For many years, the name Nicolette Robinson was floated around Hollywood’s inner circle citing her as someone to “watch” and when inquiring minds, like mine, asked what made her someone to keep a keen eye on, the answer given—across the board—was simple, Nicolette Robinson had the “it” factor.
In case you are wondering what that means it’s described in the American dictionary as “[It] … that elusive, sexy quality that’s hard to define. It’s charisma, magnetism, strategic vision,” and in Robinson’s case, talent.
It’s that talent that got her on the Broadway stage where she is currently slaying in the rule of Jenna, the pregnant pie chef in the hit musical “Waitress.” The casting news hit with a big, bang inside the theater community when her husband, Tony Award winner Leslie Odom Jr., from Hamilton fame, sent out a tweet to congratulate her on landing the role. “Waitress” opened in 2016 and Nicolette Robinson is the first African American to step into the role.
Brisk ticket sales followed since Nicolette is playing a limited engagement which runs through October 28.
The UCLA graduate sang in an a cappella group while in college, the perfect training ground for the vocal demands of “Waitress’’’ score. She grew up in Los Angeles, her mother, who is Jewish and the daughter of a rabbi and her father, who is African American, is also part of the performing arts community. She credits both of her parents as early mentors.
Now part of a Broadway power couple, the two met in Los Angeles, 10 years ago, when she auditioned for a concert version of “Once on This Island.” A young college student at the time, Odom was the assistant to director Billy Porter (Tony Award winner for “Kinky Boots”). It didn’t take long for these two to know that they were meant to be. They married in 2012 and they had their first child, Lucille Ruby, in April of 2017.
On television, she appears in Showtime drama “The Affair” as Jane, the waitress buddy of the lead, Ruth Wilson.
A Broadway schedule is grueling with eight shows and rehearsals. Despite her busy schedule, Nicolette Robinson made sure to make time to chat with The Los Angeles Sentinel about what life is like being on Broadway and more. Here is an edited conversation with Broadway’s newest star.
Los Angeles Sentinel: Congratulations, I am so excited that you are playing Jenna in “Waitress.” I confess I’ve never seen the musical, but I play the songs on YouTube, like all the time.
It was a tweet from your husband [Leslie Odom] that tipped us all about the casting. You’re the girl with the “it” factor, that I heard about for a long time.
Nicolette Robinson: (laughing) This has been a long time coming. I feel so grateful that throughout my career that I’ve been able to do projects where I get to give a lot of my heart and what I have to offer. This really feels like a moment where I can give so much of myself on the stage—every night. The journey that I get to go on, as Jenna is so deeply layered and complicated and emotional that it’s so fulfilling as a performer to be able to just dive into this role that I am so passionate about to [to] tell a story that I feel is really important to tell each night.
LAS: Can you share some of Broadway’s traditions now that you’ve officially joined that exclusive club?
NR: Broadway traditions? Umm, let me think. I think it’s the community. The Broadway community is so strong, so beautiful and so supportive. I feel like I am part of a family. We come and support each other at our shows. We lift each other up. We celebrate one another. I just think there is something about live theater [where] you start in the rehearsal process with these people and then you show up every night, and you put your heart up on that stage. You take the risk of it all [possibly] falling apart because it is live and it’s in front of thousands of people but there is something that really bonds you together when you get to experience something like that.
LAS: How does it feel to be a part of history making — the first African American woman to take the lead role in “Waitress”?
NR: Blessed. I just feel so blessed. The actors and crew are so warm, welcoming and talented. It just feels like a family. It is such a treat.
LAS: Talk about the physical demands of being the lead actress in a Broadway musical, please.
NR: It’s demanding. Yes. I work out with a personal trainer twice a week. Their core workout is amazing. I force myself to go because you have to strengthen your body. My role finds me on the stage for 97% of the entire show [Waitress] so you have to make sure that you have that core strength.
I try to eat well and I try to take a bath each and every night, if I can, with epsom salt because the physical demands start to weigh on your body. Vocally, I steam every day and I take care of myself. It’s a brutal schedule, eight shows a week but I think that’s because I am so lucky to be telling a story that I feel so emotionally connected to, [I believe] that as long as you are emotionally grounded you won’t push yourself.
LAS: Push yourself? Explain, please.
NR: Absolutely. It’s about being as authentic and honest as you can be, [in a role] then you won’t push [yourself], that’s when you get hurt.
LAS: What are you learning about playing Jenna in “Waitress”?
NR: Well, I think what’s so special about theater is that you get a chance to do it, eight times a week. What I’m taking from this experience … I try every show to be as present and as authentic and honest as I can, and really listen to my scene partners and really connect with them and allow it to be different each time. Allow it to be ‘where it is.’ Also, the cool thing about theater is that you feed off the energy of the audience and the energy of the what your scene partner came in with and how cold or how hot it is inside the theater, whatever you must go with the temperature and the state of what that moment is bringing.
LAS: Gosh, that sounds so exciting. I’ve never looked at theater that way.
NR: It’s exciting to be on stage. There’s something thrilling about trying to make each show its own thing and being as open and present as you possibly can. I think that’s a huge thing. It feels like a workout, like a school. I feel like I am exercising every day and stretching myself as a performer.
So being present is what I will take with me from being in the role of Jenna [in “Waitress”].
To learn more about the musical visit: waitressthemusical.com