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Canadian's God Bless America gets Martha Stewart's nod of approval

Canadian actor Paul Nolan is performing in front of large crowds every night on Broadway, playing the titular messiah in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's production Jesus Christ Superstar.

On Friday afternoon, however, Mr. Nolan played to an even bigger audience. At the 110th home opener of the New York Yankees (Yankees: 5; Los Angeles Angels: 0), the native of Rouleau, Sask., sang God Bless America during the seventh-inning stretch for the 49,386 fans in attendance.

Theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck spoke with Mr. Nolan after the game.

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Congratulations. What was that experience like?

It was kind of intimidating, but it was great. You have to forget what you're actually doing. I've been a sports fan all my life, so it was such an honour.

I could probably sing most of The Star-Spangled Banner , but I don't know God Bless America very well. Did you have to learn it?

The times that I've heard it were when I was watching the Toronto Maple Leafs playing Philadelphia in the playoffs five or six years ago. [Theatre critic and Canadiens fans' note: ahem, eight years ago.]The Flyers often use it instead of The Star-Spangled Banner for good luck. But I had to pull it up and relearn it.

So, you're playing Jesus on Broadway and here you are singing about God at Yankee Stadium. Did you sing as if you were imploring your father to bless America?

I wish I could have been that grounded and centred, but honestly I was just making sure I took a big breath and let myself make the sounds that God gave me to make.

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And you sang it a cappella, right? Boy, that's tough.

Yeah, part of it's good and part of it's bad. It's good because you have the chance to take the big breath that you want to take instead of having to stick to the rhythm.

Did you have something to tune the first note to? A little harmonica?

I used my iPhone. I had recorded the song when I submitted it to the Yankees for them to hear, so all I did was I listened to the recording and made sure that I kept that note in my voice all day.

You're also playing baseball in the Broadway league at the moment. What position are you?

Wherever I get put. I haven't played enough baseball to even know where I'm useful. I've got a good arm and I can hit and I can run, but as far as strategy knowledge, I don't have a good instinct for where I should be. We played our first pre-season game yesterday.

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Did you get to watch today's game and see A-Rod hit his 630th home run?

Yeah, we were up in one of the boxes and I was sitting next to [former first baseman]Tino Martinez. Even I knew who he was and I haven't followed Major League Baseball for a few years now.

I was kind of surprised they sing God Bless America in the seventh- inning stretch, because I'm used to Take Me Out to the Ball Game – and OK Blue Jays – here in Toronto.

Yeah, I don't even know if they do it at every Yankee home game. I think it may be a special occasion thing.

It's not really a song you feel comfortable sneaking off to get a beer during.

Not really. In this country, people are very reverent to their national music and history. I was very surprised outside of the gate after the game, how many people recognized me. Probably a dozen people said, "Good job," including Martha Stewart.

Martha Stewart?

I wouldn't have even recognized her, but [ Jesus Christ Superstar co-star]Chilina Kennedy did. She looks a little different than on television.

Were you worried that you'd give yourself away as a Canadian?

The Yankees know I'm Canadian, but obviously it wasn't something that I was promoting. But, you know what, Celine Dion has a famous recording of it for the troops. I think it can be a nice way to celebrate all countries, even though America in this case is the one that prayer is asking for blessing. I had my own way inside of it.

What was that?

For me, because I'm not a Christian – I have my own spiritual beliefs that are a concoction of many ideas and philosophies – I thought of God as Mother Earth. So that was my way around it.

Of course, God Bless America , this great Christian, American song, was written by Irving Berlin, a Jew from Belarus, so … They cut to show Billy Crystal on TV while you were singing. Did you get to meet him too?

No, I didn't meet Billy Crystal, but apparently he was at JSC the other night too, so maybe he's following me around.

Director Des McAnuff did direct him in his one-man show on Broadway, as well, so there's a connection there.

Yeah, there's something going on.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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About the Author
Theatre critic

J. Kelly Nestruck is The Globe's theatre critic. More

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