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Getting her break in ‘Nicholas Nickleby’

By Lenny Megliola
Globe Correspondent / October 24, 2010

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Being cast in the Lyric Stage Company’s ambitious undertaking of “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby’’ is a breakthrough for Waltham actress Sasha Castroverde.

The 25-year-old finds the role of Fanny Squeers, the daughter of a schoolmaster, both challenging and exhilarating.

“She has low status,’’ said Castroverde. “She’s low class and unattractive. She’s not a society lady at all, but she thinks she is. She falls in love with Nicholas. He doesn’t think anything of her.’’

The character’s North London accent is a far cry from what she heard in Memphis, her hometown before going to Emerson College, getting her degree, and settling in the Boston area.

But the whole cast has been working with a dialect coach to get it right. “It’s got its own tone and rhythm,’’ said Castroverde. “It’s been fun reproducing it.’’

The Tony Award-winning “Nicholas Nickleby,’’ adapted from the Charles Dickens novel, runs through Dec. 19. The roles are demanding. “There are 24 actors and 120 parts,’’ said Castroverde. “Everybody plays three to eight parts.’’

The theater influence was almost inescapable in the Castroverde household when she was growing up. “My mother was a ballet dancer. I have two younger sisters, one’s a dancer, and the other used to do theater.’’ Her Cuban parents came to America when they were young.

She decided to pursue her ambition at Emerson, and loved the area “from day one.’’

Castroverde broke into the local theater scene modestly, landing roles in fringe company productions. In March, she decided to take a big step and audition for “Nicholas Nickleby.’’ Castroverde was no stranger to the respected Lyric, in Boston’s Copley Square. “I saw many shows there in my college years, and I’d auditioned there.’’ But she had never been cast.

This time was different. She got two callbacks before getting the official word: She was cast as Fanny. “My first professional production,’’ said Castroverde.

The show’s director, Spiro Veloudos, taught at a class at Emerson when Castroverde was a student, and she got a part when he directed “Philadelphia Story’’ there.

“It was a great experience,’’ she said. “Spiro was a mentor for me. I feel very fortunate. He treats us as professionals while maintaining that instructional relationship we had in college.’’

“Sasha was perfect for the role of Tracy Lord in ‘The Philadelphia Story.’ She was phenomenal,’’ Veloudos said. “After she graduated I told her it’d be a good idea for her to stay in Boston.’’

Veloudos, the Lyric’s producing artistic director, is undaunted when it comes to taking on big productions. “This extraordinary piece has never been produced in New England, and we’re pulling out all the stops,’’ he said. “It captures Dickens’ genius for combining exuberant characters, theatrical spectacle, and genuine emotion.’’

During her free time, Castroverde has enjoyed checking out the local food scene.

“I’ve got a car now, so I can explore the area. There’s so much around here.’’ Russo’s farm stand in Watertown has become a favorite stop. Waltham’s Moody Street is well-stocked with restaurants that she’ll check out.

One thing she can’t get her fill of is the stage life. A night off most likely means seeing a show. “I see a lot of theater. It’s a great way to keep learning.’’

But being cast in “Nicholas Nickleby’’ is her biggest break. “I had auditioned for Lyric before, but nothing panned out,’’ she said. “Now, I’m having a blast.’’

Lenny Megliola can be reached at lennymegs@aol.com.