The Beat of a Different Drum
Newfoundland’s own Romano Di Nillo is living the dream, lending his musical talents to the Tony winning Come From Away, while representing his home province
If you’ve acquired a taste for the arts, as a performer, musician, writer or director, odds are you’ve dreamed of appearing on Broadway. It’s a clichéd dream, one shared by millions across the globe, but achieved by a selective few.
If you were to have asked Romano Di Nillo, born in Grand Falls-Windsor, if he had aspirations of the bright lights of New York City, it’s entirely reasonable he would have answered in the affirmative, but he admits he would have been skeptical that he’d achieve the feat in his 40s.
Find Yourself at 40
The world-class percussionist has done just that, performing as part of the house band for Tony winning musical Come From Away on Broadway.
“It’s insane,” Di Nillo shares with a laugh in an interview with The Herald on a rare off day. “I never thought I’d be here and it’s something you dream about, and to do it in your 40s. If I had asked myself when I was a teenager if I would have been on Broadway, of course that’s the dream, but you also assume that’s going to happen when you’re in your 20s and 30s.”
Originally graduating from Memorial University’s School of Music in 1996, Di Nillo plied his trade as a freelancer in Ontario for years before landing the role of a lifetime, touring North America with the juggernaut stage production Wicked, the second highest grossing Broadway production in history.
“It was wonderful,” he said of the experience. “I did 2,600 shows. Our tour, while I was in it, and the records may have changed now, but I had the opportunity to be in cities where we broke national records of sales in a week. You’re playing at the Fox in Atlanta for 6,000 and it’s sold out. It’s insane, like Radio City Music Hall every night. That kind of feeling is once-in-a-lifetime. It’s mind boggling. I sat down and played for millions of people.”
Fast forward to 2017 and Di Nillo finds himself as one of two Newfoundlanders gracing the stages of Broadway with the inspiring and critically acclaimed musical Come From Away, a larger-than-life production that continues to captivate months after opening.
“I think it’s one of those shows that is not reliant on magic, heavy theatrics, heavy dancing or heavy stars. It’s the antithesis of all of that. It’s story-driven, ensemble cast,” Di Nillo says. “People just love this story. After the show when we’re signing autographs there are people weeping and there’s this huge emotional response. I think it’s something people want to tap into more and more.”
In stark contrast to the bulk of Broadway productions, Come From Away introduces the music as akin to a living, breathing entity, placing Di Nillo and his fellow musicians front and center to the action.
“It is one of the most interesting things about this show,” he says. “The band is on the stage the whole show and we interact in scenes. It really speaks as a testament to the creators and how they have gotten Newfoundland. It’s gotten the success and so much of the approval of Newfoundlanders, which is a rare thing in our history, to have something representing us, not made by us, that is what Newfoundlanders think is representative of our culture. Here you have music, of Newfoundland, which is essentially a character in our culture. We personify music. It’s such a huge part of our society and these creators recognize that and they made the music a character in the show, they would not let it be in the pit. That is a wonderful, magnificent example of how these creators got it and how music is a character in Newfoundland and how important it is in the fabric of the story.”
For a career-musician who has ascended to the top rungs of the ladder, some sagely wisdom comes as highly regarded. Di Nillo shared that a tireless work ethic, as well as admitting when there’s room for improvement, are key.
“I’m a firm believer in hard work. It’s a matter of working really hard in the things you don’t do well and not the things you do do well,” he says. “Music and to be a professional musician, there’s a lot of aspects to it and it’s not just your playing. It’s the ability to recognize areas, professionally, that you can get better at without taking things too personally, because you can also get crushed by that … It’s just important not to ignore those weaknesses, and it’s so easy to do. It’s just the same formula for any path – working hard, getting better at the things you need to and finding out who is doing the things you want to do and talk to them. Try to figure out people who are doing the dream of yours and see if you can learn from them. But there’s no substitution for hard work.”