15 Questions in 15 Minutes with Broadway’s Nikki M. James

After originating the role of Civil Rights leader, NAACP co-founder, and prominent Black Suffragist Ida B. Wells in The Public Theater’s Off-Broadway premiere of Shain Taub’s Suffs (tracing the history of the early American Suffragists Movement and the hard-won battle for the right to vote and equality for women), Nikki M. James is racking up yet another fifteen minutes of her well-deserved fame reprising her highly acclaimed performance in the musical’s current Broadway debut at the Music Box Theatre.

Nikki M. James in the Off-Broadway production of Suffs. Photo by Joan Marcus.

In addition to Suffs, James’s theater credits include her Tony-winning portrayal of Nabulungi in The Book of Mormon, and featured roles in Les Misérables, All Shook Up, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer on Broadway, along with her Off-Broadway performances in Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day (The Public Theater), Shaina Taub’s adaptation of Twelfth Night (Shakespeare in the Park), and Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin (Encores!), among many others. James has also brought her outstanding talent to notable screen appearances in Daredevil: Born Again (Disney+), Severance (AppleTV+), Proven Innocent (FOX), Braindead (CBS), and more.

During this very busy opening month, the lovely Nikki (both inside and out) graciously made time in her Broadway schedule with Suffs to answer our questions about her life, career, and the show.

  1. What do you love most about being on Broadway?

Nikki: Having stood outside many a stage door with a Playbill and a Sharpie waiting for autographs, the part I can never get over is getting to walk through a stage door every day. I ring the bell and wait for the doorman to click the buzzer and think, “That’s right, you’re on Broadway, girl!”

Nikki M. James at the Broadway opening of Suffs. Photo by Angela Marie Orellana @angela.marie.photo.
  1. What do you find most relatable about your character Ida B. Wells?

Gosh, Ida is such an incredible woman, this is hard to answer. I’m a new mom, and one of the ways I relate to her differently than I have in the past doing this show is her commitment to her family.

  1. Do you have a favorite line or lyric in Suffs?

It’s tough to choose, but today I’ll say my favorite lyric is, “Your ancestors are all the proof you need that progress is POSSIBLE, not guaranteed.” I’m not just saying it because it is also Secretary Clinton’s favorite lyric (she quotes it often). I love that it’s a call to action. We’re saying, “You spent two and a half hours with women who faced seemingly impossible odds and suffered many losses but never gave up. They made the impossible a reality, but it required work. Now go out and make something happen!”

  1. What’s the main message you hope audiences take away from the show?

HA, I think I just answered that! But I also want our audiences to go away hungry for more: more information about these women, more questions about what else is missing from their knowledge of the history of our democracy, more action and engagement in their communities, and more SUFFS!

Nikki M. James and the Broadway cast of Suffs. Photo by Joan Marcus.
  1. What’s the most memorable reaction you’ve ever gotten from a fan?

Someone told me they didn’t agree with all the people on YouTube who thought I was terrible in a show. I think he thought he was complimenting me, but it certainly didn’t feel that way. In any case, I will never forget him.

  1. Which came first for you – singing or acting?

Singing first, for sure. I sang “The Greatest Love of All” at my kindergarten graduation. It was the same year I saw my first Broadway musical, CATS 

  1. Who has been the biggest inspiration in your career?

Audra McDonald. I’m never not blown away by her. Her versatility, vulnerability, ferocity, and voice are unmatched. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know her personally and professionally; she is as good a human as an artist. I keep on waiting to find out if there is a thing she DOESN’T do well. 

  1. What’s your first creative memory?

I maintain that my first work of art and theater was convincing my nextdoor neighbor Amanda Rosa that it would be totally okay to use baby powder to “reupholster” the green velvet rocking chair in my bedroom when I was five. This did not go over well with my mother.

  1. What do you do for fun when you’re not performing?

I’m an NPR addict, and I like puzzles. I don’t know if that counts as fun, but it’s a perfect Sunday in my house if I’m listening to Weekend Edition and trying to solve the puzzle with Will Shortz. My husband and I also enjoy travel and dining. So, I guess a perfect Sunday is listening to Weekend Edition and trying to solve the puzzle with Will Shortz while eating a delicious fresh croissant at a street café in Paris.

Anastacia McCleskey, Laila Erica Drew, and Nikki M. James in the Broadway production of Suffs. Photo by Joan Marcus.
  1. If you weren’t in show business, what profession would you have pursued?

I would be a psychologist; all the studying of people and how they interact with the world around them, but without the auditioning. 

  1. What three things do you always keep in your dressing room?

Humidifier, a photo of my family, and Grether’s Pastilles throat lozenges.

  1. What’s your favorite comfort food or treat?

I really love Smarties candies. It’s almost a problem.

  1. What three words would you use to describe yourself?

Curious, chatty, loyal.

Nikki M. James. Photo by Deborah Lopez.
  1. What’s the best thing about being famous?

Who’s famous?

  1. Is there a dream role or show you would like to perform in the future?

I always want to be doing more Shakespeare; bring on Lady M. I would also love to take on Gypsy Rose Lee. Audra, are you listening?

Many thanks, Nikki, for sharing a fabulous fifteen minutes with us, so our readers, and your fans everywhere, can get to know you a little better. Congratulations on your Drama League Awards nomination for your stellar performance in Suffs; I’m sure there will be many more to come!

Suffs plays through Sunday, September 1, 2024, at the Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $69-294, including fees), call (212) 239-6200, or go online.



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