Actor Paul Nolan is currently making his Broadway debut as 'Jesus' in The Stratford Shakespeare Festival's production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar. The show, directed by Des McAnuff, opened on March 22 at the Neil Simon Theatre. Nolan originated the role of Jesus at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and most recently at the La Jolla Playhouse. Jesus Christ Superstar is loosely based on the Gospel and recounts the final days in the life of Jesus Christ.
Nolan's other Stratford Festival credits include As You Like It (Orlando), The Grapes of Wrath (Al Joad), West Side Story (Tony), Cyrano de Bergerac (Valvert) and Cabaret (Bobby). The actor has also appeared onscreen in The Gospel of John, Shapeshifter, Strike!, Cruel Intentions 2 and On My Mind.
In a recent chat with BWW, Nolan shared his thoughts on what it is like to portray the famed biblical character in this iconic rock opera.
I'm interested in hearing about your early years. I understand you grew up in a very small farming town in Saskatchewan.
Yes I did. In a town called Rouleau - about five hundred people big, or small. My graduating class had seventeen people in it. I mean it was a really, really, really small town. You know people in the U.S. talk about their small towns and I'm like 'how small was your town?' and they're like 'oh 45,000'. Technically now I come from Stratford and that's considered a small town, but that's still 35,000. Rouleau is your very stereotypical type of farming town.
In a town that size, how did you get involved in performing?
I got into performing when I was 13. That's when I did my first show. But I wasn't totally thinking I was going to do it as a career at that point. I just really liked it. I liked the community of people. And this was just small community theater at that point. In Regina, which is the capital city of Saskatchewan, there was a pretty substantial theatrical community and I loved the people. I played hockey my whole childhood and the people were great, but with the people in the artistic community, it felt a bit more where my home was.
Was there an actual turning point when you knew that theater was what you wanted to pursue professionally?
There was actually. It was when I saw 'Les Mis'. You know I was pretty runty as a kid. I was a small guy for a long time and I'm not a particularly girthy guy by any means now, but at fourteen I was maybe 5' 3" so I was late to grow. But when I saw 'Les Mis' I was like, 'I got to play that part of 'Gavroche'. My voice hadn't changed either at that point. It was the first time I realized that people did that as a way of making a living.
I read that you were offered an audition at the Randolph Academy of Musical Theater because a Board member from the school heard you singing in the shower.
Yeah that was simply luck. Complete and utter luck. I was hanging around in Toronto, working at a Starbucks and trying to get work as an actor. I was living with my sister who had broken her ankle so she had to hold meetings out of her house. She was having a meeting to plan a professional fundraiser and a board member was over, and he heard me singing in the shower. He didn't stick around to meet me but he told my sister he'd call later and talk to me about the school and that they were having auditions and that I should go. So I did. Before that I had been enrolled in University of Toronto's music program. I went there for a week and I dropped out for various reasons. First of all, I didn't have some of the academic background that they required. They had somehow overlooked that fact when they let me in the program. I liked to tell people that I was a prodigy, but I doubt that that was true. (laughing) I could have stayed but I would have had to take a lot of remedial classes and it would have been hard academically to do well. And in the meantime that kind of program wasn't my way of learning. I'm a pretty hands on person. It was just a lucky thing and Randolph was exactly the kind of school I wanted to go to but I didn't know that it existed. And they ended up giving me a full scholarship. I was very lucky.