“Les Miz has a way of bringing people together, and I predict that from this cast a marriage and a child shall be born,” announced director John Caird at the first rehearsal for the 2006 Broadway revival of Les Misérables. Two ensemble members, Nikki Renée Daniels and Jeff Kready, looked around the room at their castmates and wondered who it would be.
Ten years later, Daniels and Kready are married with a toddler, their daughter, Lena, born in 2013. At the time of Caird’s prophecy, Kready had just moved to the city from Kansas, and Daniels took the rookie under her wing. Currently starring as Nabalungi in The Book of Mormon, Daniels also boasts credits in Aida, Nine and Lestat while Kready most recently played Monty Navarro in Broadway’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and counts Billy Elliot and Sunday in the Park with George among his other appearances. Now, the pair that bonded over backstage rounds of Texas Holdem bets on one thing: their future.
Jeff, what were some of the things that Nikki showed you, or told you that were helpful when you first moved New York?
Jeff Kready: When I first moved here I was very idealistic and…
She crushed your dreams?
JK: Yes. [Laughs] She showed me the hard realities of life in New York. Even to this day she helps me keep perspective. That’s a good way to put it, because I don’t mean it in a negative way. She’s helped me to [add more] realism to my idealism, and not just within the industry. She’s opened my eyes to so many things, and that’s part of the reason that I love her.
Nikki Renée Daniels: I’m a real pessimist.
JK: Let’s be clear: Nikki is not a pessimist at all. She’s one of the most positive people I know, but she’s street smart. I’m from Kansas. I’m the opposite of street smart. She’s the epitome of a city girl, and I’m from small-town Kansas. I never dreamed in a million years that I would live in New York, let alone be married and raise a family [here]. There was a big part of me that thought I was going to do Les Miz and then move back to Kansas to be a music teacher. I didn’t necessarily foresee staying, but Nikki has continued to surprise me and show me the possibilities, and how amazing having a family in New York can be.
Shortly after Lena was born, you were both in shows. Nikki started in The Book of Mormon in 2014, and you opened with Gentleman’s Guide in 2013, and took on Monty Navarro when Bryce Pinkham was on hiatus in 2015. Since GGLAM ended this past winter, has life been calmer?
JK: It’s actually been a great year since I left GGLAM. I’ve been at home with Lena at night while Nikki’s at work. As an actor, you always have your ups and downs and moments where you’re like, “Oh my God I’m not working. What am I doing?” but this year has taught me so much. I’ve had plenty of little projects on hand, so I’m still creatively active, but having the evenings at home with Lena has forced me to learn how to be a parent and made me more patient. It’s sink or swim. When I started I was like, “I can’t do this without Nikki. I can’t be at home by myself with a three-year-old. This is impossible.” Some nights it still is impossible, if I’m completely honest, but I wouldn’t trade [this time] for the world.
I know Lena just started pre-school. Do you have more time for just the two of you now?
JK: When she first started school, I felt guilty for those first couple of days, but we got over our guilt really fast. Now we go to yoga and go to brunch. We’re like civilized human beings.
NRD: We call it “date day” because it’s hard to have date night, especially when you only have one night off a week.
Jeff, now that you’re not in a show, how many times have you seen The Book of Mormon? Are you tired of it?
JK: I’ve actually only seen Nikki do it twice. I haven’t seen the show in about a year. It’s not quite appropriate for Lena to go to The Book of Mormon yet.
NRD: She remembers songs so easily. It’s so hilarious. When I was going in to the show and having to learn “Hasa Diga [Eebowai]” I was having to bleep myself when I was practicing.
JK: It’s a terrible curse when we’re working on audition songs, because Lena learns the songs along with me. Then after my audition is over, and I found out I didn’t get the role, she keeps singing the song around the house to remind me that I didn’t get the role, so we have to be very careful what we sing in front of her.
NRD: She’s the only three-year-old that knows all the lyrics to, “God, I Hate Shakespeare.” She sings, “He’s a mediocre actor in a mediocre town!” She also knows this song that was cut from Pippin that Jeff sang.
JK: Oh right, “Marking Time,” a cut song from Pippin. What other three-year-old knows a cut song from Pippin? I’m thankful now that Nikki is working on Harold Arlen songs because at least she’s learning classics instead of random 64-bar audition cuts.
She has a really complicated audition repertoire!
NRD: Her book is better than ours.
JK: Her book is very extensive.
Speaking of auditions, Nikki it broke my heart when you explained for Playbill’s Turn the Page performance series why you weren’t able to audition for The Light in the Piazza, because you are an actress of color. Jeff, are there other roles you could see Nikki playing that have traditionally been cast as white?
JK: Yes. One thing about having been with Nikki for nine years now is that it has opened my eyes to how we deal with race in the theatre, and how we don’t deal with race in the theatre. I didn’t realize what people of color’s experience is in this industry, because I’m right for just about every male role between the age of 25 and 35. I can go in for any of those. Nikki has a completely different experience. She has to weigh things like, whether or not the role has ever been cast non-white before, or if this is a theatre or director who would consider casting this role non-white, and she’s done a great job breaking through some of those barriers—she was the first African-American Belle in Beauty and the Beast, but there’s other roles I would love to see her play. She’d be a great Mary Poppins. I would love to see her play Ellen in Miss Saigon.
Has being with Nikki made you more sensitive to issues of race in your own casts?
JK: Absolutely. Nikki would make a tremendous Phoebe in Gentleman’s Guide, but that was a show where we didn’t have any people of color in that cast, and that was something that I thought of every day when I came to work. It was for a specific reason, because they are family members, so it was about a white family, specifically in England.
NRD: We’re cousins!
JK: That’s true! You and I are cousins!
NRD: I’m very into Ancestory.com and I was searching our family tree. I had one white relative that I found and [it turns out] we are 24th cousins or something like that. It’s our Aida moment.
JK: It just goes to show that you never know who’s related in this world and skin color has little to do with it.