Start spreading the news, actor Ben Nordstom is making a brand new start of it
This article first appeared in a St. Louis Beacon, May 19, 2011 - Ben Nordstrom has been a constant and shining presence on the St. Louis theater scene over the past decade. Since graduating from Webster University in 1999, Nordstrom has appeared in dozens of musicals and plays -- at Stages and the Repertory Theater but also with smaller companies such as Echo Theatre Company, Hot City Theatre and the Temporary Theatre.
Nominated for several Kevin Kline Awards, he won the Kline for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical twice -- for the Stages productions of "Footloose'' in 2005 and "Promises, Promises'' in 2010.
Nordstrom is moving to New York later this summer, to try once again to make his mark on the Big Apple. To mark the occasion, he is performing a "Farewell Cabaret'' at 7 p.m., Sun., May 22 at Manchester United Church in Manchester.
Nordstrom actually went to New York more than a decade ago but returned to St. Louis a few years later for family reasons. It's a return that he's never regretted and one that theater audiences here are grateful for as well.
"I first went to New York after I graduated from Webster University in 1999,'' recalls Nordstrom during a phone conversation earlier this week. "I worked at Arrow Rock Theater that summer, got my equity card there, moved to Manhattan -- and ended up staying almost four years. Then my wife, Kristen, who is from St. Louis and was working for Crate and Barrel, was offered the opportunity to open and manage a new store in St. Louis. And we were getting ready to have our first child, so the time was right to move back.''
Nordstrom immediately made an impact on the area theater scene upon his return, especially in roles at Stages and the Rep. He actually performed his first major role after college when he returned to take a lead role at a Stages production in 2001. Stages co-director Jack Lane still has strong memories of that debut.
"The first musical Ben was in at Stages was 'She Loves Me' in 2001,'' recalls Lane. "He went on to make a real mark at Stages over the years, especially when he returned to live here. Ben won two Kevin Kline awards in two of our productions -- but he was nominated for quite a few more performances and deservedly so.''
Nordstrom made strong impressions with his roles in Stages productions of "Cabaret,'' "Thoroughly Modern Millie,'' "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,'' "The Music Man,'' ''Big River'' -- and more.
"Ben is one of those old-school triple threats,'' says Lane. "He can sing, he can dance and he's a great actor. You don't meet a lot of Ben Nordstroms in this business. He'll definitely be missed.''
When Nordstrom looks back on his many performances in St. Louis, it's hard for him to single out specific roles that he regards as especially memorable. But he did finally narrow his list down to a few.
"All of them are memorable to me for different reasons,'' he says. "They all have special memories. But if I had '[Title of show]' was special because it's to actors what 'Chorus Line' is to dancers. And 'Urinetown' and 'Footloose' were shows that really came together in a special way. I remember seeing 'Promises, Promises' at Stages in 1998 when Kristen was in it before we were married. So it was special for me to do that last year.''
Besides theater, Nordstrom has also done cabaret. So that's the format he's chosen for a farewell to St. Louis before moving to New York later this summer.
"I don't consider myself a real cabaret artist,'' he explains. "But this will be my fourth solo one, I think, since I started doing it a couple years ago. I've been lucky enough to work with pianist Neal Richardson as my musical director when I did it before -- and he'll be playing piano this coming Sunday. I usually end up whining to him about how hard cabaret is to do before the show, and wondering why I even wanted to do it. But afterward, I end up loving the chance to get up there and sing.''
According to Nordstrom, Sunday's performance will be a way to showcase some of his favorite songs, including some memorable tunes from his St. Louis performances.
"This time, it should be a fun, relaxed concert,'' says Nordstrom with a laugh. "I'll do some of my favorite songs by John Mayer and Billy Joel and some songs from earlier cabaret shows I've done. And I'll add some songs from musicals I've been in over the years. I'm even doing something from 'How To Succeed in Business,' which was one of the very first shows I was in at Webster University.''
For Nordstrom, the timing of the move to New York seems right. But he isn't selling his house here.
"It's time,'' states Nordstrom. "I've been lucky to stay as busy as I have in St. Louis theater. But I feel it's time to go back and give New York another try... to be somewhere I can be immersed in theater 24/7. But I'm sure I'll be back to do theater here at a certain point, too.''
Terry Perkins, a freelance writer in St. Louis, has long covered the local music scene.