Nicholas Canal has gone a long way in the theater since playing Baby Shrek in H.B. Whitehorne’s production of Shrek this past March–about 2,200 miles, with more to come.
Right now, the 6th grader is in El Paso, Texas, performing in the national touring company of Elf The Musical as Michael, the younger brother of lead character Buddy. On Saturday, he’ll be steps from the U.S.-Mexico border in McAllen, Texas, before heading off to Fresno, Calif. and Reno, Nev., and then wrapping the year–and the tour–in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Life on the road hasn’t always been easy. Canal is a defender for the Verona United soccer team and had to give up the last part of the soccer season when the Elf tour started in late October. He says he misses some of the creature comforts from home, but most of all he misses his friends, his family’s two dogs, and, with his mom on the tour bus beside him, his father and sister. When the tour wraps, Nicholas Canal will have performed in about two dozen cities and theaters from Oklahoma to California.
Canal’s recent love for the stage was inspired by his big sister, but his family thinks he has always been a performer at heart. “When he was about seven years old,” says his father Alberto, “we were walking along the Santa Monica pier in California, and all of a sudden he began to dance as a street performer played music. Passersby laughed, people stopped to watch, and luckily for the performer he got some extra tips out of it. The performer was so struck by the spontaneous dancing that he handed Nicholas a t-shirt as a token of his appreciation.” Prior to Elf, Canal had played Drake in Honk Jr. and Maurice, Belle’s father, in Beauty and the Beast, both at the Five Angels Theater in New York.
“The school has been incredibly supportive,” says Alberto Canal of HBW. “He is able to receive and send his assignments electronically. He is also working with a tutor throughout. He performs his school work such as reading, writing and math assignments on the tour bus, in the dressing room, and when he’s on break in hotels. His principal, David Galbierczyk, recognized this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and has been incredibly helpful to make sure Nicholas stays on track. I have to say, the entire community has been very supportive, from friends who have helped with pick-ups and drop-offs of Nicholas’ 14-year-old sister Arianna, to his friends regularly Facetiming Nicholas to say hi and tell him what he’s missing out on at school.”
Reviewers haven’t always been kind to the touring production, but they do seem to like Canal, calling him “loveably cute” and noting that his duos with his stage mom were “heartwarming” and like a “warm smile“.
All good things must come to an end, even Christmas fairy tales. Canal will be back at HBW when school reopens after the holiday break. His family says he is interested in auditioning for other roles in the New York metro area, but they haven’t started work on anything new just yet.
“It’s been great,” Nicholas Canal says of the tour experience. “I love hanging out with the cast and my mom who is on tour with me. It’s a great feeling to hear people laugh when you deliver a line or when the whole theater starts to applaud at the end of a song.”
Photos by Jeremy Daniel