EF – You mentioned that you left the tour of Miss Saigon because you wanted to get to NYC. So you audition a lot and Rent comes up. These are two very different shows. Now that you have done both, has one proved to be a better experience, or is there a preference?
WC – It is always good to do new work. That is what actors want to try to do. Even if you have done the same show for some time, it is good to find new things to do within that show. It is good for people to see me in different parts. Look at me now. I'm sitting here with bleached-blond spiked hair with a goatee. That is obviously quite different than that All-American, apple pie boy which is Chris. It helps that casting directors will see me as having done different things. Returning to Miss Saigon will be comfortable because I know the role. I still enjoy doing it. If I didn't, I'd stay in Rent and wouldn't pursue the part again.
I do have to say that the Rent experience is like no other that I have or will have. It is like doing a rock concert at night. The audience is engaged from minute one. It starts by walking into the theater and running into the groupies where half of them know your name. In fact, one time one of them wished me luck doing the part of Roger. I didn't even know I was going to be on that night as Roger. As far as I'm concerned, the opening number in Rent is the best on Broadway. The audience just goes nuts. There is nothing else like it on Broadway. Miss Saigon and Rent are both very powerful and moving shows but in opposite ways.
EF – How does it feel to be involved with a show based on a person's life experiences – namely Jonathan Larson?
WC – It has been the complete opposite feeling of Miss Saigon. Miss Saigon is more universal in that many know of the Vietnam experience. My third day at Rent was the second anniversary of Jonathan's death. There was a circle of people consisting of producers, some of the original company members, and Jonathan's family. They were all singing "Seasons of Love". I knew I was in for a ride. Getting to know some of the original cast members who are still in the show and hearing them talk about Jonathan is special. There is a scene in the show when Mark grabs a projector and takes it out to the audience. I've always thought that this was the Mark character looking for Jonathan. The Mark character is pretty much Jonathan. All the characters portrayed on stage are Jonathan's friends in one way or another. I know Jonathan is present there. It is very uplifting, as you sing "no day but today". It is perfect. It is a perfect feeling.
EF – You hear that the original cast who worked with Jonathan Larson bring an extra something to the show. It is something different that many people can't quite put their finger on.
WC - I don't think they ever will be able to. It goes beyond better actors or better singers. It is what my wife calls "the X factor". The X factor is the thing that can't be described about someone's performance, a performance in general or a piece of art. I think people who saw the original company saw something unique that others will not be able to see today.
EF – Larson called Rent "a Hair for the 90's". What is your opinion on that?
WC – I think he meant it in that Rent has the same effect that Hair had. Knowing more about Jonathan like I do now, I think he would believe that Rent has more impact and is on a deeper level than Hair ever was. Hair was a comment on how things were at the time without so much getting into the consequences of the characters' actions. Rent examines what actually was happening in a part of New York. Even though there are lesbians, homosexuals and such, I think the show is more universal.
EF – What is the message of Rent?
WC – "No day but today".; It is the last thing said in the show. You can't change yesterday. You don't know what is going to happen tomorrow, so there really aren't any excuses. It pretty much comes out to getting on things today. If you have a problem or you need to express your love, do it today. That is what Roger finally does in coping with AIDS and his relationship with Mimi.
EF – Many claim that Rent changed Broadway. In fact, one person said that the show "invigorated the moribund Broadway musical forms." What is your perspective on this?
WC – For one, the musical stripped everything down so it is just about the people in the story. Period. The musical language is different. It is rock. The band is on stage. While it is sad that Jonathan never really got to see Rent, what is even sadder is we will never see what else Jonathan could have done. I think it changed Broadway, but we might not see the effect until down the line.
EF – As you pointed out, Rent is obviously a rock-oriented show. Coming from Miss Saigon - which is a more traditional show - how did you go about preparing your voice for singing rock? The demands vocally, I assume, are different.
WC – You never learn to sing a different way. My background in music as well as my experience in conducting and percussion enhanced my singing technique. Technique is the most important thing. It took me singing Roger a few times before I got the style down. With Chris, the singing is more lyrical and operatic. It is all about using your ear. On the road, my wife and I would do master classes and talk to kids. We tell them to listen to and mimic other actors. Any actor who says they don't steal things is lying. Steal everything and then use what makes sense to use. I look at Norbert Leo Butz who regularly plays Roger, as well as other covers, and I steal some of their stuff. I steal from every experience I have. That is what we do in acting. You have to use your ear, your experiences from listening to others. You then hone it and make it your own as you develop the character.
EF – You normally play the role of Steve in Rent. Describe Steve.
WC – Steve is living with HIV. He's very hard-core New York. Steve is really portrayed in the beginning and a little at the end of the show. He is one of the many twentysomethings who is trying to do his art but can not. Steve is very numb - which is why he is in a support group. He sings "Will I?".
EF – That is an incredibly powerful song.
WC – Jonathan went to a support group called Friends In Deed and observed. While there a guy stood up and simply asked, "Will I lose my dignity?" My first night on I was singing that song, trying to make it my own. Afterwards, Tim Weil, one of the musical directors, approached me and asked if I knew the story. He explained how Jonathan went to the support group and about the guy who asked that question. He went on to say that I have (as Steve) the very first line and to sing it as simply as possible. It will be much more powerful than if you are trying to show how well you sing. The next night, I sang it straight and simple and I really connected.
EF – I recall you saying you understudied Matt in the tour of Miss Saigon then took over the lead for a year. You are now in a show where you are an understudy again. What was that transition like?
WC – I really don't want to be known as an understudy. I like telling a story. I am not content with being in the ensemble. I think Steve tells the story every night, but I feel I have more of an important message to tell as Chris (in Saigon) or as Roger. I have been fortunate to be able to understudy really good people. I just don't want to make a habit of being an understudy professionally.
EF – Do you ever hope that the principals are out so you can go on?
WC – Sometimes when I'm in the show, I'll say to myself how I'd love to be doing that right now. The narcissist of the actor always says "I'll do it this way." My understudies do the same thing. That is what makes us actors. That is what live theater is all about. Though sometimes I'm glad I'm not on because I don't know if I could do Roger that particular night.
EF – I read an article that says "Rent is a moving show that has changed the lives of many of its participants and fans". How has Rent changed you?
WC – It has changed me on many different levels. It has broadened my whole perspective on acting and singing. It is also my first Broadway show. It is like a dream come true, especially since it is a high profile show. Jonathan's message of "no day but today" has changed me. My whole outlook now is that there are no excuses. You have to take care of relationships and obligations, and you have to do it now. It has broadened my whole perspective on acting and singing.
EF - Have you heard about the lawsuit going on?
WC - Do tell!!
EF - There is a lawsuit going on concerning Lynn Thompson's contributions to the show and her compensation and recognition for it.
WC - I did not know that. How could we not know that? We as a cast usually know everything. I really don't know anything about it. Sometimes I'm just out of the loop.
EF - When do you start Miss Saigon?
WC - My first performance will be July 20 which is exactly one year from when I left the tour. I start rehearsals on the 13th, which will pretty much be getting my hair back to its normal color (laughing) and doing scene work with the cast.
EF - Are you excited about it? Do you feel it is the right choice?
WC - Oh, absolutely! You are always nervous because people say you should stay in a show for at least 6 months and pay your dues. My run in Rent will be 5 months. Recently we had a two-year anniversary party and I was talking to Jeffrey Seller, one of the producers. He congratulated me. He said it was a lead role in a big show and that I had to go do it. It was sort of like getting a blessing. I know they care about me as an artist. It was nice to hear.
EF - If someone asked what are Will Chase's dreams and/or goals, what would the response be?
WC - In the art or entertainment side, I would love to have a film career. My overall goal is to be happy. Relationships are the most important thing.
EF - Is there an ideal role for you?
WC - In the theater world, no, because I got to do one that was ideal for me (Chris). I got to do two in Mark and Roger that I never thought I would do. I would, however, like to pursue opportunities in film.
EF - Would you miss being on stage?
WC - Oh, of course. The great thing about film is you do it for a period of time and then come back to theater. At some point, I'm probably not going to enjoy doing eight shows a week. I am nowhere near that point now, so I still love the rush of doing it. Film is a craft that I really want to pursue though. There are a lot of good quality films and TV shows out there which reach so many people. I still want to reach people through my music though and will still sing whereever I am.
EF - Any advice to aspiring actors/actresses out there?
WC - There is the old cliché - be true to yourself. Know what it is you do. Know what it is you do well. Know what it is you want to do and try to do those things. If you do something you don't want to do, you'll be miserable. Have authentic relationships and have something else to do besides act. Having something else to do gives you life experiences. The less life experiences, the less of an actor you will be.
EF - Many people have seen you on the road in the part of Chris and now in Rent. You have established a fan base. What is your message to your fans out there?
WC - I love you! It blows my mind that I even have a fan base. I know I have fans but it is very odd for me. Lori will look on the Internet and see people write about me and I just think "Me?" I'm just an ordinary guy who watches football. What would I tell my fans? Come see the show.
EF - Well, with Brian and Christiane, unofficial websites popped up after the interviews. Maybe the trend will continue for you.
WC - Would love it (laughing).
-- Ed Feldman