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Bringing him home: ASU alum returns in starring role in 'Les Misérables'

April 25, 2018

Arizona State University alumnus Nick Cartell is returning to the ASU Gammage stage May 15-20 in his dream role: Jean Valjean in the Broadway touring company of “Les Misérables.”

Cartell, who grew up in the Phoenix area, said his love for theater began at a young age. 

“It all started when I went and saw a school field-trip version of ‘Cinderella’ in seventh grade,” Cartell said. “Right then and there I was like, ‘This is something I want to do.’ There was something about it that sparked my interest.”

That spark grew to a passion for performance. Cartell spent his childhood singing, performing in community theaters and watching Broadway tours at ASU Gammage, and he eventually decided to get his BFA in theater performance from ASU. 

“I remember sitting in the balcony and watching ‘Les Mis' with my parents and thinking, ‘Wow, this is amazing. I’d love to do this show someday,’” Cartell said of his visits to ASU Gammage. “I vividly remember, so to be able to now bring this show back to ASU Gammage and to where I received this amazing award is really full circle.” 

Cartell was awarded ASU Gammage’s Rising Star award in 2014 when he first came to perform at the theater in the Broadway touring cast of “Phantom of the Opera.” He also has performed on Broadway as Jonah in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and can be heard on the original Broadway cast recording of “Scandalous.” He previously performed in “Les Misérables” at Phoenix Theatre in the role of Marius, but Jean Valjean is his favorite so far.  

“It’s one of those bucket-list, dream roles of mine,” Cartell said. “I mean, it truly is one of the biggest roles in musical theater for men. I have some very big shoes to fill.” 

Cartell is so proud of the tour, cast, crew and storyline. He believes it’s a show audiences can find a piece of themselves in. 

rising star award
Nick Cartell holds his 2014 Rising Star award next to Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director of ASU Gammage. Photo by Tim Trumble

“There’s a reason it has been running for 33 years,” Cartell said. “It’s a story about redemption, love and forgiveness and fighting injustice and trying to make the world a better place and truly about the human spirit and not losing that.” 

The audition process for Cartell was rigorous. He went through various callbacks against numerous talented performers.  

The day before Cartell’s final callback, he received a devastating call. His mother, Kathy Cartell, had lost her battle with ovarian cancer and had passed away at age 64.  

“That was very tough, but my parents are so supportive,” Cartell said. “When I heard she wasn’t doing well, I wanted to be there. Both my mom and dad said no. They said, ‘This is what you have to do. This is your dream. This is life-changing, and you know that you have our full support.’” 

Per his mother’s request, Cartell went into his final audition and landed his dream role. 

“I know she was on my shoulder that day, and it’s definitely an honor to get to do the show every night and think of her,” Cartell said.  

Now, in memory of his mother, Cartell and his wife, Christine, produce a benefit in her honor. Cartell said he couldn’t imagine where he would be without his wife of nine years.

Nick met Christine in line at the currency-exchange counter in Tokyo when they were both on entertainment contracts with Tokyo Disneyland.

“I’m so lucky to have somebody that is as understanding as she is and as supportive. She truly is a champion for me and my career. She’s also an actress, so she has her own auditions. I know she works sometimes 10 times harder than I do; I’m so proud of her and everything she has accomplished.” 

This year will be the second year they host Broadway Fights Ovarian Cancer in New York. Last year, the event raised more than $14,000 for Discovery to Cure, which works to enhance prevention, detection and treatment of ovarian cancer. 

“We’re teaming up with them again to make it bigger and better in her honor,” Cartell said. 

The event takes donations through the organization’s GoFundMe. Those who donate $150 or more will receive a private link to view the benefit concert online. 

“If you can’t make it to New York, you can still join us for that night, and you’re also donating money to a wonderful organization that fights to find a cure for ovarian cancer,” Cartell said. “That’s cheaper than a trip to New York, but you’re also still getting a fantastic evening.” 

Cartell said he is so grateful to be coming back to his hometown on tour. He can’t wait to reminisce and perform at ASU Gammage once again.  

“I sing a song in the show called ‘Bring Him Home,’ and I really feel like I get to bring 'Les Mis' home,” Cartell said. 

Purchase tickets to 'Les Miserables' through the ASU Gammage website or at the box office.

ASU Gammage
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cehatha1@asu.edu