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Come From Away

A Q&A with alumnus Romano Di Nillo

Campus and Community |

By Lisa Pendergast

From Newfoundland and Labrador to New York.

Romano Di Nillo, B.Mus.’96, is the perfect fit for Come From Away. A School of Music graduate, Mr. Di Nillo has played for millions of people across North America during a career that’s taken him from St. John’s to Broadway. Whether he’s been at the drum kit in the hit musical Wicked, or his most recent gig, playing the bodhran in Come From Away, Mr. Di Nillo’s passion for drumming and love of music drive his success. He shared his story with Gazette contributor Lisa Pendergast.

LP: Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from? How did you first decide to come to Memorial as a student?

RD: I was born in Grand Falls, N.L., and moved to St. John’s when I was still a baby. I started playing drums when I was six years old. It happened when Mom took me to see my uncle play with the Carlton Showband. From there my love of music took me to band camps, Gower Youth Band, Newfoundland Symphony Youth Orchestra, Holy Heart Choirs and musicals. Memorial was a natural progression.

LP: What stands out about being a student in the School of Music at Memorial?

RD: My friendships were the best part of music school. There was a freedom to fully explore yourself musically. It’s a great place to learn your craft!

LP: You are currently playing the bodhran in the band in the hit musical Come From Away. How did you first hear about the show? How did you get involved?

RD: I heard about the show when I was passing through Connecticut with the musical Wicked. I happened to be visiting Goodspeed Musicals, a theatre and opera house in Connecticut, while they were talking about readings that were happening there for Come From Away.

The Come From Away band performing in Toronto, Ont. Mr. Di Nillo is fourth from the left.
The Come From Away band performing in Toronto, Ont. Mr. Di Nillo is fourth from the left.
Photo: Sandler Townend

It was the very beginning stages, so I kept an ear out ever since that time. Years later, it turned out the sound designer for Wicked knew my playing and was involved with Come From Away. He recommended me to the producer, who passed it to Ian, our music director. It took six months to finalize the audition, but I did that on Sept. 9, 2016, and I found out I got the gig on Sept. 11, 2016.

LP: As a Newfoundlander, what does this show mean to you? How does it compare to other shows you have worked on, such as Wicked?

RD: This show means everything to me right now. I haven’t even fully realized it’s massiveness. I played 2,600 shows over seven years with Wicked. Wicked is almost 15 years old. It’s big, it’s glam, it’s powerful, but this is new. It has a small company. It’s raw and hopeful. It is a wave of positivity and love in a vast desert. Come From Away is just as massive as Wicked, without the theatrics. It has a massive heart and I’m honoured to be part of it.

LP: How has your time at Memorial University influenced your career?

RD: I graduated with a music performance degree in percussion, and Memorial gave me all the tools I needed to be successful. The time you put in results in what you want. My colleagues pushed me just as hard as my teachers did. It was positive. It was fun and very challenging. I search for those same qualities in the work I pick and in the friends I meet.

LP: What advice would you give to a current School of Music student at Memorial?

RD: Practice! Get involved in something active. Be positive and kind.

Come From Away tells the story of how Gander, N.L., residents opened their hearts and homes to stranded airplane passengers during the events of 9/11. The show debuts on Broadway this month.

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