Chicago theatre-goers know him better as M. Nunzio Cancilla.
On campus, Mike Cancilla studied French and took advantage
of the possibilities offered to him through the music and
theatre departments. This led to two of his favorite Marian
University memories: meeting his wife, Patricia Ahern ’66,
during a Christmas production and participating in Zoo Story
with his friends Tom Widner ’64 and Denis Mercier ’64.
“I have always loved theatre and opera,” Cancilla says, “but it seemed that teaching might be a more secure career choice.” However, after teaching French for 15 years, he found out that foreign language programs are often cut for budget reasons. While teaching, he was active in Indianapolis theatres and sang for seven seasons with the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir. In 1976, Cancilla auditioned for the Lyric Opera of Chicago and earned a spot in the chorus. “A truly wonderful experience,” he adds. “How humbling to stand beside Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Sherrill Milnes, Mirella Freni, Renato Scotto—to be in productions directed by Hal Prince, Franco Zeffirelli, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Frank Galati.” In 1982, he left the Lyric but continued performing with Chicago Opera Theatre, The Lithuanian Opera Company, and Chicago area theatres—becoming a member of Actors’ Equity Association. Cancilla also sang for 18 years as a chorister/soloist for a synagogue during the Jewish High Holidays.
Since 1977, he has made a life of performing in professional theatre and music as M. Nunzio Cancilla. “Using my middle name is part Italian pride and part practicality; often I’m in productions with more than one Michael. When someone says ‘Nunzio’, I know they’re talking to me!” Cancilla says that it hasn’t been easy making a living in the performing arts. “But, when I am able to perform, the rewards are well worth the struggle.”