San Diego-bred director Casey Nicholaw is a ‘king’ of Broadway — and shares surprising kinship with musical-theater newcomer Cameron Crowe


“The king of musical comedy” is some seriously high praise — especially when it comes to Broadway, that crucible of the form.

But that’s what Playbill is calling the San Diego-bred choreographer-director Casey Nicholaw. And in this case it seems entirely justified.

Nicholaw, a graduate of Clairemont High who got some of his first and most formative theater experience at San Diego Junior Theatre and the Old Globe, earned his 11th Tony Award nomination two weeks ago for his latest show, “The Prom.” (The 2019 edition of the Broadway theater honors takes place June 9.)

The Playbill story notes that Nicholaw has four shows on Broadway at the moment: “The Prom,” “Aladdin,” “Mean Girls” and “The Book of Mormon,” for which he won his sole Tony so far (as co-director).

It’s actually not the first time Nicholaw has managed that accomplishment — one that has never been surpassed, and that has only been equaled by such fellow Broadway heavyweights as Susan Stroman and Trevor Nunn.

As it happens, Nicholaw also has some surprising connections with another favorite son of San Diego: The rock journalist turned Oscar-winning writer-director Cameron Crowe.

Crowe is known for movies, not musicals. But this fall, the musical adaptation of his film “Almost Famous” — which fictionalizes Crowe’s own young life in San Diego and on the road as a precocious Rolling Stone correspondent — has its world premiere at the Old Globe Theatre.

Crowe made his first splash in Hollywood with another San Diego-connected story: “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” based on his own book about going undercover as a student at a high school here.

That school? Clairemont High — which he “attended” at the same time that Nicholaw was a student there. (Crowe himself had graduated from the former University High School a few years earlier.)

Whether or not Crowe and Nicholaw crossed paths during those “Ridgemont” days is a question we’ll have to ask Crowe when he hits town later this year for the Globe show.

In the meantime, there’s yet another connection between the two — this one concerning a big project that Nicholaw has in the wings.

One of Crowe’s biggest career mentors was the legendary Hollywood director Billy Wilder; the two became friends late in Wilder’s life, and Crowe eventually wrote “Conversations With Wilder,” a book about the bond between them.

Wilder’s most famous film was “Some Like It Hot,” the Marilyn Monroe/Jack Lemmon/Tony Curtis comedy filmed partly at the Hotel del Coronado.

And almost exactly a year ago, Nicholaw announced he was directing a musical adaptation of that movie.

The project has no set Broadway dates or theater yet. But in a recent Union-Tribune interview, Nicholaw mentioned he was making one key change to the story.

The movie presented the Coronado-shot sequences as taking place at a fictional resort in Miami.

But “in this version,” Nicholaw says, “we go to San Diego.”