Will Chase has had one busy year. The versatile stage vet tackled a pivotal role on NBC’s Smash, an indie movie and a stint in Broadway’s Nice Work If You Can Get It, and now he’s back in action in Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, playing the villainous John Jasper in Rupert Holmes’ fourth wall-breaking Dickensian musical. Every night, audience members pick the identity of a murderer, a detective and a pair of lovers—and Chase’s character is at the center of it all! We chatted up Chase about his role in the Broadway whodunit, his starry stint on Smash and the dream roles he'd love to get his hands on.
How much fun are you guys having in the show?
In every show you’re in, when people ask “Is it fun?” you go, “Yeah, it’s fun…” but this really is a lot of fun. When they asked me to play Jasper, I was blown away because I was so obsessed with the original recording. I never got to see it, of course, but I always wanted to be [original Drood star] Howard McGillin when I grew up. When the cast started taking shape, it was unbelievable. I look down the line every night at the curtain call, and I’m blown away. Everybody came to play, and everybody’s funny. Betsy Wolfe [as Rosa Bud] specifically, I didn’t really know at all, but she’s got this amazing color to her voice. She’s truly one of the funniest human beings I’ve ever met.
There aren’t many Best Musical winners that haven’t been revived. Do you feel a greater responsibility because you're in this show's first revival?
When you revive something that’s really old, you usually do a refashioning or rethinking, but there wasn’t much refashioning to do with Drood. This time, the setting takes precedence. Studio 54 is known for having events, meaning that you're immersed into the shows that take place there, and I think that's why the show works. [Set designer] Anna Louizos and all of our designers created this atmosphere where you really feel like it’s an English music hall.
What’s the best part about playing a classic Dickensian villain?
I always like playing the bad guy. I like finding things that are redeemable. Now, the thing about Jasper is that most of it’s so “bad guy,” you have fun with how bad he is. But there are some lovely moments too. Of course, in this show we all know Jasper is set up to become the obvious villain. I love when people vote for me [as the murderer of Edwin Drood].
Have you ever been picked as the murderer?
I haven’t been voted the murderer yet, and I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen because I’m so obvious. [Director] Scott Ellis is particular about not wanting people to think it’s rigged, so when you leave [the theater] there is this tally board of the evening’s vote.
What do your kids think of Drood?
They love it. They just go off about who’s going to be [detective Dick] Datchery, who’s going to be the murderer. Being the little extroverts they are, they would literally steer the audience with their applause. I don’t know what we call them, “Droodies” or “Edheads,” but I think they’ve probably seen it more than anyone. They also give me notes!
Looking back on your career, is there a certain style of theater that you gravitate toward?
I don’t think so, which has been the most gratifying thing. Even though we as actors say we don’t want to be pigeonholed, as soon as we get here in New York we kind of pigeonhole ourselves, just like the casting directors do. As you continue your career, you go, “Wait a minute—I’m an actor and I can play all these different types!” And that’s been the fun part for me. I don’t know that I could have gone from Rent to Drood 10 years ago.
You said you wanted to ramp up TV this year, but obviously Drood has changed things a bit. What can we expect to see you on this year?
I shot [a guest spot on the USA series] Necessary Roughness a few months ago. That’ll premiere in January, and it’s a lot of fun. [Dead Accounts star] Josh Hamilton and I play these aging rockers. I actually recorded a couple of songs for it, straight up Bon Jovi rock ‘n’ roll. I also shot a movie this summer, The Butterflies of Bill Baker, that I think is going come out in the spring. It was the first time I’d been on a movie set where I was in every shot of the movie. So that was a daunting but fun thing to do.
Obviously we’re disappointed not to see you on Smash next season.
Yeah. My storyline’s kind of dead though, you know? Theresa [Rebeck] isn’t there anymore. Josh Safran is great—he came in and just wanted to go in a different direction. But it sounds like it’s going to be another great season for them. It's got a bunch of great New York actors on it, so I’m looking forward to it.
It's exciting to see so many Broadway actors on TV these days, isn't it?
I’m glad that the television world has started to embrace them, and not just the shows that have Broadway themes, like Smash and Glee. I know TV is this whole different genre, but I’m glad that the TV execs are starting to take notice of the incredible talent on Broadway.
It sounds like at this point in your career you’ve learned not to worry about what's next.
I think every new experience is a learning thing. I hope it doesn’t stop. I hope I’m 80 and acting and still learning something. But I can’t worry about what critics are going to say about [Drood], or about Smash. I can’t worry about whether or not I’m going to be on it. It’s freeing, because you don’t have to spend a lot of money or mental time with your arteries hardening [laughs].
Do you have a dream role that you haven't done yet but would just to get your hands on?
There are so many, play-wise and musical-wise. I’d love to do Billy in Carousel before I get way too long into it to do it. Frankly, it’s probably too late, but I would love to do that. It's such a great big, meaty, dark, lovely role. I would love for somebody to do City of Angels. [Also] Christian Borle and I can do anything because we’re in love. I’d like to do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead with Christian Borle. I think, “What would be fun to do, and who can I be in the room with?” That’s what it is about now for me.