BWW Interview: From Argentina to the Streets Of New York: Matt Farcher Returns to MSMT
"It has been a very cool year for me!" Matt Farcher exclaims, as he reminisces about the last twelve months since he made his Maine State Music Theatre debut as Che Guevara in Evita last summer. The actor, who will star as Jack Kelly in the upcoming production of Disney's Newsies that begins performances at Brunswick's Pickard Theater August 9, has had a very busy and artistically stimulating year - "working back to back shows for most of the time" - appearing as the Beast in Beauty and the Beast and in his role debut as Jack Kelly at the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, PA.
Farcher recounts how both these opportunities came about. "I think they grew out of my having worked for Marc Robin here at MSMT in Evita. When I auditioned for the Beast, I had just finished singing all of Che's high music, and I didn't actually think I had been that successful in singing the low baritone music of the character. I am very grateful to Marc because he took a chance that I could do it and act it and gave me the role." Describing the Fulton's blockbuster production, Farcher says, "It was a truly amazing spectacle! This was the first time I had worked there, and it was magical. This was the biggest production, biggest budget show they had done, with hand designed, spectacular costumes, ginormous set pieces, and a great cast. Marc always pulls together wonderful people to work and hang out with, so it was a thrilling experience. And I liked that we did the show in the holiday season because it made Christmas seem very festive."
While he was working on Beauty and the Beast, Farcher asked Robin if he could audition for Newsies. "I felt I could sing it, though I wasn't sure if I was too big to play the part, even of an older Newsie. At first Marc said 'no' because of the scheduling, but then things shifted. and I did get to come in and audition. I sang "Santa Fe," and I guess it went pretty well, because I got the part. It has been a blast! It has been one of my favorite roles to date." Asked why he thinks that, he replies without hesitation: "At the risk of sounding a little arrogant, sometimes when I play leads, I do not get to interact with the rest of the ensemble that much. Here Jack Kelly gets the full attention as leader of the group and gets to interact completely with everyone. It is like being captain of the baseball team. There is this wonderful high energy, brotherhood vibe."
Newsies ran from June 6 until July 22 at the Fulton as part of their summer main stage series, and most of the cast and creative team have now transferred to MSMT, where Robin will again stage the show for Maine audiences. Farcher will reprise his role. Farcher and the rest of the cast have been in rehearsal in Maine since July 25, creating what he says will be "really a new show. We had been away from the rehearsal process for quite a while, so we are coming back to take a fresh look. We are tweaking things again, and there are ten new cast members, so you have to be malleable and adjust to the differences. As an actor, it forces you to listen to your fellow actors and respond to their different choices with new ones of your own." Farcher says that some of the choreography has also been changed though the scenery had been expertly designed by Charles Kading to fit both the Fulton's and MSMT's stages.
One other constant in Newsies has been Farcher's leading lady, Kate Fahrner, who plays Katherine Plumber, an idealistic young journalist who becomes Jack's love interest. For Farcher and Fahrner, this pairing has been a delightful reunion because the two had first worked together in MSMT's 2016 Evita. Farcher says he was thrilled when he walked into the Newsies callback and saw her there. " In Evita we were antagonists [Farhner played Eva Peron]; we didn't get to talk much or do many scenes together. It was so much fun getting to know her better in Lancaster on and off stage. I think we work well together as Jack and Katherine because we both like to be witty and a little snarky with each other, and that's how the dialogue is written, so it seems very natural. In fact, we both got a note the other day that we should be 'a little less comfortable with each other.' But it's hard to remember that Jack and Katherine are meeting each other for the first time each night."
Asked how he sees the character of the young leader of the 1899 newsboys strike, Farcher waxes eloquent about his concept of Jack Kelly. " Jack is a guy who has learned to survive. Little positive things make him happy, and lhe ikes to be playful and goofy. He does enjoy being the leader of the group, though he never asks for that. The others just look up to him instinctively, and he can be a bit impulsive. He is willing to say the strong thing, and then let someone smart like Davey help put it all together, and that is how he gets caught up in the strike. Their plan is rather unthought out, but slowly they figure out how to make it work. Their cause gains energy and momentum as the story progresses."
Asked what the meaning of Santa Fe, about which Jack sings his show-stopping anthem, Farcher replies, "To me it represents Jack's vision of an Eden. It's a childhood thing. I think when his mom died, his dad told him that she had gone to Santa Fe rather than saying she had died. And he imagines it as a beautiful place where he can eventually go. He has no idea how to get there or what it costs; it is all talk and fantasy - a kind of escape. Jack really hasn't thought much about his future; he is one of the older Newsies, and he doesn't have a plan for how he will make a living after he stops selling papers - a factory job perhaps, but it is not thought out. Even his drawing, for which he has some talent ,is more a passion project."
Responding to the moment is, according to Farcher, very much part of Jack Kelly's behavior. "When he meets Katherine, I think it's a situation where opposites attract. He never really has the intention of being a serious contender for her affections. He is aware he is out of her league, older, educated, wealthier, but he wants to have a little fun with it. When she begins to like him back, he becomes vulnerable because I don't think he had any of this in mind."
Not only does he get to sing Jack's big solo "Santa Fe," but Farcher thinks the entire "score is outrageous! There are duets, quartets. It's full of bouncy energetic songs and interesting rhythms. It sits pretty high vocally which suggests the youth and energy of the piece. It's like popcorn popping throughout the show," he concludes quoting Marc Robin's analogy.
Besides the vocal vibrancy, Farcher says "Newsies is written to be danced," and audiences will be dazzled by the choreography. "I am blown away each time I see these amazing dancers doing back flips and aerials, or perfect fouettés all in a row. The audience hasn't seen anything like this! " he concludes about the production which MSMT is billing as "the biggest dance show in ihe theatre's history."
And if the brilliant singing and dancing were not enough to spellbind audiences, Farcher feels that Newsies will also appeal to its viewers because of its moving story. "People feel invested in what's happening on stage. They respond to the issue of children's rights, and the strike/protest theme is still relevant, perhaps even more so in today's current situation. Then, too, it is a sneaky book filled with surprises, lots of good dialogue and funny mini-conversations. And it is based on a true story whose message is timeless."
And that message? Matt Farcher replies promptly with an intensity of his own: "The little guy has the right to speak and be heard."
Photos courtesy of MSMT & the Fulton Theatre, Kinectiv, photographer
Disney's Newsies runs from August 9-26, 2017, at MSMT's Pickard Theater, 1 Bath Rd., Brunswick, ME 04011 www.msmt.org 207-725-8769