Nikki Bentley: Overcoming hurdles to reach stardom
Nikki Bentley is a British actor famous for her many high-profile musical theatre roles. Her enviable credits include starring as Elphaba in Wicked in the West End, and performing in the companies of Shrek the Musical, and Ghost the Musical.
Whilst always being a strong singer and actress, Nikki’s journey could have looked very different as she struggled to bring her ballet skills up to a competitive level for entry to drama school. Through hard work and dedication, she overcame these hurdles to emerge as a top musical theatre “triple-threat” performer and leap straight into professional roles before even finishing college.
“Everyone can have a weak point: work on it and get to where you need to be.”
Growing up on the Isle of Wight and subsequently Milton Keynes, Nikki trained with Stagecoach and always loved being on stage. But she wasn’t the most outgoing child and didn’t naturally hunt out the limelight. Her love of horses almost eclipsed her musical theatre ambitions, until finally after her GCSEs, she took the decision to pursue performing as a career, and went on to study a BTEC in Performing Arts.
When it came to drama school auditions, Nikki found her ideal setting at Performers College in Essex, UK.
During the interview segment of the audition, Nikki was told that while her overall dance abilities were exceptional, her ballet skills were below the expected standard. However, a few weeks later she received an acceptance letter stating that her singing and acting had been so strong that they’d still like to offer her a place.
Not one to shy away from criticism, Nikki headed back to ballet lessons, which she hadn’t taken for several years, and spent the next four months working incredibly hard. Impressively, on arrival at Performers College, she was placed in the top set for ballet – a great confidence boost for starting her course leading to the Trinity Diploma in Professional Musical Theatre.
“Did I want to be a ballet dancer? Absolutely not, but if I hadn’t gotten that feedback I wouldn’t have gone and worked on it. That discipline and determination has been the biggest lesson I’ve carried into my professional career.”
Having worked so hard on her dance skills, Nikki found she would be picked as the lead in many college productions. She was beginning to realise that she was a strong performer in all three musical theatre disciplines - the “triple threat” skill set of singing, acting and dancing. Resentment from her peers did cause her some anxiety, and she wouldn’t always choose to put herself forward for roles, but by the end of her three years at Performers College, her relentless hard work had paid off, and she successfully began her professional career.
Nikki landed her first professional role as a ‘swing’ in Mamma Mia! in London’s West End before she’d even finished her final year at college. She credits her time spent at Performers College as providing her with the skills required to land that first role saying, “I wouldn’t even have got through the audition process without the training that I’d had, because I wouldn’t have been up to the standard.”
Since then, her stunning career in musical theatre has gone from strength to strength. Her highlights include starring as Elphaba in Wicked, a great personal achievement as it has always been her “dream role”. Since the global pandemic in 2020, Nikki has discovered a new and unexpected passion for teaching rising musical theatre stars in drama schools throughout the country, whilst continuing as a professional performer.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that if I hadn’t gone to college and studied for the Trinity Professional Musical Theatre diploma, I would never have got a job.”
Nikki is not only enjoying an incredible career on stage, but is also transferring her passion to the next generation of musical theatre performers. Her experiences at college from overcoming difficulties, developing confidence, and being truly disciplined, has set her up for success in the professional world. From the stage, to the studio and classroom, Nikki is constantly evolving and finding new ways to achieve success. As she says, “the beauty of this industry is that you’re constantly learning”.
Nikki tells her students today that when applying to drama school, forget about perceived reputation and choose somewhere that feels right for you personally. “If you don’t, you’re not going to work as hard and apply yourself to your craft as much as you can.” She is proof that with hard work and self-belief, you can achieve your dreams if you find the right course for you.
“It’s not about being arrogant but you do need to know your worth and believe in yourself.”