When 4-year-old Nicholas Herbst first heard Robin Williams playing the Genie for Aladdin, his love for musical theater went afire.
Right from the start, Herbst was immersed in musical theater. His father, Richard Herbst, took him to see a multitude of plays and musicals, constantly played songs from musicals in the car and inspired him with the number of works he’s been in as a 3 Emmy award winning actor.
Nick started performing at age 8 in “Fiddler on the Roof” when he moved from New York to California. At age 12, he got his first lead in “Oliver Twist” as the well-known antagonist, Fagin. Since then, Herbst has performed in various other plays, “too many to name.”
Before coming to Pittsburgh, Herbst performed in the production of the rock musical “Next to Normal.” He described his greatest challenge of that play was prioritizing to achieve his goals in playing his character well, as well as going to dark places to get himself in his character.
One time, Herbst was required to play the character of a rapist and had a hard time relating as anyone could imagine. Herbst explained that paths crossed when he found himself in an “art imitating life situation” and kept relating to his character.
“I thought, oh sh*t, I’m sharing commonality with a rapist!,” Herbst admits.
Now, Herbst is a freshman Musical Theater (MT) major seeking to have his projects last in the minds of the people who watch it.
“I love the world, it can be fantastical or quiet and provoking. I do it (musical theater) because I physically don’t want to do anything else; it has to be in my life,” said Herbst. Lately, Herbst has been rehearsing his scenes for the play, “The Normal Heart” by Larry Cramer.
Herbst describes that his father is the most influential person in his life. “I got my sense of humor, my love of good theater and taste in music all from him. I hope to win a few awards someday too,” said Herbst.
Richard Herbst won his first Emmy in 1991 for his part in the soap opera Guiding Light, followed by The Young and the Restless in 2001 and then for his role in General Hospital in 2004 and 2007.
Nick’s father essentially sparked his love for musical theater by taking him to see Aladdin in Pittsburgh. “Robin Williams’ performance in that was like liquid dynamite; he was exploding in every which way and was able to engage his audience. He was also able to make you listen when he got quiet and very private,” said Herbst.
In that moment, Herbst knew he wanted to do musicals.
When describing one of his fears for musical theater, his eyes went from lit up to dark, expressing his intense personality.
“My greatest fear is bearing my soul and having someone not understand what they see.” His dream is to have people understand who he is both on and off stage.
For someone so passionate about what they do, like Herbst and musical theater, it’s difficult to imagine them doing anything else.
Bryan Gannon, freshman acting major, believes that Herbst is definitely a passionate person.
“He has a wealth of knowledge about his major, about the world of film and theater, and can keep conversations going for ages with witty movie references, genuine insight, a keen and sarcastic sense of humor, and keeps his friendships rich with his limitless generosity,” said Gannon.
If Herbst wasn’t involved in musical theater…“I’d be a space cowboy,” said Herbst, non-jokingly (space is not a joking matter in his eyes). Of course being a space cowboy might require him going to a different college, perhaps outside of Pittsburgh, possibly in one of his old home cities, LA.
In terms of Pittsburgh, Herbst describes how different it is from LA where he lived before coming to Pittsburgh. Generally, most people on the east coast dream of living on the west coast with (much) warmer weather, especially as the infamous Pittsburgh winter weather is just around the corner.
According to Herbst, weather isn’t the only thing different about Pittsburgh.“Pittsburgh is all about community, while LA has a lot of self-interest.”
Herbst has some warming up to do in regards to life in Pittsburgh, including his musical theater schedule.
Running his hands through his deep brown hair, Herbst lists his classes:Every morning at 8:00, he has ballet. Then on Wednesdays and Fridays, he has voice and speech. For the rest of his classes he has sight singing (ability to read and sing music at first sight), piano theory, acting and English.
Richard Keitel, a professor of theatre who is Herbst’s acting professor, believes that Herbst is a strong and intelligent actor. “It has been a great class and I always admired Nick giving his all,” said Keitel.
As a result of always giving his all and working hard, life can get pretty tiring for Herbst.
“My greatest struggle right now is coping with COPA,” jokes Herbst.
If Herbst didn’t have 8:00a.m. ballet classes every morning of the week along with various classes that exhaust his voice and body, I might not have been as empathetic about his late appearance to our interview.
On that note, Herbst was found in the doorway of a friend’s room on floor 12 of Lawrence, hair indecisive and tousled, eyes evident of a lack of sleep and black leather boots in hand. His excuse was “Sorry I was taking a nap!”
Considering his hectic schedule, very appropriate.
Ultimately, after coping with his busy life in COPA, his biggest dream is to consistently work from project to project, start his own company and move people long after he’s gone.
When asked how he’s going to achieve his dreams and goals, he offers a simple smile and quotes Leonardo Cano from Pittsburgh’s Of Mice and Men; “Find the love in everything.”