Release Date: Wednesday, September 12th 2012
Valley native returns to Tempe stage in 'Les Misérables'
By David M. Brown
Southeast Valley native Nathaniel Hackmann returns home this week to play ensemble roles and understudy the tragic lead, Jean Valjean, in the stage musical of "Les Misérables" at ASU Gammage.
Hackmann, who grew up in Mesa, Chandler and Tempe, was last onstage in Tempe as Gaston in "Disney's Beauty and the Beast" in October 2010.
A baritone/baritenor, Hackmann plays Champmathieu, Brujon, Loud Hailer and for the Saturday matinee or Sunday-evening performance will enact the lead played by Peter Lockyer in the touring cast of the world's longest-running musical.
Based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, "Les Misérables" depicts the life of ex-convict Jean Valjean, who serves 19 years in chain labor for stealing a loaf of bread, and his experience of redemption.
"It's an immensely influential piece about the timeless human spirit and a person's capacity to be redeemed in a spiritual sense," Hackmann said. "It is tragedy with catharsis in the Shakespearean tradition. It is about transcendent values and that hope is always possible."
He joined the touring "Les Misérables" three months ago. "I auditioned in New York in January, and they told me they liked what they saw and would call me when there was an opening," Hackmann said.
Hackmann said he is enjoying understudying Jean Valjean, particularly because the highly experienced Lockyer has shared his insights into the lead role.
"His contract calls for a certain number of performances each week, so that's allowing me to perform one while in Tempe," Hackmann said. "Peter has been so generous with his time and spirit. He's a fantastic person."
Hackmann moved to the Valley with his Iowa-born parents so that his dad, Mark, could take a job with Motorola. He attended San Marcos Elementary School, Pomeroy Elementary, Hendrix Junior High and Dobson High School.
After starting undergraduate work at Northern Arizona University, he finished his bachelor's degree in vocal performance at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. Hackmann stayed on to finish a master's degree in vocal performance in 2006.
His parents were both formative stage influences. Mom Julie Hackmann, a Chandler resident, has taught chorus and theater at Kyrene Middle School since 1995, which feeds the programs at Corona del Sol and Marcos de Niza high schools. She also worked for Arizona State University as the director of residence life at the Manzanita dorm.
Hackmann said, "I have many fond memories of attending rehearsals and performances at Gammage and in the music building next to it. One of my most memorable was attending a 'Phantom of the Opera' national tour there on Halloween when I was 12."
Hackmann's father and stepmother, Patty, also of Chandler, are active locally as actors and singers working with Tempe Little Theater and Mesa Encore Theater. Other family members who will be watching Hackmann at Gammage are his aunt and uncle, Mark and Amy Ayers of Gilbert, and his maternal grandparents in Mesa, Betty and Byron Ayers.
"I was involved with many local community theaters growing up through my mother's varied musical involvements," says Hackmann, noting that he worked with Fountain Hills Community Theater, Chandler Children's Theater and Theaterworks.
While in college and graduate school, he worked extensively in summer stock and opera.
His opera background is extensive, on quality stages such as the Virginia Opera and the San Francisco Lyric Opera. In 2009, he took over for the ailing lead, to great reviews, in the role of Figaro at the Virginia Opera in Rossini's "The Barber of Seville."
He and his wife, Nicole, whom he met while playing at a regional theater, have a 7-month-old son, Alexander. Nicole has left the stage to raise him and coordinate her business, Jones Communications, in New Orleans, but the Hackmanns see each other regularly despite the rigors of touring.