boils down to.”

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