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How I Met a Future Stage Star in the Audience

By: Raven Snook
Date: Jun 22, 2023

Nicholas Barrón is coming to NYC for college but Broadway is already eyeing him


Have you ever started chatting with your Broadway seatmate before a show and realized within minutes you needed to keep in touch? That's how I felt when I met Nicholas Barrón, then a 15-year-old aspiring performer from San Antonio, Texas. It was Monday, March 9, 2020, and he was on his first trip to New York to see his first Broadway show: Marianne Elliott's gender-swapped Company. Turns out he picked the production, not his grandparents, who were accompanying him. He saw me taking notes and asked if I wrote about theatre; I said, "Yes," which is how we began talking. I was quickly impressed by his knowledge of theatre (his itinerary also included the Laurie Metcalf-led Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?—again, his pick!) and his passion for Patti LuPone and Stephen Sondheim. We connected on social media before leaving the theatre, blissfully unaware that Company would be one of the last Broadway shows we would see for quite a long time.

During the shutdown, as theatre mavens and makers struggled to live (or make a living), I watched Barrón continue to lean in to his love for musicals. He posted videos of himself singing an eclectic variety of songs online and gave me hope that, even without in-person performances, the next generation of theatre artists was still being cultivated.

In June 2022, Barrón finally returned to New York—to see shows, yes, but more importantly, to perform on a Broadway stage at the annual National High School Musical Theatre Awards, aka the Jimmy Awards. Past winners include Andrew Barth Feldman, Reneé Rapp, Kyle Selig and Ryan McCartan, now all with Broadway credits on their résumés. Barrón joined their winning ranks, promptly landed representation and used his prize money to travel to NYC for multiple auditions.

Now 18, Barrón is moving to New York permanently this fall as a vocal performance major at The New School's Mannes College of Music. You can get a peek at his immense talent next week, when he makes his 54 Below debut in The Freshmen of 54 Below Sing Today's Hits (Glee Version) on Wednesday, June 28 at 9:30 p.m. While in town, he'll also pass the torch to the winners of the 2023 Jimmy Awards at the annual ceremony on Monday, June 26 at Broadway's Minskoff Theatre, which is also being streamed on YouTube.

When Barrón was in NYC for his final college audition back in March, we met up for the first time since our Company encounter to talk about how far he's come since that fateful night.

After spending the first few months of the shutdown "singing as much as I could" and posting the videos on social media, Barrón began worrying he might never set foot on a stage again. But by spring 2021, he was back on the boards, doing Anastasia: The Musical at his San Antonio high school.

"It was the full production and with COVID protocols, that was very, very crazy— almost impossible," he recalls. "We were only allowed to rehearse music 20 minutes at a time, then we had to take a 15-minute break and disinfect everything! It was like living in a science-fiction movie."

For the 2022 Jimmy Awards, Barrón was recognized for a pair of Texas stage performances: playing Dominique in a production of The Baker's Wife as well as a stirring rendition of "This Is Not Over Yet" from Parade. He got to reprise the latter on stage at Broadway's Minskoff Theatre to a cheering crowd during the ceremony.

"As a nerdy high school theatre kid, I used to have Jimmy Awards watch parties," he says. "It made me really happy to be chosen to participate. To be seen like that on a Broadway stage was insane. I definitely was not expecting to win at all. It blew my mind. It still does! I am so, so grateful."

Barrón was also proud to be the first Jimmy Award winner with a physical disability, especially since it's tied to his passion for musical theatre. "I was born with hip dysplasia," he explains. "I had surgery after surgery—I think 15 surgeries in all. When I was little, I didn't have great control over my lower body movements. I was in and out of hospitals and in casts for most of my preschool years. I felt so limited, and I was kind of a weird, little kid. I had a very big vocabulary, I was eccentric. My parents didn't really know what to do with me. They figured, let's put him in theatre so he can get all his energy out. I did my first musical, Fiddler on the Roof, when I was 9. That's when I started realizing, okay, I don't need to be an athlete or be good at a sport to feel good about myself. I can do this! It was nice to feel an experience of acceptance, and really accept myself, too. Theatre became a community that loved and saw me. It kind of saved my life."

Over the past year, Barrón has auditioned for many shows on Broadway and beyond, including Sweeney Todd, New York, New York and, of course, Parade. He's gratified that, despite his "very distinct walk," casting directors are considering him for all types of roles, not just characters with disabilities.

"I love seeing the representation and the push for more opportunities for people with disabilities," he says. "It's such an important thing and it's been so blatantly overlooked in the past in the theatre industry. I have a limp—I call it my 'waddle.' In theatre so far, all of the roles that I've done have not called for a person who presents differently. Obviously, I'm extremely privileged to be living as a white-passing man in American [Barrón's father is Mexican] but I've reckoned with disability and see it as an added thing about myself that doesn't have to define my identity or my work. That's something I have found empowering. When Ali Stroker became the first person who uses a wheelchair to win a Tony Award in 2019, I remember sitting on my bed and sobbing and thinking, oh my god, there is space for people like me. It really inspired me to keep pushing forward."

Although Barrón hasn't booked a Broadway show yet, I predict we'll be seeing him on the other side of the footlights before he graduates college. In the meantime, he says he's "been in some really amazing rooms" and has even been "extremely close" to landing a few big roles. When that finally happens, you can say you read about him when.


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Top image: Nicholas Barrón performing at the 2022 Jimmy Awards. Photo courtesy of the Jimmy Awards.

Raven Snook is the Editor of TDF Stages. Follow her on Facebook at @Raven.Snook. Follow TDF on Facebook at @TDFNYC.