Paul Alexander Nolan is back on Broadway in his first leading role since wowing audiences as the titular savior in 2012's Jesus Christ Superstar. Fresh off his sixth season at the Stratford Festival, where recent roles included Cousin Kevin in The Who’s Tommy and Fyedka in Fiddler on the Roof, the Canadian-born actor is now headlining the Tony-winning musical Once at the Jacobs Theatre. Nolan is taking over the lead role of Guy, whose will-they-or-won’t-they romance with Girl is at the center of the intimate show. Below, the actor gives Broadway.com the scoop on returning to the Great White Way and spending New Year's Eve in New York City.
Was Guy in Once a role you've had your eye on?
Yes and no. I first saw Once when I was here doing Jesus Christ Superstar and it was such a monumental event, a perfect, magical night for me. Steve [Kazee], Cristin [Milioti] and the whole company were so electric that I thought, “I’d love to play that, but it’s perfect, so there’s no point.” I just couldn’t imagine it being any better. But when I found out they were doing replacements, I was obviously very interested because I really believe in the show.
What do you love about the show?
I was really inspired by the fact that the show feels more like a play with music than a musical. The storytelling is poetic, and it doesn’t give you everything. The story is very human in that it addresses the complexities of relationships. It doesn’t necessarily have the most “satisfying” ending, but it speaks to you because it’s realistic.
Every time I see this show, it makes me want to head to an Irish pub. Does it do the same for you?
Absolutely. The Once company is a pretty tight group, and they spend a lot of social time together. I’ve already been to a hootenanny with some of them. These guys play together a lot, so it’s an honor to be invited into the group.
What's the biggest challenge in having to sing, dance, play guitar and act at the same time?
To play an instrument and move is actually really tricky. My biggest challenge in the show is playing because I don’t have an extensive background in instrument-playing. I understand that Cristin didn’t play a lot of piano before she got the role of Girl, so that made me much feel better because I felt out of place coming into a company of people who are really fantastic musicians. I’ve played guitar for a number of years, but I don’t play in front of people. This is like a giant mountain to climb.
Jesus Christ Superstar was such a fabulous show! What was the highlight of playing the title role?
What was exciting about that production was how much we all believed in it. Of course, we would have liked for it to have more success here—and by success I mean have it run longer and do well financially—but I moved to a new level of artistry doing that show. It helped me dig, dig, dig, dig deep because I was with it for so long. Playing Jesus was a huge responsibility, and I took it really seriously. I can’t lie: it was almost a relief to close. Maybe I took myself too seriously, but I did consider it something I had to show up for.
Do you think the timing was wrong for that production?
I don’t know. How would you time it? There was a lot of competition on Broadway at that time. It’s a tricky show to sell. You’ve got people who don’t want to see it because it’s religious, and then you have people who are religious and don’t want to see it because they don’t agree with it. I will say that the audience response to the show was huge. They absolutely went berserk for it.
What's the advantage of being part of the Stratford Festival “family” and the range of roles you've been able to play?
The biggest gift I’ve received from working in Stratford is that it solidified my skill as an actor, and my eyes have been opened to the technique behind classical theater. Also, working with the different directors there taught me how to adapt; Des McAnuff works very differently than Gary Griffin, who works differently than Antoni Cimolino, who works differently than John Doyle. I think the best artists are flexible. It’s dangerous to lock yourself into, “This is how I work.” I’ve constantly been rewarded for being willing to try it someone else’s way.
I would love to have seen you play Cousin Kevin in Tommy!
It's interesting you say that, because I don’t think most people would expect me to be good as Cousin Kevin [laughs]! It’s a really awesome show, and I think there is an appetite for it. It’s an incredible achievement because it doesn’t spoon-feed the audience. I knew nothing about Tommy and I didn’t do any research going in because I didn’t want to bring any preconceived ideas. Luckily, Des trusted me to figure it out.
Any dream roles you'd love to play on the Great White Way?
Bobby in Company. I love that show. In fact, I’d probably play anything in that show. Sweeney Todd would be amazing. It’s a little low for my voice, but maybe if I stretch my muscles I can get there. It’s weird, I’m attracted to dark stuff, but I’m also drawn to really goofy stuff. If and when we bring Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots to New York, I’d love to play Ben Nickel again, who’s just a huge goofball. But I’d also love to do Floyd Collins, Long Day’s Journey into Night or The Country Wife on Broadway.
Speaking of being a goofball, what's the story with you and the crazy socks on Twitter?
I wear a lot of gray, and I’m not really into fashion [laughs]. Last fall, I thought, “I’ve got to do something fun with my wardrobe,” so, I chose socks. While I was playing Fyedka in Fiddler on the Roof, I started tweeting photos of the goofy socks I was wearing underneath my calf-high boots. Then I invited people to send me pairs of socks they wanted me to wear during the performance of Fiddler they were attending. I did get some very cool socks! I got one pair of very sheer, feminine, ankle-high socks, which were an odd sensation under the boots, but I wore them.
Are you excited to spend the holiday season in New York City? What will you be doing to ring in the new year?
My gal gets here on New Year’s Eve, but I don’t know what we’re going to do. I doubt we’ll go to the ball drop in Times Square [laughs]. I said to the cast last night, “So what are you doing for New Year’s?” And the first thing out of all of their mouths was, “Don’t go to Times Square!” I’m not a big club person, but it would be fun to go to a burlesque show. We have a performance the next day, but I would like to do something fun!
See Paul Alexander Nolan in Once at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.