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Will Chase on Hits, Flops, and the Joy of His Tony-Nominated Star Turn in Drood

Will Chase on Hits, Flops, and the Joy of His Tony-Nominated Star Turn in Drood
Will Chase
Tony nominee Will Chase offers an honest look the ups and downs of Broadway.

Will Chase is the first to admit that his Broadway career has had its share of speed bumps. But for every disappointment (High Fidelity, The Story of My Life, Lennon), there has been a highlight (Miss Saigon, Billy Elliot, the final company of Rent), culminating in his Tony-nominated performance as John Jasper, the suave but possibly dastardly choirmaster in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. During his Role Call interview, Chase spoke frankly about the ups and downs of a stage actor’s life—but these days, as a 2013 Best Featured Actor nominee, life is definitely sweet.

Role That Was the Most Fun
The Mystery of Edwin Drood [2012, as John Jasper/Clive Paget; Best Featured Actor Tony nomination] is absolutely the most fun I’ve ever had on stage. In college, I was obsessed with the original recording because it had the wonderful and talented Howard McGillin [as Jasper]. I wanted to sound like him—I wanted to be him—so when they asked me to do the role, I said, ‘Yes, please!’ I loved being on stage with heroes of mine, like Gregg Edelman and Jimmy Walton, and the lovely Chita Rivera and Stephanie J. Block. The most thrilling part was talking directly to the audience in the opening moments, because you would think, ‘Oh, it’s a bunch of curmudgeons tonight’ or ‘They’re drunk and ready to have fun.’ I can’t put into words what this [Tony nomination] means to me. After doing 10 Broadway shows in 15 years, I’m as excited as when I just got off the bus from Chicago.”

Role That Was My Big Break
“I played more performances of Chris in Miss Saigon than anyone else. Between the national tour and Broadway and working with Lea Salonga in the Philippines, I did that show for three years, and if weren’t 42, I’d do it again tomorrow! Chris and Kim are like America in Vietnam: wrong place, wrong time, falling in love in the midst of a horrible situation. I spoke regularly with a Vietnam vet who became a champion of the show, and he told me that for years, he would sit in bed at night with a gun, ready to end it. I always pictured that if [Chris' American wife] Ellen hadn’t stopped him, the same thing might have happened. Miss Saigon taught me what it means to help carry a big show, and it had some of the most gorgeous songs [Boublil and Schonberg] wrote. It was my first time ‘on the map’ [in musicals].”

Role That Was Part of Theater History
“I had the honor of being asked to close Rent [2008, as Roger], which was a full circle experience because it had been my first Broadway show, as ‘Squeegee Man and Others.’ The final performance was filmed, and how often do actors get to do that? Rent was such a phenomenon; it may take another 20 years to fully realize how important it was. People still come up to me and say that the show changed their lives. I loved Roger. He was a troubled young man, but beyond the anger, he had so much heart. ‘One Song Glory’ may be the best poem written for a guy to sing on stage in the past 20 years.”

Role I Wish I Could Have Done Longer
“Flops are always disappointing, but High Fidelity [2006, as record shop owner Rob Gordon] was devastating. Not that I thought it was going to make me a big star, but I did think it was going to run longer than a week and a half. After it closed, I had to walk down that street for almost a year with the marquee, which was my face, still up! I didn’t set foot in a theater for almost a year after that. We revisited the score a few weeks ago at 54 Below, and I thought, ‘These songs are really adult and funny.’ I don’t want to say that the show was ahead of its time, but I do think people have become a little more cynical in the past decade, and more fond of antiheroes who don’t step up the plate right away. Rob was a guy who couldn’t commit to anything. He goes from point A to B rather than A to Z, which can be hard for an audience, but I always have fun playing lovable jerks. [Composer] Tom Kitt and [lyricist] Amanda Green and I laugh about High Fidelity now, but at the time, I was crushed.”

Role That Was the Most Nerve-Wracking
“I stepped into Nice Work If You Can Get It [2012, as Jimmy Winter] for one week while Matthew Broderick was on vacation— it was like a Broadway drive-by. I said yes without having seen the show because I would be working with my dear friend Kelli O’Hara, and then when I saw it, I thought, ‘What have I gotten into?’ Matthew dances his ass off, and when you think of Will Chase, you don’t think ‘dances his ass off.’ But what’s interesting is that I learned the choreography before I learned the lines. Somehow my dancing has gotten better over the years. I’ve replaced a few times, but in this case, Matthew does his own thing; there’s no template, so I had to create one in a few weeks of rehearsal. The first time I stepped on stage to sing ‘S’Wonderful’ was the most nervous I have ever felt. I remember Kelli saying, ‘Just breathe.’ But once I did it, no problem!”

Role I Would Love to Play on Broadway
Kiss of the Spider Woman at Signature Theatre [of Virginia, 2008, as Valentin] was one of those experiences where I said, ‘I wish somebody from New York would come and move this.’ I did it with Hunter Foster [as Molina], and both of us trusted our choices and challenged ourselves. I had never seen the show, and on paper, you think, ‘What the heck?!’ It’s beautifully written, obviously, but it seems like such a heavy, difficult show. And what an odd role for me to be offered! Some people were up in arms—’He’s not Latino’—but I put in brown contacts, and so forth. The production was so good and bloody and messy; I just fell in love with it, and [composer] John Kander became a very good friend. What a rewarding experience!”

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