Known to the world as a “thrillingly powerful” bass-baritone, equally at home in theater, opera and cabaret, Marcus Nance grew up in Pacific Grove singing in First Baptist Church, where his father used to be a pastor. “I was steeped in music,” he says, giving additional credit to Pacific Grove Unified School District’s music program. “I had great mentors who were preparing students for competitions. I fell in love with music.”
He also fell in love with the stage. He played Malcolm in Atom Egoyan’s opera Elsewhereless, Moses in the opera Beatrice Chancy, sang Porgy in Porgy and Bess, Sparafucile in Rigoletto and Compere in Four Saints in Three Acts. New York audiences saw him on Broadway as Caiaphas in Jesus Christ Superstar and in Baz Luhrman’s Tony Award-winning production of La Boheme.
More recent projects include the role of Reverend Alltalk in Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha, Van Helsing in a concert version of Dracula, and Judge Turpin in the Shaw Festival’s production of Sweeney Todd. In 2005, Nance made his film debut as the Singing Accountant in The Producers, starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. And a few weeks ago – in August 2022 – he was at the Carmel Women’s Club, performing at The Stars Come Home! A Peninsula musical extravaganza next to sopranos Leberta Loral and Yolanda Mitchell West.
Now based in Toronto, where he lives with his husband, music director Franklin Brasz, Nance also serves on the vocal faculty for Sheridan College’s Musical Theatre Program, regularly giving master classes in singing across North America.
Weekly: Was it alway obvious to you that you wanted to sing?
Nance: I have always loved singing. But at the university, I first majored in clarinet and played in orchestras. Later on I realized that I would rather be on stage. So I moved to opera the next year, and gave up the clarinet.
Do you ever regret it?
I don’t. From time to time, I think it would be nice to have a clarinet.
You were performing already in high school, as a musician.
Yes, in high school I traveled to Los Angeles and San Francisco for various competitions. I graduated in 1982 and moved to Fresno to study at CSU. It was an eye-opening experience. I was a little star of my community and suddenly there were more people like me.
You succeeded early on, upon studying voice at two universities.
Yes, and then I got my first professional job offer. It was great, but it was in Canada. I couldn’t say no, so I moved to Canada.
What about the weather? Were you horrified?
See, before leaving, I had no idea that Monterey Peninsula was a special place. That was all I knew. So yes, Toronto winters are too long for me, and I’m so appreciative when I come back home. At the same time, I discovered seasons and I loved that, too.
Anyway, I had a great job and I thought I was rich. I was regularly getting a paycheck and I had a sense of financial freedom. I was living in an apartment on the 12th floor and paid off my student loans.
And you made it to Broadway.
Yes, and in terms of adventures, there’s nothing like New York City – the audience, the lines around the block.
Is there another domain you would like to try?
A TV actor. It would probably have to be a drama, not a comedy. Maybe a period piece. I loved Downton Abbey. I think they had an African-American jazz singer in one season.
You are quite a professional shapeshifter. Is it typical for singers to move between vocal worlds like that?
I like to think it’s unique. I can switch from opera to jazz the same night; that’s a different vocal technique.
Do you ever sing for pleasure?
Hmm. Actually I never sing just for the sake of singing.
You also teach. Is it possible to teach someone not particularly talented to sing?
It’s very possible. I’ve had students that were close to tone deaf. You can teach them to match pitches. It’s a wonderful experience; I love teaching.
The ultimate advice for young singers dreaming of big stages?
The world is full of critique. Know who you are and celebrate it.