Faith, flies and fun with Newsies’ Nico DeJesus

Nico DeJesus performing "Seize the Day" during Newsies. (Photo courtesy of Nico DeJesus.)

Nico DeJesus performing “Seize the Day” during Newsies. (Photo courtesy of Nico DeJesus.)

By Amanda McNulty   

On an unseasonably mild day in October, Nico DeJesus took a stroll in downtown Buffalo after the first of two shows. Despite the exhaustion that is common to actors after their first show, the spirited Nico sat down with me at a local Salsarita’s to catch up on the past year of touring the country in the hit show Newsies.

A gentleman even in his cream-colored T shirt and black and white Nike pants, Nico treated me to dinner, carried our trays over to the sticky table and proceeded to joke about how sore he was after the strenuous show. During the conversation, he kept brushing his long dark locks out of his eyes. In Newsies he plays a young paperboy named Romeo who has scruffy, uncut hair.

“I can’t get a haircut,” he explained.

That’s his character. But during our conversation over tacos and quesadillas, the true character of Nico DeJesus emerged: talented, faithful, kind, and above all, genuine.

A “newsie” must be an excellent dancer, singer and actor; basically have an all-around stellar musical theatre background. For any person, mastering one these crafts is challenging, let alone mastering all three. Notwithstanding, Nico he has worked the hardest to develop his own brand of confidence.

“I’ve had to work at…just the ability to keep going and persistence, strength and believing in myself!” he said. “It sounds super cliche but you really just have to force yourself to keep going to auditions and it’s not anything physical, it’s all mental stuff.”

For Nico, staying in the moment is a challenge during a show.

“There are so many things that happen, especially with our show!” he said. “There’s a lot of towers and stuff flying at you and sometimes you get thrown off but you just try to get back,” he said. “Just remembering that, especially when someone forgot their line or someone fell, you just kind of have to stay focused.”

The fun part of musical theatre is being someone else for two hours a night. Of course, falling out of character isn’t the only mishap that happens on the stage. Sometimes you actually fall.

“I’ve fallen, but you just have to get back up,” he said. “You forget a line and you’re like. ‘Gah! Sorry! I’ll get you next time.’”

Nico grew up in California and graduated from UCLA. Before Nico got his big break, he really shined in his high school’s production of A Chorus Line.

However, a slight incident happened in that show, one that Nico will never forget. During a half-minute costume change near the end of the show, Nico forgot to zip his fly. After the show, his mom said to him, “Nico…your fly was open during the last number. Your white shirt was popping out of the fly and every time you did the kicks, it kept going up and down with you.”

“Aaaaaahhhh, really?!” Nico responded.

Now, Nico makes sure to zip up every time before he walks onstage.

When asked who he relied on the most, Nico responded with an insightful answer, not many people would have the confidence to admit. “Myself…I just find that if you’re able to do things on your own, you’re better off,” Nico said.

Nico loves his cast, but every now and then, he enjoys a simple lunch or walk by himself just to decompress. Even though he is a very social person, Nico said, “I definitely depend on myself.”

Nico doesn’t need a reassuring phone call or hug to know things are ok, but when his life was getting rough, he always had a support system to help him get through it.

“I have a lot of people who supported me, but the one who really helped me out the most was my friend Jeremy McQueen,” he said. McQueen and DeJesus attended the same high school and, although McQueen was three years older, he took Nico under his wing.

“He let me live on his couch for the week of my Newsies audition and then the month after I booked Newsies for rehearsals,” Nico said. “He kinda just helped me out.”

Since Newsies was DeJesus’ very first New York audition, McQueen helped him extensively; giving him pointers for auditions and ways he could stand out. “He taught me how to be confident in myself,” Nico said.

Another person who has made an impact on DeJesus’ life is his former castmate Julian DeGuzman, who is basically like an older brother to DeJesus. DeGuzman taught Nico the “ropes” of Newsies and was always there for him when the tour got difficult.

Last time we caught up with Nico, his biggest stage door mishap was the dreaded cookie drop. This involved Nico’s genuine embarrassment of him dropping the gift of a cookie from an ardent fan. Since then, Nico claims he hasn’t done anything as “awful” as the cookie drop, but there are still somethings that are able to shock him at the stage door.

“Gaaaaah the cookie drop was pretty sad,” he said. “I don’t think anything ‘crazy’ has happened, I just think it’s always funny when you walk out with your sharpie and no one is out there!”

It still astounds Nico when dedicated fans show up in pouring rain or a blizzard at the stagedoor. “When the weather is awful and there are still millions of people…that’s crazy!” he said.

For Nico, since he’s so “old” compared to the other boys (he’s 25), he doesn’t really experience the crazed girl fans at the stage door.

“The younger boys are the ones who the girls freak out about!” he said. “The older boys are kind of like ‘Whatever’ we just sign, no one has really done anything crazy. I don’t have any dont’s, but do’s: take funny selfies! I love taking funny selfies!”

Not only is Nico a talented and compassionate person, but he is also very invested in his faith. “I don’t worry about anything anymore,” he said. “I know that there is a plan for me and I don’t need to worry. You don’t need to worry if you have a strong faith.”

Nico’s faith was especially important this year, with him touring the country. Nico realized that he didn’t need to worry; everything would be fine.

“If you constantly worry and push your faith aside, it’s useless!…You’re killing everything!” he said.

Whenever Nico is onstage and he is sore or he is worrying about other things (sometimes about his fly,) his faith and a few deep breaths help him carry on. “This show is perfect for what I believe in,” he said. “I think going to different cities I never thought I would go to. I never thought I would travel around North America like I am right now! That was always a plan of mine, to travel as much as I can, but I never thought that it would be my job!”

Although Nico is so thankful for is opportunity to play the lovebird “Romeo” he can admit that sometimes, he wishes he can change it up a bit!

“I mean, I really wanted to be Romeo for some reason! But I would like to be Crutchie!” he said. “He’s pretty fun. He’s a fun character, he doesn’t have to dance! Just have an ugly foot and walk across the stage!”

This year has been full of lessons in disguise for Nico, but the one of the many things he will take from his year on tour is discipline.

“Not that any of the other boys aren’t disciplined, but I’ve just become REALLY disciplined,” he said. “It’s a very challenging show, both mentally and physically, and there’s a lot of things I need to do both before and after the show that most people don’t even think about doing! There is just a lot of things that I’ve learned I need to do to stay healthy, how to warm up properly and that’s what I’ll carry on. Especially preparation! Preparing for shows, preparing for travel day! Those (lessons) are what I will carry on forever now!”

Nico DeJesus is not only one of the most talented people I have ever met, but he is also the most kind hearted and interesting people that I know. The future holds so much for Nico, but wherever he lands, I can confidently say that he will always “Seize the Day!”

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