BWW Interview: Matt Wood of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY at The Bushnell
It is always exciting when a beloved story from one's childhood receives new life on the stage. It is especially thrilling when it's a piece with such sweet potential as Roald Dahl's classic tale, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. With the original book, the classic Gene Wilder film (and other film adaptations) and recent London and Broadway musical productions setting the stage, this fun new musical will take the Bushnell stage in Hartford, CT from February 19 - 24. Playing Augustus Gloop, one of the nasty children who finds a golden ticket to tour Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, will be Matt Wood, who sat down with me to talk about this entertaining, family-friendly show.
BWW: Matt, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today. We are really looking forward to CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY in Hartford!
Matt: And we are excited to be there!
Can you start by telling us a little bit about how you got started in the theatre?
Well, I was always a bit more of an indoor kid and my Mom realized that, so she got me involved in community theatre in Chestertown, Maryland when I was about 5 years old. I think the first show that I did was A CHRISTMAS CAROL and I was a street urchin. Being on the Eastern Shore, there weren't too many opportunities for theatre, so I mainly worked out of there, which had a theatre at Washington College in Chestertown and then Churchill Community Theatre in Churchill, Maryland - two nice, small, passionate little theaters. I was also lucky to have a great High School drama teacher, Shelagh Grasso, at Queen Anne's County High School. It was a really good, positive upbringing in theatre, with a lot of hope. From there I auditioned for Univeraity of Maryland and NYU, and got into NYU so that's where I went. I went to NYU for Musical Theatre, in one of the last classes of the Cap21 program, which is, sadly, no longer at NYU. I studied for a semester at RADA in London and then got out of school, started working with an agent, and primarily did TV, films and comedy. I booked some commercial things and had a run on LAW AND ORDER: SVU. It wasn't quite taking me in the direction I wanted to go, so I moved back into musical theatre. A year later I booked SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS on Broadway, which was so much fun. I was a swing and was the standby for Mr. Krabs and Patrick. That led straight into this. And here we are now. I am very excited about it. I have never toured before so it is really exciting.
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY should be familiar to many, either from the original Roald Dahl book, one of the films, or the London/Broadway production, but for someone who has been living in a cave or doesn't know the story, how would you describe it?
For all its little twists and turns, it is a simple story about doing the right thing and standing up for what's right and being a good person. That's reflected in our hero, little Charlie Bucket. We have three fantastic child actors, honestly some of the best I have ever seen, from the ages of 10 to 12. They are onstage almost the entire show. From there, the first act is a very traditional book musical, where we are introduced to the bad kids and see Charlie as he struggles with his family, but he still maintains positivity and hope. All the other bad kids are played by adult actors. I play Augustus Gloop, Danny Quadrino plays Mike Teevee, Jessica Cohen is Veruca Salt, and Brynn Williams is Violet Beauregard and we are as nasty and horrible as you could imagine. I think that was a smart choice by the team in moving from London to Broadway, casting adults as the children.
What do you think having a familiar property does for the show compared to an all new musical?
It definitely sets people's expectations. People have an expectation coming to the show. That is a challenge in and of itself, having a beloved property. With the London production, the Gene Wilder movie isn't so much of a thing, it's really an American phenomenon, so that is one little challenge. The movie is so firmly implanted in people's brains, but the show couldn't be more different, besides the fact that it has four of the songs from the movie in it.
So, in the show, you play Augustus Gloop, one of the rather nasty children which seems like a really fun role to play. What do you like most about playing him?
The best part is that I get to work with the amazing Kathy Fitzgerald, who plays my mom. To me, she is theatre royalty, just based on her amazing career. We have so much fun together. Other than that, as much as he is a "bad kid" he is probably the most joyful of the four. He is not the sharpest, he loves food and is happy to be there, so he has a lot of joy with just a hint of nastiness because he has been overindulged. In a way it is a fun, nuanced character.
As an adult, Is it hard playing a child every night?
It is vocally a little challenging, and the songs are a challenge by themselves. My song is a high pitched, high energy German dance number. Danny has to do some incredible acrobatics, Brynn's song is wailing all over the place, and Jessica is a legitimate ballerina. So it's really fun because you do get to play the simpleness of a child, but apply your adult skills on top of it, so hopefully it comes off as an interesting performance.
And was this your first exposure to the show?
I auditioned for the Broadway production, but did not get to see the show on Broadway. I was in SPONGEBOB during the run, so I didn't have a chance.
What do you look forward to the most before you step out on stage each night?
Not because I am about to exit the story, but I do like my demise scene very much. I think it is well written, and since I am the first kid to go, it's like the first hint of eeriness in the story. And there is a very tense moment between me and Willy Wonka where I discover the chocolate waterfall and he sternly warns me about it. That's the whole setup - he tells us not to do something and we do it anyway.
So, being that it is a chocolate factory and your character consumes so much - do you actually get to eat candy on stage?
No, unfortunately, nothing gets really eaten on stage. I do believe the boys who play Charlie eat some chocolate every night in the first act, though.
What would you say are the best and worst parts of being on a tour like this?
The best part is the comradery you get to share with your cast and crewmates. You are out on the road and away from friends and family, but it brings you closer to smart, interesting people. You have to do stuff together. We see movies together, hang out with each other, etc. It's all very fun.
In the play you are one of the few who find a golden ticket. First, what's the luckiest thing ever to happen to you in real life?
I think I will go with SPONGEBOB. I am proud of myself and my skills, but it was tied up neatly in less than two weeks, so I would consider that quite lucky. I had just gone in for another audition at Telsey for something I knew I wasn't right for, I caught their eye and they asked me to come back the next day. I got a callback two days later and then I got the call from my agent that I got it and that was really wonderful and shocking.
And if you could win a "Golden Ticket" to anything or any place today, what would it be for?
I am a bit of a Disney-head. So, I think I would like a golden ticket to Disney World - the full experience, you know, a park hopper, Fastpasses to everything.
So thinking toward the future, do you have a dream role that you would one day like to play?
I covered roles in SPONGEBOB, and in CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY I am recreating a production, so I would really love to originate something in a play, a musical, or on camera. I would love to do something brand new, written for me or written around my talents. And then have somebody recreate my role afterwards.
Do you have any advice for young performers looking to make it into professional theatre?
I would say make sure that what you love about it isn't directly tied to yourself or your ego. It's a hard business, you see some people who are jaded, which is bound to happen. You have to make sure you really love the craft and that you can maintain and nurture that. When you don't love what you do, what's the point? I know how competitive it gets, so I would encourage that.
Is there anything else you would like readers to know?
Just that we are headed to Connecticut and tickets are still on sale!
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY runs at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, CT February 19 - February 24. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available online at bushnell.org, by phone at 860-987- 5900, or at The Bushnell box office, 166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford.
Middle Photo: Matt Wood