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From Benton to Broadway

Posted on 1/13/2017, 10:34 PM

Nine-year-old Nicole Scimeca has been a regular on the Pyramid Players stage since she was 2 years old.
The niece of retired Benton High School teacher Pam Kimball, Nicole’s acting resume would be the envy of many veterans of the stage and screen. Nicole’s next gig will open April 24 on Broadway, where she will appear as “Young Anastasia” in the musical “Anastasia.”
The musical is based on the 1997 animated film adaptation about the legend of the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia.
Kimball and Nicole’s mother, Gail, grew up in Carterville. Kimball and her husband, Alan, along with Brian and Susan Summers, are founding members of the Pyramid Players, started in 1977.
“I feel a strong tie to all that’s happened,” Kimball says of her niece’s accomplishments. “I worked with her a lot. She thinks I’m her acting coach.”
Kimball cast Nicole as a townsperson in “The Music Man” when she was just 2 years old.
“In the scene where Harold Hill says, ‘There’s not gonna be a band,’ Nicole looked up at the person next to her and said, 'No band?,'" says Kimball, who knew right then that Nicole had that something special.
Kimball’s son, Justin, also an actor currently working in Chicago, agrees.
“I’ve worked with her a few times,” he says. “It’s amazing, her ability to listen, understand and react.”
During her summers in southern Illinois, Nicole also worked with Susan Barnes Dance in Carbondale and vocal coach Karen Sala, a professor at John A. Logan College in Carterville.
Sala can barely contain her excitement about Nicole’s Broadway debit.
“It’s absolutely awesome,” she says.
Sala feels she has had some influence on Nicole.
“I always said the first student I had to make it to Broadway, I was going to go,” says Sala, who already has tickets to see the show on its opening week. “I can’t take all the credit because she has another teacher in Chicago, but I’ve had a quite a bit of input.”
Sala worked with Nicole several times a week during her summer visits.
“We work on technique every summer,” she says. “From what her mom says, she remembers and continues to work on it.”
Gail agrees.
“Nicole remembers and continually works on elements of her lessons,” she says.
Gail also credits her sister for helping Nicole with her auditions.
“I have to Skype with her for all of her auditions,” Kimball says with a laugh.
Being a theater parent, especially to a child with Nicole’s resume, is not for the faint of heart, according to Gail.
“Parents must be willing to commit time and effort,” she says. “There is an incredible investment in time and effort for theater. There is so much preparation in all things, singing, dance, acting. But it’s well worth the time and investment.”
Kimball says that Nicole’s opportunity is “really exciting because some of the main characters have done major shows.”
The new musical is directed by Tony winner Darko Tresnjak and stars Derek Klena of "Wicked" fame, Jon Bolton ("Spamalot," "A Christmas Story, The Musical"), Christy Altomore ("Mamma Mia!"), and Olivier Award nominee from London’s West End theater community Caroline O’Connor ("Mack & Mabel," "Showboat," "Chicago").
Nicole is no stranger to working with big names. She landed a role in "The Sound of Music" with Chicago’s Lyric Opera when she was only 6.
“Up until then, she had only done Pyramid Players productions,” Gail says.
Nicole's credits include roles in "Bye Bye Birdie," "Seussical" and the role of Jane Banks in "Mary Poppins."
Along with television commercial work, including the ACE Hardware “Wrap it Up” Christmas commercial from 2016 and the “Say No to Trump-Rauner Republicans” spot last year, Nicole landed the role of Cindy Lou Who in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," doing about 30 shows at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry last year.
Sala made the trek to Nashville to see her student at work.
“She was wonderful,” she says. “She had progressed so much from the last time I had seen her work.”
Although larger metropolitan areas may provide more opportunities for the arts, Sala feels that kids from southern Illinois benefit even more from the opportunities available right here at home.
“I think we do a really good job of providing students a lot of opportunities here,” she says. “That’s why I started the summer show program at Logan, to give kids additional opportunities in addition to what Pyramid Players was offering.”
“I think we (Pam and Alan Kimball) do a lot more to develop the talent,” she says. “And just look what has happened. We now have Artstarts, Skyline, just opportunities popping up everywhere.”
Tracey Brouillette Webb, theater professor at Rend Lake College, agrees.
“I think the community theatre programs are wonderful opportunities,” she says. “The kids can really get their feet wet on the stage while working with a valuable part of the community.”
Webb says the theater family is special.
“Even though the show is over, the connections and the friendships go on," she says. "I’ve called on Pyramid Players many times, for talent, props and even a fog machine. They’ve always come through.”
Nicole, who will be moving to New York City Feb. 8, is excited about her new adventure.
“I was looking at an old notebook where I wrote that I wanted to be on Broadway,” she says. “I am very excited and ready to get started.”
She says working with the Broadway stars is “going to be cool. Just having so much time together, it will be a good experience for me.”
Working with the big names in the industry is “old hat” to Nicole, whose Broadway opportunity arose from her role in the Hartford Stage preview.
The Hartford Stage, in its 51st season, is one of the nation’s leading resident theatres and has earned many of the nation’s most prestigious awards.
Nicole, who would also like to use her dance skills in the Big Apple -- “especially tap, it’s my favorite” -- has no illusions about what’s ahead in her journey.
“You have to work hard, practice, and be prepared,” she says.
Her cousin Justin continues to be amazed at her success.
“Every step she’s taken has just shocked me more and more,” he says. “Not that she’s not talented, but it just seems like she’s on an endless ride. This little girl can’t be stopped.”
Justin says that although he was doing shows at the age of 4, he was “turning around and watching the choreography” unlike Nicole, who stays in character and constantly reacts to what’s happening on stage.
“She’s so adorable,” he says. “It’s all pretty amazing, but I think is was sort of always just there.”

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