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

Jim Norton


Tony Award-winning actor Jim Norton takes on his second big musical endeavor in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, where he leads the troupe of British actors at London's Music Hall Royale. Norton, who won a 2008 Tony Award for his performance in The Seafarer and has also been seen on the Broadway stage in Finian's Rainbow and The Weir, stars as the lively Chairman in Drood. Growing up overseas in Ireland, Norton admits to being familiar with the style and rousing antics of music hall and was excited to put that knowledge to use. We spoke to the actor last week, on his 75th birthday, when he discussed his first exposure to the arts, studying Victorian theatre and working alongside legends in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

How familiar were you with this material before you stepped into rehearsals for Edwin Drood?
Jim Norton: I'd read the [Charles Dickens] book a long time ago, so I knew that, but, as Rupert Holmes said, "There's not much point in reading the book because you won't find anything about the show in there that's relevant." And, I had heard the LP — the long-playing record — some years ago. I was really impressed by that. And, I had read a book, ["Free for All: Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told"], about Joe Papp and The Public Theater, which covers the whole story about how [The Mystery of Edwin Drood] came into being. So I was familiar with that, but I certainly wasn't familiar with the script.

Did you revisit that book about Joe Papp and The Public before rehearsals began?
JN: Yes, I did. I had read it a few years ago. Someone gave [it to me as] a present, and I remembered there was a whole section in the book where they interviewed various people who were involved in the production — the actors and the producers and director. I keep books. I hoard them! [Laughs.] So I found my copy of it and read it again, and it was very illuminating, particularly the bit where Rupert Holmes actually went in to Joe Papp, sat at the piano and did the whole show — just played the whole thing…all the parts — and Joe Papp said, "That sounds like a good show, let's do it." That's how it happened. They did it in [Central] Park [at the Delacorte Theater], where it was very successful, and then it moved onto Broadway where it ran for about two years. That was 25 years ago.