THE LEADING MEN: Will Chase and Jim Norton, Two "Sides of the Coin" in The Mystery of Edwin Drood

By Michael Gioia
14 Jan 2013

Will Chase
Photo by Joan Marcus

Are you enjoying playing the villain?
WC: Oh, it's the best. You know, this is the first time I've played the obvious villain. I love playing bad guys because there's usually something redeemable about them. On TV, I'm usually a bad guy — or at least a jerk — but I like playing them because I like to try and find something redeemable. This guy is just a villain "on the nose," so it's even more fun. I don't have to worry about being likable!

Can you tell me about working through "Jasper's Vision," after your character has taken opium? The audience becomes immersed in the dream ballet.
WC: Isn't it amazing? When we first started, we were trying to find this balance. There's a balance in the show between music hall and Dickensian. There are moments that [writer-composer] Rupert [Holmes] has written that you actually get — you, me, the audience and the actors — really lost in the Dickens story, as opposed to something like "Both Sides of the Coin," that Jim [Norton] and I sing — it's a total music hall number. I mean, the curtain comes down, we take off our jackets, [and] we do it as they would have done in the music hall. The ballet… I remember [choreographer] Warren Carlyle said, "Look, this is where we're getting actually lost in the opium trip. And, it's real; it's not a send-up." It's interesting to hear the audience get lost in this beautiful [moment]… It's stunning what Warren does. He makes a bed float across the stage. There are no tricks, other than actors moving things. And, then you got Scott [Ellis'] direction and the lighting — Sam Davis, too, he did the dance arrangement. So it's one of those great, beautiful moments. Our ensemble is incredible, and it's great storytelling. I love that people love that moment because, at first, people think, "Is this real all of a sudden?" Then you get lost in it.

My favorite compliment [from] my friends who came to see the show is about the tone. They say that it's consistent, and even when the rules are broken, it makes sense. It's one of the hardest shows I've ever had to rehearse because it's like, "What is the tone? Is this scene music hall? Is this scene real?" But the rewards are amazing because it's a really well-crafted and well-executed show.