Memorial Day weekend is the kickoff for summer fun, beginning with outdoor festivals, boardwalk excursions, and regional theater offerings. There will be milestones in people’s lives and celebrations to be marked with gifts of tickets to experience a live musical or drama in the Lehigh Valley. Chances are, among the cast members you’ll be introduced to in your program book will be an Equity, or professional, actor.
Tonight, the 11th annual Freddy Awards ceremony will take place with a live broadcast on 69-WFMZ-TV, beginning at 7, from the stage of the State Theatre in Easton. You’ll see a high caliber of students representing their high school musicals presented this year, plus a group of Freddy alumni who have shared that same spotlight. Many have pursued theatrical careers and have earned or are in the process of earning their Actors’ Equity card. Their hope is that one day we may see their name in a program book as an Equity actor, and that one day we may experience their story.
If there’s one thing Nick Wyman is passionate about, it’s being a spokesperson for communicating to the world the value of professional theater. It’s allowing actors to do what they were born to do. For Wyman, quality performance will continue to move forward into the next century in his role as union president of the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), which will mark its 100th anniversary in America on Sunday.
A longtime Equity Councillor, Wyman, 63, was elected to serve as president of the industry in 2010, with a mission to expand opportunities for the AEA membership of nearly 50,000, comprised of professional actors and stage managers from Broadway to the nation’s smallest local theaters, and that includes the Lehigh Valley. He knows of the hard-knock life of an unemployed actor. In a phone interview from his office in New York City, he said he’s been blessed to have been a familiar face for 40 years on Broadway and regional stages, screen and television.
At six feet, five inches, broad-shouldered with blond hair and blue eyes, he’s been a good catch for casting directors seeking father figures and corporate giants. He’s appeared in TV’s “Boardwalk Empire” and “Law and Order.” Broadway credits include Monsieur Firmin in the original Broadway production of “The Phantom of the Opera,” Thenardier in Broadway’s “Les Miserables,” John Barsad in “A Tale of Two Cities,” and Freddy Eynsford-Hill in “My Fair Lady.” On the screen, he was the Concierge in “Maid in Manhattan” and Targo in “Die Hard with a Vengeance.”
For longtime residents and theater patrons in the Lehigh Valley, Nicholas Wyman was a resident actor hired for the premiere season of the Crackersport Music Theater in the summer of 1974. The theater company was housed right here in Allentown at the Vantage Point Racquet Club on Crackersport Road in South Whitehall Township. Summer offerings were “No, No, Nanette,” “Carnival,” “Promises, Promises,” “The King and I,” “Zorba,” and “1776.”
A graduate of Harvard, Class of ’72, Wyman had leading roles before coming to Allentown. In Summit, N.J., where he was raised, he did summer stock at the Metropolitan Musical Theater and Circle-in-the-Square Theater Workshop, Theatre St. Clements, Manhattan Theatre Club and the Van Dam Theatre in New York.
Ilona Simon-Muller also performed at Crackersport that summer, where Wyman played Sir Edward Ramsay to her Anna in “The King and I.” She said she will never forget Wyman’s performance as puppeteer Paul Berthalet in “Carnival.”
“I saw his future before him after that one!” she recalled. “He really shone in that one.”
Deborah Neubert, whose brother, Christopher, served as Crackersport’s musical director, was Leader of the Chorus in “Zorba,” with Wyman playing the title role. Calling herself “a proud member of Actors’ Equity for 34 years,” Neubert described Wyman as “the ultimate professional” and “one of the great actors to work with. I grew so much as a performer that summer; working with talented people like Nick took me to another level as an actress. His performance as Paul in ‘Carnival’ was spellbounding, filled with so much emotion. When he did Thomas Jefferson in ‘1776,’ he was Jefferson! His performances were fresh! Every night was ‘opening.’”
Wyman said he got his Actors’ Equity Card later that fall. He recalled how he was in a lineup during an open call for “Grease” and was about to audition when the accompanist stopped playing and exclaimed, “I saw this fellow back in Allentown!” It turned out the accompanist caught Wyman’s performance in “Carnival” while he was there to catch a performance by one of his vocal students, Robert Perillo, who portrayed Dr. Glass in the show. Needless to say, Wyman was cast in “Grease” and achieved Equity status.
“I had a wonderful time in Allentown,” Wyman recalled. “It was just a great time. Through the years, I worked with some of the actors who played there with me. It was a fun, fun summer.” He added that when he attended his 25th reunion at Harvard, the memories flowed when he saw in the program book that they had listed him at the Allentown address when he was performing at Crackersport.
As an actor, Wyman enjoys the challenge of creating a character, figuring out why people do what they do, and how best to tell an author’s story. He likes the process of creating recognizable human behavior, but mostly likes the interaction and connection with people, on stage and off. As AEA president, he said he’s negotiated production contracts and improved working relationships with bargaining partners. The next step, he explained, is organizing and communicating…aligning AEA members with goals and getting their feedback. He said it’s important to get the word out and hear their issues. That’s why his calendar is full of engagements in the coming months relating to the year-long centennial, when he’ll be traveling the country to meet with and listen to Equity members.
The story of Actors’ Equity is one of triumph following a tumultuous century of exploitation, strikes, job shortages during the Depression, the fight for equality during the Civil Rights Era, and the fight for rights of actors with disabilities. In a recent article for the industry, Wyman wrote, “We have brought dignity, respect and professionalism to our trade. We have achieved decent wages and working conditions. We have made the Equity card a badge of honor and achievement. Not content with making life better for professional actors and stage managers, AEA has brightened the lives of soldiers through the USO and the Stage Door Canteen. AEA has fought against such social injustices as racial segregations, the McCarthy-era black list, and marriage inequality. AEA has demonstrated its compassion and great heart with the spectacularly successfully Equity Fights AIDS. AEA’s story is one we can all be proud of.”
And for Nick Wyman, that’s entertainment!
For further info: actorsequity.org
A Freddy Awards alumna currently working toward her Actors’ Equity card is Kate Cherichello, a 2006 graduate of Phillipsburg High School. Freddy followers may recall her as a freshman receiving Best Actress in “Once upon a Mattress,” in 2003, the program’s inaugural year. Cherichello, a soprano, also performed in Phillipsburg’s “Grand Night for Singing,” “Seussical the Musical” and “State Fair,” and received Freddy nominations in her junior and senior year.
Cherichello has been an opening soloist, appeared in commercial throws and served as an assistant choreographer at past Freddys, but she won’t be a part of tonight’s event since she’ll be opening as Ensign Bessie Noonan in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport on Long Island’s North Shore. The musical, starring Rob Gallagher and Kim Carson, runs through July 14.
“I will have to miss the Freddys this year,” she said, “but I’ll be checking in online for sure.” She added, “I used to babysit for kids now in the Freddys.”
Cherichello values the friendships she made during Freddy rehearsals and stays in touch with such alumni as Phillipsburg classmate Hunter Chadeayne, Liberty’s Nick Flatto and Easton’s Jordan Grubb. She’s been living in New York City since graduating from Butler University as an arts administration major, cum laude, and vocal music minor. She also studied abroad in Ireland. She’s done quite a few new works and workshops of new musicals in New York. She was part of an Equity Showcase (Mrs. Warren) in “The Boys Next Door” on New York’s Upper West Side. She also was an understudy for Louise in “Gypsy” at the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster. Keeping fit is important in her career, and she’s a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor as well.
Artists-in-Action, courtesy of the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading, will be featured at this year’s new Mayfair Festival of the Arts at the Allentown Fairgrounds, themed “Art without Limits.” The festival begins Friday at 10 a.m., and runs through Monday. GoggleWorks artists include: Mary Lou Creyts (caricatures); Jeremy Yoest (pottery); Melissa Fiskcaldo (fiber arts); Joe Szimhart [painting); Dan Gorman (oil painting); Janna Carrozza (fiber arts); Amanda Diebert (fiber arts), and Suzanne Fellows (pastels).