Casey Nicholaw, the director of “The Book of Mormon,” talks about the show that is the fulfillment of his Broadway ambitions.
Broadway director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw dropped out of college to pursue his dreams. He started as an ensemble member in shows and gradually extended his reach, growing to become the Tony Award-winning director of “The Book of Mormon,” which returns to Minneapolis this week for an extended run.
We spoke with him about his life, his work and the blockbuster show that has allowed him to buy a pad in Manhattan’s pricey real-estate market.
Q: How early did you know that theater was your destiny?
A: I’m from San Diego. My parents weren’t involved in theater, but my mother encouraged my interest in it. She bought me the cassette tape to “A Chorus Line” and she took me and a friend out of school one day, and drove us up to L.A. for a matinee. Afterward, we ate in the cafeteria. I was in junior high school. She saw the direction I was going in. And it was one of the gifts she gave me.
Q: Then you went off to college, but didn’t stay.
A: I went to UCLA for a year and a quarter. There were too many students at UCLA interested in what I was interested in, and they couldn’t accommodate all of us. I wasn’t allowed to take voice or dance, only theater and acting. So I saved my money and, at 19, moved to New York. I had 50 bucks, nowhere to live, but I made friends and crashed on people’s couches.
Q: You were tenacious.
A: I was. In ’92, I got my first Broadway show as a performer — “Crazy for You.” I was in the ensemble. In fact, I was in eight Broadway shows as a dancer. Seven of them were original shows. That’s how I learned to create something from the ground up.
Q: How did you make the transition from ensemble member to choreographer to director?
A: I was always bossy as a kid. I made my friends do shows that I wrote and would take them on tour from house to house. [He chuckled.] As an adult performer, I would watch other performers and say how I would do it. I finally realized that I didn’t want to be the person who talked about everything backstage. I had to do something. So, I saved some money, rented a studio space and invited everyone and their mama to come see my choreography.
Q: What did you choreograph?
A: Three numbers: one tap that took place at a picnic, a balletic storytelling number and a quirky piece. I got my first tap choreography job from that. It was “The Prince and the Pauper,” which originated at the Fifth Avenue Playhouse in Seattle and went to the Ordway.