Edward Willett

Paul Alexander Nolan: From small-town Saskatchewan to Broadway’s bright lights

 

This article just appeared in Refined Lifestyles Regina. I’ve known Paul since he was a kid–I performed with him several times back then, and have even had the chance to be in a professional show with him once, when he played the Beast in Persephone Theatre‘s production of Beauty and the Beast in Saskatoon in 2007 (I was Monsieur D’arque and several other things). It was great to chat with him for this article, the second time I’ve interviewed him.

For Rouleau native Paul Nolan, the moment it really struck home he was performing on Broadway came in March, 2012, in the first performance in Broadway’s Paul Simon Theatre of the Stratford production of Jesus Christ Superstar, in which Nolan played Jesus.

In Act I, Simon the Zealot sings “Simon Zealotes,” urging Jesus to lead his mob in a war against Rome. As Lee Siegel finished the song, the crowd erupted. “I’ve never heard anything like it,” Nolan says. “It was like getting punched in the face with sound, they screamed so hard.

“We all spontaneously got tears in our eyes. It wasn’t a sentimental moment, it was just a purely overwhelming sensation to have people react like that. It was amazing to all of us be there together, all of us having Broadway dreams as Canadians, all of us getting to fulfil our dreams at the same time.”

Many more Broadway roles have followed: Guy in Once, Pasha Antipov in Doctor Zhivago (for which he was nominated for the 2015 Outer Critic Award for Best Feature Actor in a Musical), Jimmy Ray Dobbs in the Steve Martin/Edie Brickell musical Bright Star (Nolan was a Drama Desk Award Nominee for Best Feature Actor), and, most recently, a six-week stint as Billy Flynn in Chicago.

He’s also performed at the Stratford Festival (The Who’s Tommy, West Side Story, and As You Like It, among others), in off-Broadway shows such as Daddy Longlegs, and in regional productions like the world premiere of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots in La Jolla. On February 18, he returned to Regina to perform James Bond movie theme songs with the Regina Symphony Orchestra. “I’d never sung with a big orchestra, so that was thrilling, but the real thrill was coming home to perform.”

It all began when a band gave a lunch-hour concert at Rouleau School. Inspired, Nolan asked his parents if he could take trumpet lessons. Instead (because they had an organ in the basement), they signed him up for organ lessons, which he hated—so much so, he turned down the idea of voice lessons a couple of years later. “Also,” he admits, “I played a lot of hockey and didn’t want to commit social suicide.”

But (fortunately) he reconsidered, and found he enjoyed his voice lessons with Betty Hayes. As a result, when Regina Summer Stage announced auditions for The King and I, Nolan’s father suggested he give it a go. “I didn’t want to, because I knew it would take my whole summer. But I ended up saying yes. It changed my life. I felt like I’d found a community of people that I belonged to.” Then a touring production of Les Miserables came to Regina and he had another epiphany: you could make a living doing musicals.

Through high school, he performed in some 16 productions with Regina Lyric Light Opera, Regina Summer Stage, Regina Little Theatre, and Do It With Class Young People’s Theatre. He credits voice lessons with Rob Ursan, then musical director (and now artistic director) of DIWC as “the major reason for my vocal ability.” Among the other directors he worked with was Kelly Handerek, who helped set him up with an agent when he moved to Toronto after graduation.

Nolan studied at the Randolph Academy, working on the side (among other roles, he appeared in a Nora Ephron-produced film, Strike!, and had the lead in a movie, Shapeshifter, shot in Bucharest). After finishing his schooling, he worked for the Disney cruise line, “sailing through the Caribbean, playing Hercules and Peter Pan, meeting friends I’ve still got.”

Then came Mamma Mia! at the Royal Alexander Theatre in Toronto, such a gigantic hit he stayed in the ensemble for a year. “Now I know how lucky a person is to have a job like that!”

He took most of 2004 off, traveling, working on the farm in Rouleau, even applying (unsuccessfully) to be a forest firefighter. “I honestly didn’t feel like I was my best self, so I decided, ‘I’m going to try something else, see what sticks.’”

He came back into the business playing Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar for the first time, in Orillia. A year or so later he played Jesus again, in a production directed by Max Reimer, who then cast him as Curly in Oklahoma! in Calgary—which led to the Stratford Festival auditioning and hiring him for its Oklahoma!, understudying the same role.

Five years at Stratford led to his third time as Jesus, in the production (directed by then-Stratford artistic director Des McAnuff) that transferred to Broadway. Though he’s worked elsewhere, he’s remained in New York ever since. “This city has granted me some opportunities, directors have granted me opportunities. I’ve run with those opportunities, and worked hard and done well with them.”

In 2014 he married actress Keely Hutton, a native of Newfoundland, whom he’d met at Stratford. “She’s one of a kind. Most of us take a job at the mention of the word. Keely’s a lot more selective, to my benefit. Keely has mostly dedicated her time to us.”

Up next: the starring role of Tully, a part-time bartender and singer, in Escape to Margaritaville, which features the music of Jimmy Buffet. The musical premieres May 9 at La Jolla Playhouse and will play other cities in route to a Broadway opening next spring.

Nolan is always hoping for a show that will be the perfect combination of art and relevance, like the smash hit Hamilton, which he’s seen several times, emerging “re-inspired” every time. But he says the real game changer for his career may be when he and his wife decide to have children. He fantasizes about moving to Newfoundland and having a more stable life…but New York keeps drawing him back.

“Artistically, theatre, for me, is a little bit like going to church,” he concludes. “I find out a lot about who I am through the stories I do, the things I’ve put myself through to tell those stories.

“It is kind of a sacred event both to see theatre, and to be part of bringing that to people.”

 

 

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply