Chatback with Nikki Crawford

Film, television and theatre actress Nikki Crawford’s resplendent career includes appearances on such popular shows as “Switched at Birth,” “Pretty Little Liars,” “Numb3rs” and “Criminal Minds.” She was also a recipient of the NAACP Theatre Award for her portrayal as young Lena Horne in the musical biography “Stormy Weather.” Crawford is currently starring as the fiery, quick-tempered and beautifully broken Aldonza in McCoy Rigby Entertainment’s “Man of La Mancha,” now playing at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. I got to chat with the acclaimed actress one afternoon recently to discuss her role as a woman of the night, how she discovered her singing voice and actor Robert De Niro!

What attracted you to the role of Aldonza?

Besides the vocal demands, it was the dimension of the character. I consider myself an actress first before a singer so the characters depth is what initially drew me to Aldonza and hopefully I bring that out while performing. It’s been a great challenge.

How did you prepare for the role?

With any role I approach, I try to find something I have in common with the character. Even though, I was never a prostitute or sold my body for money, I can relate to the lost she’s experienced and tried to focus on that. Also, in terms of relationships I’ve had in the past I was able to make comparisons to Aldonza and bring that to the stage as well.  

Why should everyone go see McCoy Rigby’s “Man of La Mancha?”

Davis Gaines is absolutely wonderful as Don Quixote. His voice is just phenomenal. The entire cast is top notch. The director, Glenn Casale is brilliant likewise. He brings the story and characters to life with added humor, more than you would typically see in other productions of “Man of La Mancha.” You’ll absolutely fall in love with the characters and this wonderful cast.

Have you worked with any of these actors before?

Not anyone from the cast, but I have worked with director Glenn Casale previously on “Showboat” at Music Circus Sacramento. This was my second time working with him and hopefully not the last! 

What actor would you love to work with someday?

Robert De Niro. I would love to co-star in one of his movies or be directed by him one day. I just love everything about him [laughs].

What has been your favorite role to date?

Playing young Lena Horne in “Stormy Weather” with Leslie Uggams at the Pasadena Playhouse. I played Lena from the age of 16, when she first started out at The Cotton Club until age 46. I had 25 costume changes in the show. The audiences got to see Lena Horne become the icon. I did 6 months of research before I even stepped foot into rehearsals learning everything about her life, what she went through, her involvement in the civil rights act and how she was blacklisted from Hollywood. It was a great undertaking and my favorite role to date. 

A few years ago you were in the Las Vegas production of “Spamalot.” How did you get involved with the show? 

Funny story. When I had auditioned for “The Drowsy Chaperone,” the director Casey Nicholaw had me sing 5 songs for him. When I left the audition, I called my agent and asked “what’s next?” My agent informed me that “it wasn’t going any further.” I was confused because I had performed song after song for him. A couple of months later, I started getting phone calls from New York. The Broadway production of “Spamalot” wanted to see me for the role of The Lady of the Lake. At that time, I wasn’t interested in going to New York and kept on turning it down. My agent called and told me they were opening a brand-new production of the show in Las Vegas, and to please go in and meet with them. I finally agreed and when I got to the audition, Casey Nicholaw was sitting at the table. After all this time, he had kept me in mind for this particular part and I ended up opening the Vegas company of “Spamalot!”

Whose idea was it to change the lyrics to include references to pop stars Jennifer Hudson and Britney Spears in the song Diva’s Lament?

Yes, that was Eric Idle’s idea. But they did take the Britney Spears joke out because they felt like she was going through too much at the time. Up to opening night they were constantly changing my lines.

And would you ever reprise the role if given an opportunity?

No [laughs]. I loved working on the show but have no desire to play her again. I’m all good.

How did you get your start in musical theatre?

I come from a very musical family, but singing was never something I thought I’d do. I started with musical theater later in my career. I went to Carnegie Mellon for acting doing Shakespeare & Tchekhov and when I moved out here, I got cast as the understudy for Freda Payne in a musical called “Blues in the Night.” I went on for her one night and discovered I could sing [laughs]. Then I started booking musicals and my first big role was Lady Liv in “Play On!” which later aired on PBS Great Performances.

What’s next for you?

I did a film for Lifetime called “Dance Night Obsession” with Antonio Sabato Jr. I play the lead detective and my character has to solve the mystery when a contestant on a popular dance competition show is murdered. I also did a psychological thriller called “Desperate Waters” coming out next year and “96 Souls,” where I play a junkie [laughs], which is out in select theatres now!

Any final words for our viewers?

Yes! Come see the show in La Mirada. We have only 2 weeks left! It’s a wonderful story and I might be a little biased but I love this cast – each and every one of them and we have so much fun together. 

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