By Bill Hirschman
Hialeah-born-and-bred actor Nick Duckart is coming home again from New York City. But he is a long way from the days struggling to sell televisions at Circuit City or vending souvenirs for shows at Lincoln Center.
This visit fulfills a long-time dream: not simply by appearing in the national tour of the musical Come From Away— but being a crucial part of an emotionally powerful musical with an unusually close-knit company.
His innate geniality has emanated from many local and regional stages including his Carbonell-winning turn as Usnavi in Actors’ Playhouse’s In the Heights in 2013. But this is different.
“It’s always been my dream since I started doing theater in high school to be a part of something like this,” Duckart said in a phone interview from Tampa where the show was performing before Orlando and finally stopping at the Arsht Center in Miami from June 18-23.
Come From Away was a surprise hit on Broadway in 2017 with its warm and uplifting true story about what occurred on 9/11 when 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in the small town of Gander in Canada. Despite the profound fear and uncertainty ruling the world at that moment, the citizens welcomed 7,000 strangers – providing food, clothing, shelter, counseling, fellowship and an unrestrained proof of the good in humanity. Many of the characters and situations are drawn directly from real life or artfully merged elements.
Far from saccharine, the musical still running on Broadway has been often cited by hardened New York theatergoers as one of their favorite evenings in several years. The show, developed in various venues since 2012, was nominated for seven Tony Awards and won one for Christopher Ashley’s direction.
Like all 12 actors in the piece, Duckart portrays multiple passengers and villagers in a seamless smooth kaleidoscope. He may be the spotlit focus of a scene, then instantly fall back into the ensemble. His characters include Ali, a Muslim character looked upon with deep suspicion, and Kevin J. part of a gay couple in crisis.
“In one scene you might be the focal point of the plot. But then the very next you’re helping move the chair for the next person to have their story being told. It just creates a sort of camaraderie…. We kind of say that the show is a 100-minute trust call…. We all of us trust each other to know what the other 11 will do next.”
Duckart genuinely loves the show, which he saw early in the run because a friend he had worked with had been raving about the piece – a friend playing the part Duckart is playing now. “Like many other people, I was just moved beyond measure and I couldn’t quite put into words why I was feeling what I was feeling. But it’s there’s so much emotion that goes through people watching the show.”
This first national tour began rehearsals in August and went on the road in October, usually limited to one-week stands. That means “literally living out a suitcase” in a new hotel every week and flying to the next venue, he said.
A national tour has marked similarities and differences from performing in regional theater, besides the budget.
“In rehearsal, it’s exactly the same…. I work just as hard as when I did Carousel for Actors’ Playhouse…. It’s all good storytelling and it doesn’t matter if you’re performing at a community theater or if you’re performing on Broadway.”
But the differences are major, especially working on a year-long contract. “The work never stops. The traveling is constant. That alone is a lot of hard work because we don’t really have days off. Our days off are on an airplane to fly to the next city.”
The pace is constant. “We now have to hustle all the time…. We’re approaching show 300 and we still have rehearsals at least once every two weeks, if not more.… There’s a certain level of just fine tuning and tweaking all the time just to make sure that we’re all excellent and in a good place, whereas if you do a show at Actors’ Playhouse you know you rehearse for (2 ½ ) weeks and then run the show for four weeks.”
But it’s a life he’s always known he’d treasure. In a 2014 interview with Florida Theater On Stage, he said, “When I am in a show, I am completely fulfilled. I love storytelling. I love rehearsing. I love making discoveries about my character. I love the camaraderie. When I am performing, I feel complete. That is also the hardest part of what I do. Because when I am not in a show, I don’t know what to do with myself. I get into funks, and every day becomes the day that I go back to school to get a law degree or something. When you love what you do so much, and you find that every experience is temporary and taken away from you after a few weeks, moving on can take its toll on you. In any other career, you work hard and succeed, there is a promotion waiting for you. Not as an actor. You constantly have to prove yourself. It’s emotionally taxing sometimes. And when you love what you do, as much as I do, you live with it… because I don’t want to do anything else.”
Now based in New York, it has already been a lengthy road. He was born Nicholas Mitchell Duckardt. (“Yes, I took out the “D”… just easier to read.”) He attended Hialeah High School where playing Peter in Edward Albee’s A Zoo Story confirmed his future. He graduated from New World School of the Arts with a BFA in music theater.
Between numerous odd jobs, he began getting hired regularly locally around 2007 in roles covering a wide range of ethnicities because of his appearance.
“I love that an agent once referred to me as ‘ethnically ambiguous.’ I take great pride in that. To be honest, I don’t look at any of them differently. It’s all the human condition. I find how I relate to each character, do the character study, and go from there. I try to keep them human and relatable, and then do the dialect work. I try to think about what it must be like to live in their shoes,” he said in 2014.
“Sometimes a character is so relatable to me that it scares me (Leon Czolgosz in Zoetic Stage’s Assassins) and sometimes… it’s such a stretch that I have to go the extra mile (Na’im in GableStage’s Masked). That was a challenge. Can’t say I can relate to being a Palestinian guerilla revolutionary.”
Besides commercials, voice overs and brief bits in television shows, he also has worked at Asolo Rep, Olney Theatre, LaJolla Playhouse, KC Rep, Artists Rep and Gulfshore Playhouse – including playing Juan Peron in Evita three times. He also has had to work as many as five civilian jobs simultaneously such as catering and as a travel agent.
Duckart has been working in New York on and off for years, returning to appear in various shows, notably In the Heights which won him the best actor Carbonell Award. (He won his first for a comic supporting role in Florida Stage’s musical Dr. Radio.)
After shuttling back and forth, he settled in New York for good in 2014 after marrying his wife, Mariand Torres, who appeared in Actors’ Playhouse’s Murder Ballad in 2015.
Their marriage is bearing the strain of Torres crisscrossing the country as Elphaba in the national tour of Wicked. She has custody of their chihuahua-daschund mixed puppy Lucy on the road.
“I miss both terribly… You know it’s hard being apart no matter what. (But) the road is even harder being apart when we’re both kind of flying across the country in different directions.”
Every three weeks, he takes a red eye flight to visit her for 24 hours before flying back to his own show. They are trying to align their vacation time.
Still, the tour gifts him the chance to perform this work in front of the hometown crowd including his parents, brothers and friends. “My entire family… I’m pretty sure they bought out the entire house” at the Arsht one night. And he gets to stay in a house with his family instead of a hotel room.
He’s hoping to spend the meager time between shows revisiting old haunts, old friends and showing off “his” Miami to cast mates who have never been here.
“I’m hoping to take some of the sights and places like Wynwood and Brickell. Yeah, and the beach obviously, and take them to some of my favorite restaurants and kind of give them a taste of what my Miami is.”
With more than a decade as a professional on his resume, he knows that what happens when his contract expires cannot be predicted or taken for granted, especially having starred in a local production and then returning to New York for the grind of auditioning.
He knew that in 2014 when he said, “I found that the biggest challenge, however, is accepting the fact that I was starting from scratch every time I would go back up to the city. I’m a tiny fish in a huge pond. Not many people know who I am… and sometimes… it’s all about who you know. And my two Carbonells didn’t help… shocking, I know. So I try to network as much as I can and make new friends. Once you feel like you’re in control of that situation, I truly believe the rest falls into place.”
Now prepping to appear in this show in Tampa, Duckart said, “I just hope that whether it’s a tour or a Broadway or regional gig that this will open up an opportunity.”
Come From Away from Broadway Across America runs June 18-23 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Performances 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday. Also Open Caption on Sunday at 1 p.m.; Sign Interpreted (ASL) on Saturday at 2 p.m.; Audio Described on Sunday at 1 p.m. Tickets $34-125. Call (305) 949-6722, or online at arshtcenter.org.