Alumna Nicole Benoit's Journey to Broadway

Published February 4, 2022

Nicole Benoit by Sander Nieuwenhuys.

Nicole Benoit by Sander Nieuwenhuys

Originally from Washington State, Nicole Benoit (BFA Music Theatre ’09 and BA Dance ‘10) has graced the stages of theaters worldwide, from North America to Asia, and atop the waves of the Caribbean. “A triple-threat chameleon” in dance, voice, and acting, Nicole has portrayed diverse leading ladies, from the starry-eyed-yet-sinister Roxie Hart in Chicago, to the charmingly damaged Sally Bowles in Cabaret, as well as multiple lauded rounds as Swedish blonde bombshell Ulla in The Producers.

Benoit moved to New York City in January 2011 and has spent the last decade as a professional performer. She is also master instructor, choreographer and educator in dance, voice, and acting, who regularly teaches and presents workshops at major Manhattan universities, local dance studios, and for pre-collegiate programs nationwide. Her educational workshops include Fosse Technique, Theatrical Audition Technique, and forums on the business of Broadway, plus dance / modeling photography and master classes in Theatre Dance, Contemporary and Jazz.

We spoke with Nicole in December 2021, not long after her official Broadway debut in the New York City production of Chicago. The conversation began with exciting news.

Nicole Benoit (NB): It’s been a crazy day already!

Theatre and Dance (THD): Oh really? What’s happening?

NB: Well, I received a text literally an hour ago saying that they need me on stage again for the rest of the week for Chicago!

I’m a “vacation swing” right now, so essentially I’ll get a last minute notice if someone goes out (of the show) because of vacation, injury or illness. And we have an emergency replacement that needs to happen tomorrow so…

THD: Wow, congratulations. Okay, first of all, how long were you in the run of Chicago on Broadway that you just finished?

NB:  I was in the show for a week for that one as well. Sometimes with “vacations swings” you'll be brought on while someone is away, perhaps doing another show, which they'll slot in for four or six weeks in the middle of their “contractual run” on Chicago. When I recently debuted I was brought on for one week because there were multiple “contractual outs” for other performers, so they had rearrange the cast and they needed one more actor for that week.

Last time I was brought in as a “buffer” who was able to go on stage any given night, and I covered six different roles. I ended up performing twice in one particular role.

So this is similar, but different. I’m still a “vacation swing,” but this is what’s called an “immediate replacement” and they know exactly what role I’ll perform. And I will be on for every night of this week’s run. Being a “vacation swing” is not something that I knew much about going to college.

Nicole Benoit by Alyssa Anani.

Nicole Benoit by Nick Suarez

THD: Yes, that’s why it’s interesting to talk to you because you can give some perspective on these kinds of opportunities for current THD students. Okay, can we back up now? How did you first get cast and involved with Chicago?

NB: I initially became a part of what we call the “Chicago Family,” because - obviously with a show that’s been running for so long - it has the ability to be a rolling turnstile of people that have come and gone in the cast, whether for short periods of time, or actors who recapitulate various roles over the course of 25 years on Broadway.

After I graduated from UB I did a tour of a different show and a regional production elsewhere, and then I was cast for a shortened version of Chicago on the Royal Caribbean Cruise line. This was by the same casting company that does the Broadway production.

The Broadway team set it up on the ship, so I learned the original choreography for a shortened version. That was 2012 and I was cast as Roxy. Interestingly, I never read or sang for her. I only went in to read and sing for Velma. It was a surprise when I received the contract and they said they were giving me the offer for Roxy.

And from there it was the same sort of “rinse and repeat.” I did a regional show and then another international show. Then I was brought on for the international tour of Chicago. We started out in Asia, and then did a North American tour.

Again, it was the same company so, even though it was not on Broadway, a lot of these national equity tours are built by the Broadway company. That was 2015. I did that on and off almost through the end of 2017, and during that time I played two different roles on stage and I also covered six other women’s roles. I’ve covered for every role for women in the show, with the exception of Velma and Mama at this point.

Chicago's been the undercurrent in my life. It suits my body and personality, so hopefully we just continue that. Then I got a call in early October (2021) that they needed a replacement and I had three days notice for that, as opposed to only 24 hours notice this time. I was on stage literally within a week of getting the offer, making my (Broadway) debut.

THD: That's kind of crazy. When you got that call to join the show, how much rehearsal time did you get?

NB: I had six and a half hours of rehearsal.

THD: …to make a Broadway debut. How does that feel?

NB: (laughter) You know, everything was just… it was like being shot out of a cannon. And certainly after experiencing our industry completely having to be silent for a year and a half (due to COVID-19) I really didn't have enough time to think of any alternatives that weren’t “Get the choreography, and just get on stage.” One-track mind!

There wasn't a lot of wiggle room, but we have a phrase in musical theatre: “Shove with love.” It’s used for “swings” and people that are going on understudy standbys. Especially in those situations, the company acknowledges that, unless you have some crazy robotic mind, not everything is going to be perfect with very little rehearsal time and not having been a part of bonding and rehearsal.

The week was incredibly surreal. You’re in a very intense, hyper-adrenaline state and I didn't get to really process it until it was all said and done. It’s amazing, the show is in my bone marrow - all the little nuances of the music - none of it changed since when I first joined the show almost 10 years ago. So I wasn't coming in from “nothing.” There was something already innately in me.

THD: That’s really something. It speaks to being in a prepared mindset and being adaptable. Reading the biography on your website, you do many different things. You do Broadway, but also choreography, teaching, and dance itself, plus modeling. How do you stay ready for any and all opportunities?

NB: It’s a great question. I’m sure that any of the amazing teachers and mentors that I had at UB would probably agree that I’ve always been overly ambitious and a go getter.

At the same time, with that hyper focus, I am okay with not having one singular goal. On a philosophical level, if you have just one goal and you don't end up meeting that goal, or you get to that goal, and you realize it's not everything that you'd hoped for, then suddenly, you have this existential crisis.

The method to the madness is filling my life with activities that are valuable and meaningful so that I can invest my creative mind as well as my physical capacity into them, and it doesn’t have to be one genre. But not everyone is the same.

It doesn't feel overwhelming to have so many different pieces of the puzzle that I'm constantly trying to juggle. At the end of the day, for musical theater, you have to invest yourself in at least three areas: acting, singing and dancing.

And I would venture to say that understanding yourself as a human - hello THD students, this is for you - if you’re not at a point of being comfortable with being introspective and digesting your own experience, there's no way that you can go into all those other categories to try to invest and represent another human being on stage.

THD: When did you have a sense that this is what you wanted to do with your life, or this part of your life?

NB: I grew up in a very musical household. Both of my parents are now retired from public school music teaching. I usually say the option to choose music was not my choice. Music was always choosing me, and I started with classical piano, singing and basic dance.  I grew up in a very small town, so the opportunity to have really high level dance and see shows with professional dancers, that wasn't really a thing.

And me being overly ambitious from a young age, most of the conversations regarding what to do with my life were like, “Nicole, you actually need to not do so much. You need to choose which of these to take off the plate, so that you can focus on what you really want to do.”

But I was defiant. I had plenty of opportunities to go into what would be considered more common or realistic professions outside of the arts and, sometimes, especially during COVID (the first lockdown period), I wondered what life would have been like had I chosen something else.

At the end of the day it wasn't a decision of, “I'd like to do this for the rest of my life.” It was like, “I don't know what my life looks like without this. I need to keep doing this.” And musical theatre happened to be that that intersection point. If this were pulled out of my life I not sure that I would know who I am.

Nicole Benoit highlight reel

THD: I think that's a common theme for many performers and artists. You just can't not do it.

NB: Yes.

THD: If you don't mind my asking, in setting up this interview, you mentioned that you that you have a day job. Is it arts or non-arts related and how does it fit in?

NB: Yes, you're welcome to keep this in. Contextually, because of COVID, many of us performers have day jobs that have nothing to do with the arts because it was non-existent for so long. A lot of my day jobs when I was touring a lot were in the fitness and health sectors, working for pilates studios, and with individual athletes.

Now I work as an executive assistant for a restaurant. I didn’t think that I would go into restaurants after doing many years of waitressing, but there's been a lot of self-reconciling during the pandemic, and I chose to accept this role because it's a salaried position.

So, especially in the midst of COVID and, at the time when I accepted the job, Broadway still did not have an opening date, so I'm continuing with it. I hope that I'm with them for a long time because it's a very good fit.

It's not in the arts, but it's where we are at in this global society right now, of not being sure when we're going to be able to be on stage. And then, when I get to I get to perform, I get a last minute text, "Oh, you need me tomorrow?! Okay, I'll go from my day job and slap on my red lipstick and crazy Chicago eyelashes and then go perform on stage!" This is apparently the dream, you know? (laughs)

THD: How much energy does that take to pull off?

NB: I'm usually working six days a week. When I'm doing Chicago too, that's a seven day week. But again, it's just in the DNA. I'm constantly on the go. It definitely feels like I'm pushing my boundaries, but it doesn't feel like I am exerting myself to the point where I can't enjoy what I'm doing. I have a healthy fitness regimen as someone who's also a personal trainer. If I don't take that time early in the morning to work out then I will notice that I drag all day long.

As many dancers that are in their thirties, my body has already been through so much. We know with professional athletes that that their bodies are wrecked (by the time they retire), but if you think about a dancer who's been doing the same movements repetitively since age three, four, or five, that's almost three decades of wear and tear! I have my own laundry list of injuries that I need to make sure to keep up on. And, especially if I don't if I don't exercise then that fatigue happens, but the "crumple" happens too.

THD: I sense you've got your life very well organized. And your ambition is matched by discipline and also having fun. It sounds to like you've got it figured out at this point of life.

NB: I appreciate you saying that. I've seen enough highs and lows I have the confidence that I can conquer whatever comes my way. Now conquering doesn't necessarily mean success, but I find myself less disappointed when things don't work out.

I'm a very spiritual person. I can design as much as what I would like in my life, but ultimately everything that's in my head and my vision is imagination until I do something about it. If my reality wants to somehow meet what I'm doing, then I have to work for it. So I accept the challenge and the reality that it's not all going to be like it is in my head. I'm going to be fine no matter what happens.

When it comes to the arts, I think that there's a lot of shame and disappointment as the years go on when people don't become the rock star they thought they're going to be, or they don't become the ballerina. They carry that sense of loss. I guess, if anything, l would hope I never have to have regrets. If something doesn't go my way it's not because I need to be regretful or ashamed of myself that I didn't make the rest of the world meet me.

THD: That's a healthy mindset. It can take people a lifetime to learn it.

You've performed a lot over the last 10 years. Did you have a moment in your Broadway debut that felt like, "This is it. I made it on Broadway."

NB: I didn't really have it until the second night of the show. It was during bows. Up until then there was so much adrenaline and focus, and I’d had only six hours of rehearsal, so I was only thinking about the steps and my traffic across the stage.

After the second show, I was standing in the wings ready to do our company bow, I caught myself looking up at the balcony and all the people in the back, some of whom I knew were my friends. I had the realization that, even though I've been to that stage before (as an audience member), clapping and screaming my little heart out, I’ve never been on this side of the stage to receive it.  And that was the moment where I thought, “Oh my God, I’m on Broadway.”

I saw all these people that I didn’t recognize in the audience that have come from around the world to see us, and that was a beautiful moment for sure. There was a little extra razzle in there.

THD: Can you speak about how you got into modeling too?

NB: I was asked to model when I was in high school and oftentimes it was for bridal companies and big bridal trade shows that were coming through.

I did dance photos (modeling) too. Especially when preparing for college, you have to have dance photos. By the time I got into UB and the Theatre and Dance Department, having access to the Center for the Arts and people who were doing more work for film and camera photography, I learned a lot. It was formative and helped me understand how to pursue it when I got to New York City.

Modeling was not lucrative at first, but it was something of a necessity, so that I could build a portfolio and a visual resume. I just kept reaching out for collaborations with photographers online, some of which were complete dud experiences, and some of which were thrilling.

But it was it really wasn't until maybe two or three years into being in New York that I felt like I had a grasp on the types of work and photographers that I wanted to work with, and a lot of that ended up being dance and fitness modeling.

I did some fashion modeling. But even though I’m tall, my body type is very athletic. I do not fit the high fashion modeling standards because of my musculature.

Nicole Benoit by Nick Suarez.

Nicole Benoit by Nick Suarez

THD: Which is ridiculous, of course…

NB: Yes, it is what it is, but I am not a walking hanger.

I mean, some people have incredible genetics, and they can do that. But modeling at that upper echelon of high profile couture - that is a full time job. People don’t realize (how demanding it is).  

What I ended up getting into is called “fit modeling,” but It has nothing to do with photography. Clothing designers literally fit fashion samples on you. You have to be a certain body size to do it, whether it’s six, twelve, or eighteen, and you need to maintain that size so that they can use you as a living mannequin. Dancers are really poised to be able to do this.

It’s really lucrative and very “image friendly.” I can literally go in with no makeup. If I do that for one to two hours, it will literally pay for half of my rent!

THD: Oh wow. Okay, so that niche is lucrative. That's very interesting. Do you think you’ll continue to do that, because I know things can shift?

NB: Yes, things definitely shift with age, but “fit modeling” is unique and as long as you can maintain your numbers (meaning your existing size and shape) you can continue to get work. You don’t have to change who you are.

It’s great for performers and dancers who maintain a fitness regimen that keeps them in the same shape, minus things like pregnancy or whatever else. As long as you maintain your size and shape you could literally do (this type of modeling) all the way through your sixties. And there are people who do that and work with agencies for decades, though I don’t think that many places outside of New York or L.A. have this kind of work opportunity.

THD: Yes, which speaks to location. Would you say, for someone like a current THD student, who seriously wants to be a full-time performer, do you feel that they have to move to where the arts are made, whether that’s New York or Los Angeles?

NB: Well, yes and no. It's so interesting now because there's a lot of crossover between Broadway, West End, but also film and TV. If someone wants to be a full-time performing artist you can do that in a lot of locations, but the benefits of doing it in a city like New York especially, is that, for as hard as the effort is to get there, when you get to these acclaimed regional houses or on Broadway, you are truly getting a paycheck that is worthy of living. It's not scrimping and scraping.

But have I done of poorly paid jobs? Absolutely! But if you can make a living and feel like you have some wiggle room to go have drinks with friends, or buy Broadway tickets when your parents come to town…I think being closer to the larger cities is a necessity.

THD: You mentioned that you have a new full-time job in hospitality. It’s cliché, but do you have an idea of what you’d like to be doing in the near future?

NB: I think that there has been enough that has happened in this city, in this country, and to this industry, if I'm able to continue to perform in the creative arts and to make a living I don’t need to try to plan too much. The long term plan, if I can maintain what I’m doing right now, this is working. The performing arts, and Broadway especially, is built out of the tenacity of every single person in the industry.

For more information about Nicole Benoit: