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Mason Gross senior leaves University to take on role in ‘A Chorus Line’ tour

Nicholas Raynor performs in “The Producers” at the Woodstock Playhouse in New York. – Photo by Courtesy of Leslie Dawson

Nicholas Raynor, a Mason Gross School of the Arts senior, is not waiting until he graduates to find a job. From Oct. 28 to March 23, he will play Mark in the national tour of “A Chorus Line.”

After earning his role in the musical, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1976, the 21-year-old decided to take a leave of absence from the University.

“Taking a leave of absence from school is terrifying because there is a fear I may never finish,” Raynor said via email. “I have the understanding and mindset that I must return to receive my degree after I go on tour.”

His goal was to book a tour after graduation, but he said he skipped a step and is now living his dream.

“A Chorus Line” revolves around an eclectic group of dancers and their trials for a coveted spot in an upcoming Broadway show. At 20 years old, Raynor’s character Mark is the youngest of the contenders, he said.

Raynor said his character is similar to who he is.

“Mark is very new in this business and naive. This character relates to me because I am completely new to this business,” he said. “This was my first New York City audition and was astonished when I heard I booked the job.”

Raynor appreciates some of the topical references his character makes during the show.

“My favorite thing about Mark is that he gets to sing about gonorrhea every night while explaining his story to the director,” he said.

Within very short periods of time, Raynor said he was expected to master and perform dance sequences along with his preferred skill — singing.

“The process for ‘A Chorus Line’ was unbelievably stressful. The pace of the audition and learning the choreography was incredibly fast and only took about an hour,” he said.

Performers auditioned in front of the director and casting directors for the jazz choreography and then auditioned one by one for the ballet combination, he said.

“I was fortunate enough to be seen for the singing audition,” Raynor said. “After I passed the singing audition they asked me to stay and read for the role of Mark.”

He said performing in “A Chorus Line,” is a life-changing event.

“I could not be more grateful and blessed for the experience that is about to come my way,” he said.  

This will not be Raynor’s first brush with national exposure — in 2011, he was a semifinalist, ranked 80 out of 40,000 contestants in the reality television series “The Glee Project,” he said.

It will not be his first time touring, either. Raynor traveled through Europe with the American Music Abroad Voices Tour in 2008.

In high school, Raynor participated in New Jersey’s Region, All-State and All-Eastern Choirs. He furthered his track record by performing with the Kirkpatrick Choir.

Under the lights of the Woodstock Playhouse in New York, Raynor has performed in productions of “Chicago,” “The Producers” and “Legally Blonde.” He has also acted in “Hairspray” with the Edison-based Plays in the Park studio, and in “Curtains” with the Monroe Township High School Footlights.

Raynor befriended Alex Greif, an actor, while working in the Woodstock Playhouse. Greif said he was motivated through Raynor’s drive, talent and kindness.

“His preparation and work ethic is that of a true artist and professional. He gives 110 percent every time and when he feels he could have given more, I have witnessed him backstage continuing to perfect each and every detail in his choreography as well as vocals,” Greif said via email.

He said because Raynor is so talented, he could choose to behave arrogantly, but he remains humble and eager to learn.  

Raynor said he grew up in Jamesburg, N.J. As an 11-year-old, he became interested in singing and began dancing while in high school.

“Although both singing and dancing are huge passions of mine, I will always choose singing over dancing. Singing is the only opportunity in music to express words through a story that can be related to an audience,” Raynor said.

He said it is difficult to say goodbye and miss graduation.

“It is hard saying goodbye to my wonderful staff and my amazing residents ... most of my friends, which are in my senior class, will be graduating without me and I will not have the opportunity to walk with them,” Raynor said.

Nicole Milillo, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and Raynor’s best friend, said she is confident that Raynor made the right decision.

“Nick stands out from other performers because he is a triple threat. Not only is he an amazing singer and dancer, but he also has natural acting skills that people work on for years,” she said via email.

After the tour wraps up, Raynor said he hopes to return to Mason Gross and finish his degree. Raynor’s post-graduation goals include portraying Bobby Strong in the satirical musical “Urinetown.”

“It is such a witty show about having to pay for the privilege to pee,” Raynor said.

Raynor is attracted to the nomadic lifestyle of touring, he said. The actor said he couldn’t see himself settling down in one place, unless it is the most intercontinental city in the world.

“I hope to keep touring nationally or internationally, and find myself onto the Broadway stage in New York City,” he said.

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