CLINTON — Lady Salome D’Ysquith Pumphrey is a really terrible actress, New Jersey native Nick Berninger said Wednesday.
“She does a terrible rendition of Hedda Gabler,” a Henrik Ibsen play that premiered in 1891.
And Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith thinks she’s a philanthropist. “She’s trying to find a good cause, but she’s just the worst woman alive.”
Berninger should know. He plays both women – and several men – in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre.
Berninger came to the Showboat for the first time last year, becoming an audience favorite as the French chef and Scuttle the seagull in “The Little Mermaid” and the emcee in “Cabaret.” Originally from New Jersey, Berninger will be a senior this fall at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music in Ohio, the alma mater of Showboat Artistic Director Matthew Teague Miller.
“He came and auditioned at his alma mater,” Berninger said, and Berninger found himself in Clinton.
As a musical theater major, Berninger’s classwork involves singing, dancing and costume changes.
“I think it’s just as difficult as being in a liberal arts school,” Berninger said. It’s just as time consuming, “but we have a good time doing it.”
Berninger was exposed to musical theater at a young age by his parents. He played a munchkin in the Wizard of Oz at the age of 6 “and caught the bug,” he said. He performed in shows in middle school and high school before heading to college to major in musical theater.
“My parents put me in all the sports,” Berninger said, “but I wasn’t good at any of them.”
Because he lived so close to New York, Berninger was able to see major musical productions.
“I was very lucky in that sense,” Berninger said, “[and] grateful for it.”
The first show Berninger remembers seeing was “Beauty and Beast,” he said. Among his favorites are the “The Lion King” and “Phantom of the Opera.” He also tries to keep up on new shows such as “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” and the revival of “Oklahoma.” Student discounts help.
Berninger was excited when Miller offered him the role of the D’Ysquith family in “Gentleman’s Guide.”
“I play... eight characters who the main character, Monty, knocks off,” Berninger said. “It’s a beast, but it’s so much fun.”
It’s a dream role, Berninger said, but not one that young actors usually land. Playing eight distinct personalities with as many costumes and wig changes, is fun but daunting.
“There’s always a little worry in the back of my head,” he said.
After “A Gentleman’s Guide” wraps up June16, Berninger will get a break from acting while the Showboat presents “Blithe Spirit,” a rest he welcomes after the rigors of playing an entire family.
Berninger will be back on stage as Pharaoh in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” from July 6-21.
With lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Weber, “Joseph” is well-known and a favorite among audiences. For that reason, it’ll have a longer run at the Showboat.
In this comedy, Pharaoh is a type of Elvis Presley, and Berninger will have to find his inner king of rock and roll.
But Pharaoh is one character with one costume and only two scenes in the entire production, Berninger said. “It’s definitely a departure from this,” meaning “Gentleman’s Guide.”
“It’s good to balance out.”
Berninger will be Uncle Ernie in “Tommy” from July 25-Aug. 4.
“He’s a nasty guy,” Berninger said. “When you see him, he’s scary.”
A departure from the musical comedies that start the Showboat season, “Tommy” is very dark, Berninger said. He’s done dark before. Last season’s “Cabaret” and “Oliver” are solemn musicals, Berninger said.
His favorite day of theater was the final performance of “Cabaret” last August, Berninger said. Cast members returned to the stage to take their bows, but not a single person in the audience clapped. The mood of the musical remained with the audience even after the final scene ended.
“You could hear a pin drop,” Berninger said.
“By not clapping, we know we affected them even more,” Berninger said. “You know in that moment, we changed lives.”
For show times and ticket information for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” and other Showboat performances, visit http://www.clintonshowboat.org.