DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE
Featuring A Harlette: Nicolette Hart
By Mary Chao
Nov. 2, 2018
It all started in kindergarten when a teacher sent a note home to Michelle Lipman’s parents expressing concern about her shyness. Her mother’s guilt sank in, so she was enrolled in all types of classes that would force interaction with other children, including voice and acting.
“This was the beginning of what would become my passion, my love, my life and career path,” says Lipman, who now goes by Nicolette Hart.
After intensive training for a bachelor in fine arts degree in musical theater at the University at Buffalo and making it on Broadway in productions such as Legally Blonde, Hart is back in her hometown of Penfield, married to a boy she knew in her youth with a business in Rochester training young actors and actresses. She is among many area entrepreneurs who decided to return home after national and international fame, choosing to grow a business in the Rochester region.
From a Broadway star to Olympians to a modeling professional, Nicolette Hart, Felicia and Iris Zimmerman and Mary Therese Friel have found success on major platforms. Yet they decided there’s no place like home, creating entrepreneurial opportunities in their own ways in order to continue doing what they love in the place where they grew up. Here are their stories.
By the time Nicolette Hart was 11, she was fully involved in theater throughout the community. Getting to work alongside the adult actors, she recalls quietly watching in awe, thinking she wants to do that when she grows up.
“I was mesmerized by their power to move people,” she said. “It seemed like sorcery. I wanted to make people feel the way they made me feel — full, empty, euphoric, giddy, lost and found.”
In high school and college, Hart found her calling in theater. While pursuing a musical theater degree, she remembers spending hours in the practice room not practicing art songs. Instead, she was listening to and emulating Patty Loveless. Stevie Nicks, Pat Benatar, Madonna and her future boss Bette Midler were also her idols. She was finding her own voice.
“I wanted to know who wrote the songs and I would read lyrics for hours,” Hart, 44, said. “To this day I know the lyrics to virtually every song I hear.”
While she planned to head to New York after college, a recording session, music video and trip to Nashville would lead to a move to Nashville and working on the beginnings of her music career. During those four years, Hart learned how to tell stories with her own voice. Then it was off to New York in 2001, landing a coveted spot backing up Bette Midler on a world tour as one of her Harlettes.
Ten years, four Broadway shows and numerous television, film and stage experiences later, Hart returned to Rochester with the goal of giving back to the community where it all began. Life has its twists and turns and her ailing parents brought Hart back home in 2012.
“The wonderful thing about being able to make a living in this business is that you do what you love eight times a week and all over the world,” Hart said. “The downside is you can turn around one day and realize that a decade has passed.”
Hart’s father, Howard Lipman, had a heart attack, complications with diabetes and a small stroke when that decade in her life flew by. Suddenly, she realized time was winning and she needed to go home.
By 2012, Hart’s father had been living in a nursing home for four years. It broke her heart to see her once-strong daddy in his state. That trip home was different. Not only did Hart have to comfort her ailing father, but she also noticed her mother, Agnes, seemed different and was walking funny.
Hart started looking for opportunities to work closer to home. Geva Theatre was casting A Chorus Line and enabled her to stay near her family during spring of 2012. As the show closed, Hart intuitively knew she needed to stay.
“I began envisioning my life in Rochester. I panicked. Who was I if I couldn’t perform?” she thought to herself.
Hart decided her Broadway career didn’t matter. “My dad was slipping and my mother was suffering,” she said.
As a 1992 graduate of Penfield High School, 2012 brought an invitation to her 20th-year reunion. Although she was not in the mood, Hart went, with stars aligning in her favor.
At the reunion, she ran into Dion Miglioratti. They initially met in seventh grade, graduating together in 1992. Over the next six months, their relationship grew. Yet she lost her father, who passed away Christmas Eve, 2013. Shortly after her father passed, Hart’s mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Hart stayed for love of family and the love of her life, whom she married in 2017.
It was her life partner, Miglioratti, who planted the seed in her mind to open a studio and really be able to work with kids one on one. That includes music theory, sight singing, harmony, storytelling, and authentic acting.
Hart opened Nicolette Hart Studios in 2013. Over the years, she has helped young students in Rochester book shows, get into college programs, move to New York City and become better actors. She has also worked with Rochester Broadway Theatre League with its Summer Stars program training young actors and works as an adjunct professor in the musical theater department at Nazareth College. She lives in Penfield with her husband and her mother lives nearby in Fairport.
“If you asked me 10 years ago, heck, seven years ago, if I would become an educator, I would have had no response. It wasn’t on my radar,” Hart said. “Now I cannot imagine my life without it.”
Hart says she is excited to see what her students can do, giving back in the same way she received guidance growing up in Rochester. Hart still travels to New York occasionally for theater work, keeping up with her skills and contacts.
“I feel so incredibly fortunate to have grown up in Rochester — such an incredible hub of art, culture
Follow Nicolette Hart on Twitter: @HartNicolette