It came as no surprise to Branford residents that native son Greg Nobile, who won a Tony Award last week for his work on Broadway, was back in town Saturday overseeing musical productions at the Branford Festival.
Townsfolk would expect no less of the 21-year-old whose musical talents and philanthropic efforts began at age 6.
People know him as the youngster who co-founded the Lemonade Gang in 2007 with buddy Ryan Bloomquist to help a fellow 6-year-old who had just been diagnosed with a rare medical disorder. In 2009, Nobile and Bloomquist and the Lemonade Gang were honored by the American Red Cross with its Youth Good Samaritan Award for raising more than $60,000 for medical research in 10 years.
And folks also know him for his efforts to help turn the fabled Puppet House in Stony Creek into a first-class venue—the Legacy Theatre. He’s also the co-founder of the Branford-based Seaview Productions along with Jana Shea.
People watched their TVs to get a glimpse of him June 8 when he won a Tony Award as one of the producers of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, when the show took top musical honors on Broadway.
And they knew that fame wouldn’t prevent him from doing what he does every year—- helping with the musical acts at the Branford Festival.
“This is where my heart is,” Nobile told the Eagle during an interview Saturday at the festival.
“This community trusted what Ryan and I were doing at age 6 when we started the Lemonade Gang for our friend Brian Kelley,” he said. “And the support from our teachers, and our parents and friends and our mentors was extraordinary.”
He was also thankful for the media coverage over the years. “It helped me build the name I have in town, essentially I’m in the business of raising money for creative projects. That’s what I do. And I wouldn’t be able to raise money for both for my non-profit and my commercial projects without the visibility.”
Nobile said the community support was integral to his success. “I share this award with the Branford community and I’m so glad to hustle back after all of the hoopla of these awards to be running the Back Stage at the Branford Festival.”
Then in typical Nobile fashion, he laughed as he said, “I didn’t even get the Main Stage. I got the Back Stage—but I’m happy to do it. I’m happy to do it.”
Nobile always knew he would end up on Broadway.
“It was always part of the dream,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be this soon.”
After graduating from high school, he attended Marymount Manhattan College for a semester. He left to pursue his career. He began doing internships and networking.
“I created my own path, which is something I’ve always been doing,” Nobile said. “And taking that road you never know if it’s going to work out. I convinced myself it was going to happen one day, but I think that happening so soon was sort of a surprise.”
Nobile said the evening of the Tony Awards was extraordinary. The show won awards for the Best Book, Costume Design and Direction but no one knew if it could win Best Musical.
“It was an incredible experience. You’re sitting with the other producers of the show… and you all jump up together and share in that excitement and it’s really an incredible experience, sort of out of body,” he said. “It felt great. It was honestly a tremendous surprise.”
His family and friends were there to share the event. “This was sort of a victory for all of us.”
Nobile is one of about 30 producers of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which came to Broadway from the Hartford Stage Company.
He is also acclaimed for being one of the youngest producers on Broadway. And one of the youngest to win a Tony.
“It’s a lot of luck … and it’s a lot of work,” Nobile said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to know what I wanted at a young age.”
This Eagle reporter met Nobile and Bloomquist and the Lemonade gang several times while writing articles for the former Branford Review. Here’s a photo from 2007 as the gang was getting ready to stage another summer blockbuster production. (Nobile is top left, and Ryan Bloomquist is top right.) At that time they were performing at the Owenego Beach Club on Linden Avenue, owned by Bloomquist’s aunt, the late Jane Driscoll Rosenthal.
The youngsters started selling lemonade at age 6 and staging song-and-dance skits in their backyards to raise money for medical research to help their friend Kelley, who had just been diagnosed with adrenoleukodystorphy. The condition, also known as ALD, destroys the myelin nerve coverings and affects the central nervous system.
As their audiences grew, those early neighborhood Lemonade Gang skits evolved to twice-yearly performances with a summer musical at the Owenego, and a Christmas concert at the First Baptist Church.
Money from the summer musicals supported the Myelin Project, which spearheads research into myelin disorders such as ALD and multiple sclerosis. Funds from the Christmas concerts raised money for the Adopt a Family project, which helps youngsters with cancer whose families cannot afford holiday gifts.
Nobile and Bloomquist were the heart and soul of the Lemonade Gang and served as directors and producers and performers who supervised endless hours of rehearsals. In addition, they held summer musical camps at the Owenego Beach Club for youngsters ages 5 - 12.
“We’re learning and teaching,” Nobile said in an interview in 2007. He said the most difficult part was putting on a musical with no funding. “All the money we make goes to the charities.. So we start every year with no money, and everything has to be donated.”
Nobile, the son of Brian and Maureen Nobile; and Bloomquist, the son of John and Pat Bloomquist, both attended Camp Broadway in New York City for several summers. They appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades and were well-known for their starring roles in numerous high school musicals.
Bloomquist just graduated with a drama degree one year early from New York University. He is currently starring in a summer production of All Shook Up at Ivoryton Playhouse,
“I’m just looking forward to the day I can produce him in his first Broadway show,” Nobile said in regard to Bloomquist. “That will be soon I’m sure, he’s a real talent.”
Grady Keefe,(left) and Bloomquist, (right) longtime Nobile’s friends, were on hand for the awards celebration. Keefe currently serves as a Constituent Liaison in the office of U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, working on health care, social services and LGBT issues. He was one of Blumenthal’s first hires. Keefe holds the distinction of being the youngest elected official in Connecticut state history. He served as a member of the Branford Representative Town Meeting, while completing his senior year of high school.
Nobile has plans, big plans for Branford and for Broadway.
“I have three or four projects on the burner for next season, and I literally started meeting on them the morning after the Tonys because that’s what you have to do. You have to keep moving.”
He is currently serving as the managing director of the Legacy Theatre, which is in the middle of a massive fund-raising campaign to reinvent the former Puppet House in Stony Creek into a first-class theater.
“The Legacy Theatre is a huge part of the picture,” he said, adding he plans to be in Branford this summer to work on the fundraising projects. “We just passed the half-million in private funding, which is a huge landmark for us.”
And he has more aspirations for Broadway. “There’s two smaller shows…that redefine how we’re tell stories on Broadway, and that’s really exciting to me. Because I think the innovation starts on Broadway with how we tell our stories,” he said.
“It is really exciting to be in the industry this young. … I have a couple colleagues that are contemporaries of mine and we are going to be the people who move Broadway forward. While a lot of my contemporaries are still in school, it’s great to be on the ground working and seeing what the business really is. By the time all my friends are out of school, we’ll be ready to start changing the landscape of Broadway, which is what I’m interested in doing.”
How would he change Broadway?
“I think we have an accessibility issue. The price of tickets is astronomical—- $150 to $170. We have a skewed demographic of who’s coming to the theater, largely because of that ticket price,” he said
“Broadway’s ripe for innovation,” he said. “We’re on our way to exploring where we’d make changes, and how we’d finance shows differently and the use of different investment strategies … How we’d do it exactly, I don’t know yet,” he said with that Nobile laugh.