On Higher Ground with Nygel D. Robinson

Having charmed audiences with his Rock & Roll rhythms in the record-breaking 2018 Cabaret Blue Suede Shoes and his polished charm in the 2020 hit revue That’s Amoré, Nygel D. Robinson returns to Sarasota to “tickle the ivories” in FST’s all-new musical revue Three Pianos.

We sat down with Robinson to learn more about his relationship with the piano and what it’s been like to embody the energy of some of his musical heroes.

Nygel D. Robinson and Madalyn McHugh in Three Pianos. Photo by Matthew Holler.

When did you first “meet” the piano? How old were you? What was your experience?

I met the piano at age seven, and I did not like it. I didn’t loathe the piano. I just didn’t like to practice. Thankfully, things changed. Nearly every song I’ve ever written has started at the piano. The piano is my first instrument, so, I’m the most comfortable with it. It feels like home, and when I’m playing, I’m in my element. 

The musicians featured in Three Pianos have been major influences on popular music. Do you have one or a few artists who you would say have influenced your work the most? If so, who and why?

Ray Charles and Carole King are definite influences on me, but not nearly as much as Stevie Wonder. He is the epitome of music to me. Stevie once called Prince, “a solider in the army of Love.” If Prince is a soldier, then Stevie is a commander. His music is filled with life, love, and joy. You have no choice but to “feel it all over.” 

The rehearsal process is often just as much about making discoveries as learning the show. Have you made any discoveries or had any “Aha!” moments—about yourself or about the music—throughout Three Pianos?

I feel like Three Pianos happened at the right time because I was ready for it. Everything I sing in this show is personal. “Living For the City” reminds me of my grandmother. “The Entertainer” is literally who I’ve been since I started working professionally. But “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is the song that affects me the most. I can hardly keep my emotions under control during and after that song. I feel like I’ve crossed a barrier that’s been up in front of me for years

Nygel D. Robinson in Three Pianos. Photo by Matthew Holler.

As someone who has performed in several FST musical revues, you know that these Cabaret rehearsals often become very collaborative experiences. Give us a glimpse into the rehearsal room – what was it like working with your fellow pianists and your director, Richard Hopkins? Do you have any stories or moments you can share with us?

It was so much fun working on this! Jim Prosser, FST’s Resident Pianist, gave us such beautiful arrangements. Scott Michaelsen, our Music Director, interpreted those arrangements masterfully. Richard is very smart and he knows his audience. His wisdom and gentle approach to directing made us feel comfortable enough to make big and bold choices when it came to creating this show. I also work with two very smart and savvy performers, Madalyn McHugh and Michael Maricondi, and that made this process even more rewarding. 

What is the most challenging part of this show for you? What is the most fun?

This show is a lot. We’re singing at the top of our ranges. We’re developing new ranges because of this show. Emotionally, this show is very hard for me as well, but it is very fun! It’s a show where you can sing along, dance, and hear some timeless music. It’s great to look out into the house and see smiles though the masks.

Due to popular demand, Three Pianos has been extended multiple times and will play in FST’s Gompertz Theatre from March 31 – May 23, 2021. For tickets or more information, click here.