This winter, Nathan Riley '10 will trade orange trees for the Rockefeller Center tree as he joins the Radio City Christmas Spectacular ensemble.
"It's a huge accomplishment for me, as the casting of the show can be pretty competitive, so I'm grateful for the opportunity," he said. "It'll definitely be the highest profile show I've had the privilege to be part of to date. I'm so looking forward to spreading that holiday spirit alongside those high-kicking Rockettes."
From Nov. 13 to Jan. 3, Riley will sing and dance in the iconic New York City production. It's a long way from the stages of Redlands, where he performed in plays and concerts during his childhood.
At age 9, Riley started singing at his church, where he performed his first solo in his first show the same year. "From then on I continued to find more opportunities,” he said.
“Thankfully, I have very supportive parents. They were very diligent with making sure I maintained a childhood in the process, limiting most of my shows to school productions and choral concerts until later in high school."
Riley said he "truly got that performance bug" after working with the Redlands community theater company LifeHouse. He later competed in the Los Angeles Music Center's Spotlight Awards, an arts competition for Southern California high-school students. Riley won the grand prize, competing in the classical voice category, and was able to perform at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, home of the Los Angeles Opera. At the same time, he met Marco Schindelmann, a Spotlight Awards judge and University of Redlands professor. As he studied under Schindelmann and became more familiar with the music department at Redlands, he knew it was where he wanted to go to college.
"I grew up in Redlands, and the U of R had always been a constant in my life, from learning how to ride a bike on the quad to fireworks at the (Ted Runner) stadium on the Fourth of July," he said. "My mom played in the community orchestra at the Chapel and my parents brought me and my siblings to see Chapel Singers performances of Compline growing up."
Riley majored in music and minored in theater, and studied biology abroad in Salzburg with Dr. Elaine Brubacher. He worked in the facilities department every summer, learning valuable electrical and carpentry skills, and also performed in productions of Macbeth, La Traviata, The Fantasticks, and L'Elizir D'Amore. Riley also had a very special classmate—his mother, Marté Riley '08.
"She transferred to the U of R to finish her bachelor’s in vocal performance the same year I began, so that was fun and exciting," he said. "I made some lifelong friends and strong supporters among my peers, but it's truly the one-on-one and individual mindset and structure of the staff and professors that I take with me everywhere. All of these people encouraged me and held me accountable to be the best I could be and continue to strive to be better. And that's what I take with me most from my college experience."
Soon after graduation, Riley moved to San Diego to pursue a professional career as a musical theater performer. He's since worked with the Old Globe Theatre, Lamb's Players Theatre, Cygnet Theatre Co., the Welk Resort Theatre and Moonlight Stage Productions, founded by University of Redlands alumna Kathy Brombacher. After roles in Hairspray, Guys and Dolls, Man of La Mancha, Mixtape and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Riley landed at Disney's California Adventure, appearing in Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular. Earlier this year, he decided to "take the plunge" and move to New York City.
"It was the best choice for me career-wise as there are so many opportunities here in NYC for performers that it truly keeps you motivated, and the arts and culture keep you inspired," he said. "I just finished up a production of Godspell at Westchester Broadway Theater this summer, and I am also a cast member of Disney in Concert, a group that travels all over the nation and internationally to sing favorite Disney songs with some of the best symphony orchestras around."
Though Riley enjoys performing the classics, he is also looking forward to putting his own spin on things.
"I intend to stay in New York and continue honing my craft and performing as much as I can," he said. "I'll also be working on creating my own cabaret show, but mainly I just hope to continue to grow creatively and continue to tell great stories as well."