After beginning his career at the ripe old age of eight in Oliver! on the West End, followed by many TV roles back in the UK, Matthew James Thomas has now found his corner of the stage on Broadway… front and center! He’s taken NYC by storm and is currently starring in his SECOND title role in his SECOND Broadway show (Spiderman in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark and now Pippin in Pippin). So, readers, you’ve got “Magic to Do”! Go relish in the “Simple Joys” and “Spread a Little Sunshine” all the way to The Music Box Theatre to see the “Extraordinary” Matthew James Thomas!
MC: When did you catch the theater bug?
MJT: When I was eight, I was in the ensemble and played Kipper in Oliver! in London’s West End.
Was there anyone or anything in particular that inspired you to pursue a life in the theater?
All of it– it’s a world to play, learn and create in. It was always so fascinating to me and it still is.
You studied at the Sylvia Young Theatre School and Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts. What training did the schools provide you with to help set you up for a successful career?
Both of the schools, particularly Sylvia’s, instilled a great sense of discipline in me. I can’t say if it has led to success but I certainly feel like it has helped.
Your first professional job was in Oliver! on the West End. What did you learn during that job that you still live by today?
Barry Humphries, who was playing Fagin, at the time, once said to me, “Well you see, Matthew, life is a play.”
I like that idea– that I can be anyone I want to be.
What is the biggest difference between the London theater scene and the NY theater scene?
I actually haven’t done a lot of theatre in London, but the shows I did do I really enjoyed. The two productions I have been involved in here have been such spectacular and bold concepts, so I’ve had the best of it. They both have their own individual qualities, from my perspective. I just enjoy living with the audience, wherever I am!
You did a lot of TV back in London, too. One of the shows you did, Britannia High, was a musical. On stage everything has to be really big and exaggerated, whereas on screen things are smaller and more focused. How did you tone everything down while filming your character Jez’s musical numbers?
Well, it was a musical drama series and working with a camera feels a little different. It sees you very clearly and at times can feel more intimate. Sometimes I don’t even know it’s there and sometimes I really do. It’s a little like an audience, but it depends on the scene or the day!
Previously, you played Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. How did all the stunt work you did in Spider-Man help you with Pippin?
It was certainly good preparation. I gained strength and stamina from doing Spider-Man so that helped a lot.
How familiar were you with Pippin prior to getting cast?
I didn’t really know it at all. I had heard the songs a few times but never sung them. It was honestly like a completely new piece for me!
How has it been to jump from the two shows a week schedule you had in Spider-Man to the standard eight shows a week you do with Pippin now?
Well, I very often did more than two (sometimes I did 8 shows). But, Pippin is actually, surprisingly a little harder to maintain. I always want to go 150% and I’ve had to learn a few new techniques to get my voice and body through an eight shows week. Even the day off feels like I only just take a breath before being thrown right back in. But I’m willingly thrown so it’s ok and it’s a lot of fun.
Pippin’s quest through the show is all about finding greatness and where he belongs. What greatness have you found in the Broadway world through performing in the show? How has being in Pippin affirmed to you that the stage is where you belong?
I love exploring work like this and leading a show is a great responsibility in many ways you don’t expect. All in all, I have reaffirmed my belief and passion in/for creating and experiencing art.
What’s your pre-show routine?
I usually do a 20-minute jog, 45-minute vocal warm up, 30-minute stretch and core work, some more vocal and then the show!
You just released a few of your own songs on iTunes! How has working with incredible composers/lyricists (Stephen Schwartz, Bono, The Edge) helped you with writing your own music?
These artists have always inspired me. I grew up listening to U2 and loved working with both Edge and Bono. I loved working with Stephen too – he’s an incredible composer. But my music feels very separate from working in musicals or listening to the artists I respect. Stylistically, the songs don’t necessarily have to fit any specific narrative, but rather an emotion, memory or feeling that they might (hopefully) provoke.
What do you get out of performing your original music that you don’t from performing in a musical?
That I wrote it– it comes directly from me, my soul, and my life experience. It makes me automatically feel more vulnerable and teaches me in a different way about the world and myself. I mean, I always feel very connected to the roles that I play, but singing your own material and producing it feels so much different.
If you had the opportunity to be “miscast” in any role what would you want it to be?
Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean?
What’s your current favorite Broadway show? (Other than Pippin!)
Matilda: The Musical—hands down! Some of the cast members came to see Pippin and I can’t wait to go see them again!
What advice do you have for aspiring Broadway performers?
I’m a firm believer in the “10,000 Hour Rule”—practice anything for 10,000 hours and you’ll probably get good at it. But, if you don’t truly love what you’re doing and you can survive without it … don’t waste another second. ♦
Photo Credit: Bruce Glikas/Broadway.com, Joan Marcus