Actor Will Chase is having the time of his life in a Broadway role he had to let go
NEW YORK >> Will Chase's return to Broadway should be familiar — and it is. He's playing a role in "Something Rotten!" that he had to let go — and then watch someone else win a Tony Award in it.
Not that he's annoyed.
"Ten years ago, I might be bitter and jaded about it. But no," said Chase who plays country music superstar Luke Wheeler on TV's "Nashville." "It's truly a treat to see how far it's come and to have been a part of those early things."
Chase, 45, has inherited the character of William Shakespeare from Christian Borle, the actor who won a Tony for his performance in the role in 2015. He likes to tease Borle about their "shared" Tony. The two have been friends since starring on the TV series "Smash."
Borle has left for two other Broadway musicals — "Falsettos" and then "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Joked Chase, whose own TV show is winding down: "He's the busiest man on Broadway so I'm glad he got three or four jobs and I can just take his hand-me-downs."
The Tony Award-nominated "Something Rotten!" is set during the Renaissance and portrays Shakespeare as an arrogant, rock star playwright. Two brothers desperate to write a hit show in his shadow stumble on the notion of writing the world's first musical.
Chase said his Bard is a cross between Austin Powers, Ricky Gervais and Keith Richards, with a little Martin Short thrown in. "Comedy is terrifying. Comedy is a terrifying prospect," he said. "But when it happens, it's like a drug. And I'm enjoying taking that drug."
Rob McClure, who plays the playwriting hero of the musical, calls Chase a welcome addition, a man happy to slip into very tight pants and pull out his tap shoes. "He's generous and collaborative and funny. People talk about scene-stealer. He steals scenes by sharing them," said McClure.
The Kentucky-born Chase was destined to one day be onstage — but not necessarily singing. He was studying percussion at Oberlin College and wanted to be a symphonic conductor when a classmate persuaded him to act in a production of "Sweeney Todd."
The summer before his senior year, he did summer stock in Falmouth, Mass. He did everything from making sets to performing. "I fell in love with it. I was like, 'OK, I'm cutting my ponytail,'" he said. "The day I graduated, I got my diploma, I moved to Chicago and started acting.'"
He made his Broadway debut in "Rent" and then went into "Miss Saigon." His other credits include "The Full Monty," "Aida," "Lennon" and "High Fidelity." His two daughters — Daisy, 17, and Gracie, 15 — are already both acting. "They love it. The same way I did when I was that age," he said, laughing. "There's no hope. They're going to be actors."
Chase, who earned his own Tony nomination a few years ago for "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," was hand-picked to play Shakespeare in early workshops of "Something Rotten!" (one of the songs is named "Will Power"), but chose to do "Nashville" instead.
"I've been given roles that people have turned down. I won't say who turned down the role that I got my Tony nomination for, but somebody turned down that role. They weren't like, 'Get Will Chase in here now! He's going to win a Tony nomination for this!'" he said. "So I know that I am a poor man's fill-in-the-blank. And I know that there are poor man's Will Chases out there. That's just the nature of the business."
Chase is active on social media and not afraid to either make fun of himself or tweak Donald Trump and his supporters. "I don't mean to call people names and I don't really. If you look back through threads, I don't really call people names," he said. "I might say, 'That's an idiotic remark.' I'm not calling you an idiot."
Chase is juggling work on "Something Rotten!" with shooting the HBO show "The Deuce" with James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal. He also hopes to make a few last appearances on "Nashville."
"Pinch me. I'm having the time of my life," he said.
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