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The 150 Piece Puzzle

Many directing books suggest that the single most important thing a director does is cast their show. If you cast it well, much of the work is done for you. Make a mistake, and – well, let’s just say that everything becomes much more difficult.

So how do you go about casting a play with over 150 named characters? For us, that journey began in an unlikely place: an Excel spreadsheet. Or rather, about 15 pages of Excel spreadsheets which, when pieced together, gave a breakdown of who is in what scene for both parts 1 and 2. 

The joy and the challenge of casting this piece was the doubling of the roles, actors playing more than one role. Each production has done this differently. The original Royal Shakespeare Company version had 40 actors, many of whom were deeply involved with the creation of the piece. They had worked for months examining moments, themes, characters, style, and so on before the plays were cast. Some actors were elated, some left the project right then. 

With the new abridged version, each production has done the doublings slightly differently. The script itself suggests a breakdown, while noting that their suggestions don’t actually work. What worked in Chichester was not necessarily best for California Shakespeare Festival, and then in North Carolina, Playmakers Repertory came along and shook things up in their own way. Now it was our turn.

Armed with several more spreadsheets of different casting possibilities, Spiro and I entered into auditions and callbacks cautiously. Would we keep some of the traditional doublings or go completely off the grid and create completely new “tracks” for our company? 

In the end, we’ve done both. Some traditional pairings such as Mrs. Squeers/Mrs. Crummles, Squeers/Sir Mulberry, were kept and others were thrown out with the bathwater. Some tracks were built around the actor, some actors cast for a specific track. For many of the actors, tracks were partly offered – “We know you’ll be playing A, B, and C, but we’re not sure what else yet.” It is moments like this when I am truly grateful for the trust that actors place in directors. 

Putting this 150-piece jigsaw puzzle together was both maddening and inspiring. Some pieces were wedged into several spots before they fit; others just seemed to connect up with other pieces on their own. 

At the end of the day (well, more like weeks) we suffered from an embarrassment of riches. So many talented, eager actors shared their time and talents with us. It was truly heart-wrenching to have to make the difficult decisions. Casting always is difficult, but this one honestly hurt more than usual. This process was the first time the production was opened and discussed with a larger group of people, and I think we quickly began to see how much the story of Nicholas Nickleby means to so many people. While the decisions were difficult, and none made lightly, the company that has emerged is truly phenomenal, and I cannot wait for you to meet them – and all of their puzzle pieces.

The Final Cast List
Sasha Castroverde……………….Fanny Squeers, Madeline Bray, and Ensemble
Erica Spyres……………………….Tilda Price, Mis Snevellicci, and Ensemble
Elizabeth Rimar……………………Kate Nickelby
Sally Nutt……………………………Miss Knagg, Phib, Mrs. Whititterly, and Ensemble
Leigh Barrett*……………………..Miss La Creevy, Peg Sliderskew, Mrs. Grudden, and Ensemble
Hannah Husband………………….Mme. Mantallini and Ensemble
Kerry Dowling*……………………Mrs. Squeers, Mrs. Crummles, and Ensemble
Alicia Sacco………………………..The Infant Phenomenon and Ensemble
Janelle Day Mills…………………..Hannah and Ensemble
Eric Hamel…………………………..Mr. Lenville and Ensemble
Michael Steven Costello…………Mr. Snawley, Brooker, and Ensemble
Daniel Berger Jones……………….John Browdie, Lord Verisopht, and Ensemble
Nigel Gore*………………………….Mr. Squeers, Sir Mulberry Hawk, and Fluggers
Larry Coen*…………………………Mr. Crummles, Young Wackford, and Charles Cheeryble
Joseph Marrella……………………..William, Ned Cheeryble, and Ensemble
Jason Powers*……………………….Smike
Chris Graham…………………………Mr. Pyke, Mr. Tix, and Ensemble
Grant MacDermott………………….Frank Cheeryble and Ensemble
Peter Carey*………………………….Newman Noggs
Jack Cutmore-Scott…………………Nicholas Nickleby
Will Lyman*……………………………Ralph Nickleby
Maureen Keiller*……………………..Mrs. Nickleby, Mrs. Curdle and ensemble
John Davin*…………………………….Arthur Gride, Sir Matthew and Ensemble
Jeff Mahoney…………………………..Belling, Mr. Scaley, Mr. Curdle, and Ensemble
Neil A. Casey*………………………..Mr. Mantalini, Mr. Folair, Walter Bray and Ensemble

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