Heir Apparent - Cabaret Wunderkind Nicolas King

by John Amodeo
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Mar 14, 2011

If the mantle of Mel Torme is to be passed on to any singers of our generation, it can pass right over Harry Connick Jr., John Pizzarelli, Peter Cincotti, and Michael Buble, and land squarely on the shoulders of Nicolas King.

Why King? Well for one, he can croon, swing, and scat like nobody's business, and his repertoire is heavily populated with the standards made famous by Torme; as well as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peggy Lee. To go one step further, his musical director and accompanist is Mike Renzi, who was Mel Torme's musical director for thirty years. Renzi has also accompanied some of the greatest names in swing and jazz vocals, including Jack Jones, Liza Minnelli, Tony Bennett, Earth Kitt, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Maureen McGovern, Peggy Lee, and Lena Horne, so his growing relationship with King speaks volumes on King's musicianship. King's got talent.

In fact, in his 15-year professional singing career, this Westerly, RI native, who now resides in New York City, has appeared on Broadway three times, beginning with a nine-month run in Beauty and the Beast opposite Andrea McArdle in 2000, A Thousand Clowns opposite Tom Selleck in 2001, and Hollywood Arms opposite Linda Lavin in 2002-03. He has also appeared and performed on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The View, Sally Jesse Raphael (twice), the Ed McMahon Radio Show, the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon (8 years) and (most recently) performing at the opening night gala of the 2010 Mabel Mercer Cabaret Convention in New York. He is also the recipient of the 2010 Julie Wilson Cabaret Award.

Oh, and did I mention he's only 19 years old?

His cabaret shows have included appearances at Birdland, and several appearances at the Metropolitan Room (both in NYC) where a very impressed. John Hoglund of TheaterScene.com declared, "As one listened to him on jazz/swing versions of tunes from The Andrew Sisters' like 'Bounce Me With A Solid Four' to the deceptively demanding Ella Fitzgerald ditty 'Mr. Paganini,' at ease and in perfect pitch, with a voice that only gains in substance, it's obvious King is no rank amateur."

If you want to see him perform locally at an affordable price, you have your chance this coming Friday, March 18, where he will be performing An Evening with Nicolas King, at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center (CMAC), with Renzi on piano, Gary Johnson on drums, and Dave Zinno on bass. This evening is being presented by the Boston Association of Cabaret Artists (BACA).

EDGE had a chance to speak with the very relaxed, sometimes quite coy, but always well-poised King about his musical family, including his grandmother and vocal coach Angela Bacari. (Bacari, a jazz singer and recording artist in her own right, has also been Liza Minnelli's vocal coach since 2006.) King also speaks of appearing on Broadway at 8, his tour with Liza, his musical influences, and his favorite American Idol contestants.

A family affair

EDGE: Did you sing with your grandmother as a young child?

Nicolas King: We did sing together when I was a kid. She’s been in show business since her early 20s, and naturally growing up with her around, there was a lot of singing. And she’s a vocal coach, in addition, so I grew up in the playpen hearing her give voice lessons. And when I started singing myself, she began to bring me up on stage, and now that I’m on stage, I get to bring her up.

EDGE: The YouTube clip where you both duet on ’Route 66’ is terrific. Will you bring Angela up on stage with you at CMAC?

Nicolas King: It’s possible. There’s always room for some surprises. The ’Route 66’ clip landed us a job together; a big band gig with our big band charts.

EDGE: That ’Route 66’ YouTube clip was shot in Hawaii. How did you manage a gig in Hawaii?

Nicolas King: An agent of mine on the West Coast hired me for this job for the National Electricians Convention, and we sang their cocktail hour for five days. We had a blast. I was complaining that it was only 5 days. We wished it were longer.

EDGE: What was your first professional performance?

Nicolas King: As far as I remember, the first time I performed in front of people was at 4 years old, at the RI Division of the Talent America Contest, which I won. I then went to the National Division and won that.

Story continues on following page:

Watch Nicolas King and Mike Renzi perform a tribute to Mel Torme:

Touring with Liza

EDGE: In 2006, you toured with Liza. What kind of experience was that?

Nicolas King: I was 15 when I toured with Liza, right in the middle of the voice change. That was a little awkward. Still, it was a life dream come true. I won’t lie.

I first met her at one of her shows as a normal fan going back stage. But when I was doing A Thousand Clowns. The cast knew I was a fan of hers, and they brought her back stage as an opening night surprise. Also, I got to meet her again through my grandmother, who knew David Gest. Angela became Liza’s vocal coach for her Liza’s Back tour. I had cut an album in 2006, and we gave her the album right then and there, and she heard it and she asked me to go on tour with her. I’m getting together with her this week to show her the video of my Metropolitan Room show (this past January), because she couldn’t make it. As a coach, there is nobody better to learn from on how to give a performance. She knows how to tell a story and get the audience to feel something, and that’s something I really admire in her. It’s quite a privilege for a 15-year old to have the opportunity to experience that. It’s just shocking. You don’t’ expect that. She taught me, ’Imagine every performance, and try to picture there is one person way in the back of the theater who’s never heard you before, you need to win them over and show them who you are.’

EDGE: What role were you in Beauty and the Beast?

Nicolas King: I was Chip. The best show on Broadway. Andrea McCardle was Belle. She was sensational, and I keep in touch with her quite often. She gave me the most wonderful liner notes for my new CD called Nineteen, for the age I turned at the time. Just the fact that I was an eight-year old kid moving to NY doing Broadway in a Disney show, was one of the most amazing experiences for any kid. The production staff from The Tonight Show saw an article on the show [which featured King], and they invited me to perform on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The plan was it was supposed to be a four-minute segment: sing for two and interview for two. The interview with Jay lasted for eleven minutes. It was a very comfortable interview. I sang a medley of ’There’s No Business Like Show Business’ and ’Cabaret.’ I was quite in the Broadway mode at the time.

Honoring Mel Torme

EDGE: You learned Mel Torme’s scat solo from ’Pick Yourself Up’ in four days. Will you sing that in Cambridge?

Nicolas King: I will be, yes. And the reason why I will do it is that my musical director is Mike Renzi and I wouldn’t perform it without Mike. We love to tribute Mel in my show. The show we are doing in Cambridge is mostly the same one we did at the Metropolitan Room. Four days before that show Mike said we should check this out; it would be a great addition to the show. I told Mike he was crazy. But I set out to learn it anyway. I must have listened to it a good couple of hundred times until I got it, and it was a big hit in the show.

EDGE: Who were your influences?

Nicolas King: Probably two of my favorite performers on the planet: Jamie Cullum; he’s so out of the box, fresh, intriguing. You don’t know what he’s going to do next, and the other guy is the late great Sammy Davis Jr. My view of him is that he’s the finest male entertainer that we’ve had. The man could do everything. There’s also Harry Connick Jr., and, of course, Sinatra. I love Ella. She’s in a category all her own. Growing up in the Broadway world, who doesn’t love Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand? Maureen McGovern is one of my favorite singers; she’s never hit a wrong note in her life. And Jack Jones; now that he and I have that Renzi connection, I hear him even more. Nancy Wilson, Ann Hampton Callaway, Adele, and Blossom Dearie; she was unique and original. Bruno Mars has a couple of hits on the top 40. Diana Krall: love her. Of course, Steve and Edie. Edie’s version of ’What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?’ just makes me melt. Great music. I appreciate singers that are actual artists that make music. Lady Gaga is one of them. You can appreciate her flashiness, but if you strip all that away, she’s still an amazing singer, and an awesome pianist. And Justin Bieber, he’s not just a singer, he arranges, and produces. I like people that make music and are hard workers. Not afraid to get their hands dirty when it comes to making music.

EDGE: Who’s your favorite American Idol performer this season?

Nicolas King: It’s a tossup between Pia, James, and Stefano. I’m hoping to go to the finale.

EDGE: What recordings do you listen to most?

Nicolas King: It’s hard to pick one. Probably Sinatra’s swing version of ’All Or Nothing At All,’ the overture to Barbra’s ’94 concert. I love overtures. I have some tech recordings from when I was performing in the Liza’s Back tour. When they started recording, they would start 10 minutes before curtain, and I kept all the uncut versions. The first 7 minutes before the lights dim and the overture starts. It’s the whole sound of the theater as people are taking their seats; the orchestra is fiddling with their instruments, and warming up, pianos doing their runs, and trumpets bleating, people buzzing. I was sitting behind the curtain and hearing that every night, hearing those sounds of anticipation. It’s the most thrilling moment before any show.

EDGE: What’s in your iPod now?

Nicolas King: If I put it on random shuffle, it’s hilarious; you would go from Kanye West to Judy Garland in two seconds. And I’m not kidding.

BACA presents An Evening with Nicolas King, Friday, March 18 at 8pm at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center, 41 2nd Street, Cambridge, MA. Tickets: $25, $23 BACA, CMAC & Seniors. For Ticket purchase, call 617.577.1400, or visit http://bostoncabaret.org/events.html or http://www.cmacusa.org/ .

John Amodeo is a free lance writer living in the Boston streetcar suburb of Dorchester with his husband of 23 years. He has covered cabaret for Bay Windows and Theatermania.com, and is the Boston correspondent for Cabaret Scenes Magazine.


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