Nick Giannakos dances around
being a Broadway diva
Nicko Giannakos will not be going all Showgirls on Ross Petty's ass. Despite being the understudy for the leading role of the evil stepmother in Cinderella: The Gags to Riches Family Musical, Giannakos has no plans for accidents involving staircases. "Ross is not one to take shows off," says Giannakos, "but I'm a different kind of understudy. I'm more apt to say, 'You owe me if I have to go on. I'll do my job, you can do yours.'"
Giannakos is busy enough without plotting against his employer, "I'm in the show every night regardless. Right now I'm focussing on my ensemble work and once we get the show open, I'll spend a little more time worrying about my understudying. We have a lot of musical numbers, there are nine production numbers just in the first act. We're busy but it's a lot of fun. I was a dancer first so I like to dance around, I studied classical ballet and moved into musical theatre in my early 20s. Dancing is always going to be my first love but I also enjoy the singing and acting. Singing and dancing is my thing." And Giannakos admits, modestly, that one has to be a triple-threat, "You have to be versatile to keep working today."
Versatility is one of Gianakos' strengths, he has worked at Stratford and across the country in musicals ranging from West Side Story to Mary Poppins. "The job itself is not all that different, but the pantomime environment is very different. Every year you create an entirely new show and some artists go through their whole lives without playing a part that you get to define. The freedom of creating your own character. If you do Chicago, you're playing a part that's already been created by another person. The Cinderella rehearsal hall is a very creative place, very open. It doesn't matter if you're the bottom of the ensemble or the lead of the show, if what you say is funny: it's in. I make stupid jokes all the time and usually in the rehearsal process everyone just giggles and we move on. With this process, it might end up in the show. It's a very inspiring environment."
An environment that Giannakos is apparently suited for, "I always knew I'd eventually end up in a pantomime. I'm a pretty silly guy and this is a pretty silly place." When it was noted that Giannakos was very comfortable, even enthusiastic about, making a fool of himself, he had to agree, "If the shoe fits."
And shoes are the only concern Giannakos has about playing the Nasty Stepmother. "I've only done drag one time. I dressed up as Liza Minnelli in Cabaret for Halloween. One year a group of my friends went as 'Broadway Divas.' I think I was pretty fabulous at it but I just don't understand why a person would want to walk around in heels all night long. It was the biggest mistake and by the end it was kind of embarrassing. I said I'd never do it again . . ." And this from a performer who learned to stilt walk for the musical version of Lord of the Rings.
"Anyone who's seen a panto before should recognize the character of Plumbum, who is of course played by Dan Chameroy. She is an absolutely hilarious drag queen and her character is back this year as the Fairy Godmother. She definitely makes it worth seeing Cinderella, she is ridiculous. Plumbum is more like the drag queens in Montreal. I found when I moved to Toronto that the drag here was so much more serious, like they were more worried about looking like women. I'm not that well-versed on the subject but we don't have the equivalent of those crazy drag queens who come out and do stand up. Plumbum is more reminiscent of that, she's definitely crazy."
Will Giannakos be able to fill Petty's shoes if a staircase does get involved? And will he be able to do so without being hopelessly upstaged by Plumbum? He thinks so, "We all have a Broadway diva inside whether we want to admit it or not," but in the meantime he has a lot of dance numbers and silly jokes to perfect.
Cinderella runs Fri, Nov 21 to Sun, Jan 4 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge St. rosspetty.com