Nick Fradiani is no stranger to the stage, having watched his father — also named Nick Fradiani — perform as a musician at local venues as a child.
After a string of successes, from a stint on America’s Got Talent to winning season 15 of “American Idol,” the former Guilford and current Branford resident has begun making a name for himself in Broadway theater. Fradiani recently took over the titular character in “A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical,” after starting as understudy.
The musical, a biographical jukebox show following Diamond’s career from when he was writing songs like “I’m a Believer” for The Monkees to his own hits like “Sweet Caroline” and “America,” runs eight shows a week at the Broadhurst Theatre at 234 W. 44th St. in New York City.
“It’s emotional, especially once I got to meet [Neil Diamond],” Fradiani said. “… The people who come, they’re dying to hear him. I know they’re not hearing him, but I’m trying to give them as much of Neil as we can. And I know he deserves us to give 100 percent every single show. I try to think of that when I go on stage, even when I’m tired. Neil can’t perform and we’re able to do this for him and tell his story. He loves the show and it’s an honor to do it.”
Born in East Haven, Fradiani moved to Guilford at 13, graduating from Guilford High School in 2004 before attending Wheaton College where he played basketball and majored in history.
Though he had lots of exposure to music growing up, sang in choir and learned harmonies by ear, Fradiani said he didn’t start pursuing a music career until he sustained an injury playing basketball.
“I started learning how to play guitar on my own and started writing songs,” he said.
His dad found the then-20 year old an agent, and Fradiani started performing at local venues. He formed a band called Beach Avenue, and in 2014 gained recognition while on the reality talent show “America’s Got Talent.”
Though he and his band didn’t win, Fradiani said, the show’s producers invited him to audition for “American Idol.”
“The same producers ran ‘American Idol,’ and said if you want to come in, you can skip the line and audition in front of the judges,” he said. “I was 28 and that’s the oldest you can be on the show.”
“American Idol” proved to be Fradiani’s big break, and he went on to win the show’s 15th season.
“I think ‘Idol’ helped a lot,” he said. “It gives you confidence that if I put my mind to it I can do it.”
After being on “America’s Got Talent,” Fradiani said he quit his other jobs and committed himself to being a musician.
“It was a good feeling, but it was scary,” he said.
He started recording music, releasing multiple EPs with himself and his band, as well as two full albums, “Hurricane” in 2016, and “Past My Past” in 2022.
In 2019, he received a message from a casting director inviting him to audition for the national tour of the Alan Menken musical adaptation of the 1993 film “A Bronx Tale.”
“Totally out of left field,” Fradiani said. “I never once was in a musical growing up, never had any understanding of it. I was not a theater kid at all. I loved the movie and I knew the movie really well. I went in and did a work session and an audition in front of [director] Jerry Zaks and [writer] Chazz Palmentieri.
“I ended up getting it and the experience was amazing,” he said. “I loved doing the show. I felt I had come a long way acting throughout that experience. … I knew I could get better at it. I knew that after doing that show I wanted to keep trying.”
In 2021, Fradiani learned about a new Neil Diamond musical coming to Broadway and thought, “This role’s perfect for me. They’re looking for a guitar player, baritone/tenor. I know all of his music.”
Stage actor Will Swenson had already been cast in the main role since, but Fradiani landed a role of understudy. The musical opened on Dec. 4, 2022.
Fradiani would fill in for Swenson during Wednesday night performances, and then eventually twice a week.
The first night he performed as Neil, Fradiani said, he was scared out of his mind.
“As an understudy, I hardly get any rehearsal,” he said. “It was me always watching Will do it.”
Then on Oct. 31, Fradiani took over the role of Neil Diamond full time in the production.
“The show’s still going strong and I’m doing eight shows a week,” he said. “It’s been a wild ride. A lot of Neil Diamond singing. A truly life changing situation.”
Fradiani admits he dealt with imposter syndrome at first, as this was only his second time singing in a Broadway production.
“Even in the first few rehearsals, I was like, what am I doing?” he said. “ … Luckily for me with both characters — Lorenzo in “A Bronx Tale” and Neil Diamond, I was able to relate to them so much. Lorenzo reminded me a lot of me and my father growing up. I pretended being my dad and put on a New York accent and it worked really well. With Neil, I obsessed over watching a billion interviews of him and try to get his talking voice down. I spent forever trying to get his singing voice as close as possible.”
Fradiani said he now feels very confident in the role and takes acting classes to improve. He’s also auditioning for future theater productions.
“I’m going to keep working at it, hopefully get more roles,” he said. “Whenever I’m not doing that I’ll still keep putting out my music and perform. Anyway I can do that. It’s going to be fun to see where this all leads to.”
He said that Neil Diamond fans will love the show.
“If you’re a Neil Diamond fan, I think you’re going to love it,” he said. “I think what people don’t understand is how much heart the show has. You learn a lot about his life and a lot of his struggles. The show is really fun. You’re going to have a great time. You’re going to sing along with us. It has a lot of heart and is very emotional. If you don’t know a lot about Neil Diamond, you’ll leave a fan and you’ll be shocked by the number of hits he had and for other people.”