There's something rather spooky about finding the check-out operator you're eyeballing is the on-stage personality you wildly applauded mere hours ago.

Four years ago Our People found ourselves squeaking "Oh my God, it's Amos" when, in reality, it wasn't that character from Chicago scanning our groceries but his real life counterpart, Connor Hignett.

We shouldn't have been so surprised, it's what happens in provincial centres where theatre casts are drawn from a limited talent pool and, naturally enough, that talent has an off-stage working life.

Since that chance meeting we've closely followed Connor's theatre career.


He's one of those impressive young men who, in recent years, have added strength to the Rotorua Musical Theatre's (RMT) core players, most recently as male lead Princeton in the technically complex Avenue Q.

Watching him simultaneously sing, dance and manipulate a Sesame Street look-alike puppet we decreed it was high time he moved out form the footlights into Our People's spotlight.

Connor takes us by surprise, there's not a trace of the theatrical about his off-stage persona, to the contrary he's modest, charmingly so.

Thankfully we've nabbed him in the nick of time - next month he's off to Florida and an internship with Disney World, one of five students selected from the New Zealand School of Tourism's Rotorua campus.

Don't expect to find Connor centre stage at the international attraction - at least not yet.

"I've been accepted for hosting in the resort and water park, I very much doubt my theatre experience played much of a part in my interview which focused on my personality and job experience."

He has heaps of both.

His working life began as a school boy at Countdown, 'going permanent' once out of the classroom and passing through the departments before moving to Liquor King. Alcohol's a subject he has a sound knowledge of, but not for the most obvious of reasons.

"My father worked for Lion Breweries and various wine companies which meant we moved around a lot when I was a kid, the reason I went to five different primary schools."

The pull of more regular hours took him to the aerosol production line at Damar Industries before his present tourism course.

Go up to Skyline and Connor could well be your waiter or barman, it's where he works outside course hours or isn't on stage at Casa Blanca or the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre.

Work's financed his passion for travel, his Florida trip's the latest to be cemented into his international itinerary. "I've been overseas every year since 2009, to Australia quite a lot, gone on a couple of cruises, went to LA in 2014."

Before we return to this self-motivated go-getter's musical career there's something about Connor it's impossible to miss.

He's darn nearly half the size he was when we first spotted him in Chicago.

Working regular hours at Damar drove what he calls his "weight loss journey".

He's shed 33kg since 2014, the spectacular reduction's all his own doing, no weight loss agencies were involved in his new, slim-line look.

"I got to a stage where I wanted to be fitter and healthier, to feel better physically and emotionally so when my lifestyle became more structured, working regular hours, I started eating at the same time every day, began eating a lot of raw food, made a lot of my own meals as opposed to going out and buying something."

Seeing the scales take a dip was all the incentive he needed to continue. It's yet another impressive Connor Hignett achievement and has done wonders for his self confidence.

Musical theatre came into his life at Western Heights High.

"I found my voice [high tenor] there and joined the choir, Evelyn Falconer (Our People, December 17, 2011) was our teacher. She said the RMT was looking for men for A Blast From The Past, a variety show from the 1950s to the 1980s, I thought 'I could give that a go', auditioned and got into the ensemble."

Connor was still at school when he scored dual roles in Cats, playing aristo-cat Bustopher Jones and pirate Growltiger.

Musical theatre had him hooked, juggling school then work, he's been in every local show since his 2009 debut, climbing from chorus to supporting roles including Michael in Mamma Mia "that was huge fun", to topping the bill.

Nor have his talents been confined to his home town; he achieved his ambition to play his 'ultimate' role - Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar in Tauranga.

"That was the first musical movie I saw, my introduction to musical theatre; as a show it's very vocally and emotionally demanding."

He'd transferred to Countdown in Hamilton when he was approached to reprise his Chicago role of cellophane man Amos in Whakatane. Add dedication to Connor's roll call of achievements. He travelled two-and-a-half hours each way three times a week for rehearsals.

Connor's a learn- as-you-go type, his catalogue of performances has been achieved without either acting or singing lessons.

"I had piano lessons when I was at primary school, I wish now I'd continued because I would definitely be able to use that experience now."

We challenge him about the sexually explicit puppetry Avenue Q demanded of him.

"At first it was hard to comprehend what we [he and co-star Kim Chapman] were actually doing then we just got on with it, it was something that had to be done - that's theatre."

It was a memorable finale for his decade of RMT shows - he's playing his future by ear.

He has no illusions of becoming Disney's 'next big thing' but wouldn't say no to working for the franchise's maritime arm.

"My dream job would be singing on a cruise ship, become a cruise director, Disney would be wonderful. I want to travel the world, with the course I'm doing I've trained to be a flight attendant so that could be my backstop, I just want to travel, sing and experience life."

Born: Rotorua, 1992.
Education: Various primaries, John Paul College, Western Heights High. NZ School of Tourism (presently completing two-year diploma course).
Family: Father Jimmy Hignett (Te Awamutu), mother Judith Hignett (Rotorua), sister Teegan.
Interests: Theatre, travel, jogging in the Redwoods. "I like to play the ukulele, I'm not good I just do it because I enjoy it."
On theatre in Rotorua: "It's very niche, the people involved are very passionate about it, it definitely needs more men."
On tourism in Rotorua: "It's thriving but basics like shopping really need improvement."
Personal philosophies: "You do the work you get the rewards." "Rise early, work hard, strike gold."