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Interview: Matthew Stocke of PRETTY WOMAN Coming to Ottawa's National Arts Centre November 15th to 20th

We chatted about his role, movies to musical adaptations, and the challenges of touring.

(L to R) Olivia Valli, Adam Pascal, and Matthew Stocke. Credit: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade
(L to R) Olivia Valli, Adam Pascal, and Matthew Stocke.
Credit: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

We caught up with Matthew Stocke on tour with Pretty Woman ahead of its stop in Ottawa next week to chat about his role, movies to musical adaptations, and the challenges of touring.

How has the tour been going so far?

It's been great - we recently celebrated our 400th show on tour. Although I've been with the show since the beginning so for me, personally, it's more like my 900th show!

Wow! Can you tell me what it's been like seeing it from its first iteration to where it has come today? How has the show evolved?

It's been six years (although we did have a global pandemic in there) and there have been dramatic changes, as all shows have, from the incubation period and they also made changes in between from when the Broadway show ended and the tour - for the better. They reconfigured the show; it needed some more structure and they expanded some of the characters. They actually took away all of the singing from my character. Which is kind of weird for me to be in a musical and not do any singing! I miss singing, but it does take some stress away from having to keep my voice in perfect shape, compared to others in the show that have the heavy vocal lifting to do. If I'm mildly ill or have some gunk on my vocal chords, I can still go on. But yeah, they cut all of Philip Stuckey's music between Broadway and the tour - for good reason. It was all kind of superfluous and my character serves its purpose without having to go out there and sing about it. So, the show has changed a lot, but I think that this version is the best version we have done, including the Broadway version. And people seem to be agreeing because we have been doing very well on tour so far.

Matthew Stocke
Matthew Stocke

Do you think it's easier to adapt a movie to the stage, rather than something that has been written especially for the stage? What are some of the challenges?

It's one of the biggest challenges in the business. And I'm not poo-pooing it; I've made a living on Broadway doing movie adaptations. I did The Wedding Singer, The Full Monty... Like any musical or play, if its adapted well, it will take off; if it's adapted poorly, it stinks! But I think movie adaptations are easier to sell because of brand recognition. Selling a completely original idea takes some doing... a lot of it has to be done by word of mouth. Hamilton only happens once in a generation. Sometimes it becomes a little fatiguing to say, "oh there is Mrs. Doubtfire, there's Pretty Woman and there's Mean Girls"... I would love to see as many original ideas for plays and musicals succeed as possible, but if you're the one putting up $15 million to capitalize a musical, you have a much better chance of seeing a return if you're doing Mean Girls or Pretty Woman than The Prom, unless it gets insanely good reviews or wins a bunch of Tonys or catches fire. I use the example of Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point on what causes something to become a brand. What causes something to become part of the lexicon of the consumer? It is very seldom that something becomes instantly recognizable, but it's easier to market something like Pretty Woman than something like The Prom or Fun Home, even when you recognize that those are exceptional pieces of theatre. If people are going to go out and throw down $179 on a ticket, original works are a much tougher sell. But, you know, it has always been this way. People say the movie musical has only been around in the last twenty years, but every single Rodgers and Hammerstein musical was based on something else.

That's so true.

Yeah, they were based on other plays or on very popular books. Source material comes from other things, it's not only coming out of people's heads. It's the double-edged sword of creating, especially creating things on this level. If you want to do things on a smaller scale, like in a municipal area and you don't have to capitalize all that money, then you can go to town and have fun. But it's a different story if you're trying to sell it on Broadway against thirty other shows, knowing full well that most of the ticket going public is first going to go see Hamilton and if they can't get into Hamilton, they're probably going to try to see Lion King, Wicked or Phantom. After that, maybe they'll consider something else.

I know that, back in the day, it might have been considered more of a so-called "girlie" movie, but was Pretty Woman a movie that you grew up watching?

Oh my God, it came out in 1990 and I was a senior in high school and you couldn't go anywhere without hearing that soundtrack because it was so iconic! And you can call it a rom-com or a chick flick but, it's just a great movie. It's got a great script, it was brilliantly done by Gary Marshall, and it introduced the world to Julia Roberts, who was spectacular. And when you see it now, it really stands the test of time. It's one of the reasons we're doing so well - people just love that movie. It's incredibly entertaining; it's a fun Cinderella story where you help out a hooker - it's fantastic! It's a universally loved movie and we basically give you the whole movie on stage. If we would have tried to reconfigure the movie or tried something different, people would have rioted! People want Vivian to say at the end, "And she rescues him right back". And so, she does. People are eating it up. I like to say that I have a job where at the end of the night, people stand up and clap and it's a joyous way to end your workday.

(L to R) Adam Pascal and Olivia Valli Credit: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade
(L to R) Adam Pascal and Olivia Valli
Credit: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

I guess it's thanks to the nostalgia factor, too.

Completely. Things that are retro, harkening back to those days - and we give you all the clothes... I have fabulous three-piece suits in the show! You get so spoiled in the theatre where people build suits for you and you're like, "wow - these are so great!" And then, in your personal life, you go to Men's Warehouse and you're like, "why doesn't this fit right?" [laughs]. But yeah, we do give you the movie on stage and it's a really fun show. So everybody, come to see it!

I'm sure you're going to have a really good turnout for all those reasons.

Yeah, and we get a lot of bachelorette parties and reunions. And every night, we get people dressed up as Vivian.

Are you kidding?!

No, no, it's true! Every night we get four or five Vivians, either in the red dress with the white gloves, or the opening scene hooker outfit, or the polka dot dress. People go all out. They're nuts! It's fun.

How does the original score fit in with the show?

It's Bryan Adams and it sounds like Bryan Adams music - your Canadian treasure! Every song, you'll be like, "that sounds like a Bryan Adams' song". And they're earworms; the guy can't do anything but write a hook. They're catchy and they're very accessible songs. It's perfect for the genre. It's not like going to a Jason Robert Brown show or Michael John LaChiusa show where you're like, "this is the best music I've ever heard, but I don't understand any of it!". No, Bryan writes pop songs, so there are like fifteen pop songs in this musical and they're all catchy [laughs], so it works really well. It's the right composer for the material and the guy just writes hits.

Are they typical Broadway style songs or are they more like pop rock songs?

No, they're very much Pop-Broadway. They could be stand alone songs. Bryan just did a show with him just doing only Pretty Woman songs. So, they could be separate, but they help tell the story. They're Pop-Broadway songs.

Kind of à la Kinky Boots, with Cyndi Lauper?

Yeah, that's a very good comparison.

What drew you to the role of Philip Stuckey?

I got offered the role! I wish it was deeper than that but, having understudied Jason Danieley on Broadway and having been involved with the show for so long, they offered me the role for the tour. Once we finished the Broadway show, I kind of thought that my life with Pretty Woman was probably done, even though I knew it was going to go out on tour at some point. Then I got a call from Jerry Mitchell, who has been a friend for a long, long time, and he asked if I would I like to go out on the tour and play Stuckey. It's a great job and I was ready to get out of New York for a while. I'm a very proud New Yorker, but I had been there throughout the whole pandemic. It was a great opportunity; it's a great part, and an easy part in terms that there is no heavy lifting since I don't sing. It's not a whole lot of stage time, but it's fun stage time. We didn't know at that point what was going to happen in the industry after Covid, so what drew me to it was getting to go out on tour doing a role that's a lot of fun and having a really good job. I will say this: my job is great, but touring sucks. Especially at 50 - when I was 25, it was fantastic, but at this age, it's hard. All I want is a good mattress and water pressure [laughs]!

I hear you [laughs]!

It's challenging. I miss my girlfriend, I miss my friends, I miss cooking and my kitchen, I miss our cats... people think that living in hotels is glamorous, but it isn't. Especially when out of the last 415 nights, I've spent 385 of them in hotels. Some are good, some are not. It's not that easy a life. It's a great job, but touring is quite challenging. But I'm happy to be out here. We have about six months left and then in May, I will be more than happy to get back home!

Do you have any other projects lined up for when you get back to New York?

I'll continue running my photography business. I've been shooting head shots and dance and fitness photography for about ten years now and it's been great - I won't even call it a side hustle because I enjoy it as much as I do my acting career. I've also taught audition and acting workshops. When I get back in May, I'll probably take a bit of time just to do nothing, but then I can jump back into my business. As far as acting goes, my representatives and I will start hitting it hard, but probably more in TV roles than theatre at first, since I'll probably be a little burned out from doing eight shows a week.

How does it feel to play the bad guy?

I love going on as Philip and playing the baddie! It's very seldom that I've gotten to play the bad guy; I always say that it's a delicious character to play and it's a lot of fun. I get booed every night!

Really?!

Oh yeah, people are ridiculous [laughs]. They boo me at the curtain call and I'm like, "Come on, man! It's not really me!"

In the movie, there is no redemption for the Stuckey's character - he's just kind of a jerk. Did the writers flush out your character more to show another side of him?

I have my specific take on the character: he's just a guy who's doing his job. He's a nice guy - all schmooze, Mr. Personality; that's how he got to be Edward Lewis' right hand man. I refer to him as the Tom Hagan to Michael Corleone for anyone who knows The Godfather. I'm Edward's consigliere; I do his bidding and I make a lot of money and he makes a lot of money. It was 1990, Wall Street, and greed was good. Stuckey just takes a hard turn when people take money out of his pocket and he turns his ire towards Vivian because he believes that she is the cause for changing Edward's mind about a very, very big deal that ends up costing him $15 million. Then he turns into a big jerk. So, no, there is not a whole lot of redemption for him. I walk off in shame (as I should), but I will say this: our version turns the tables on Stuckey in a way that is much more satisfying to the audience than in the movie. That's all I'll say about that.

I can't wait to see that!

Vivian wins the day for sure.


Come see Matthew Stocke as Philip Stuckey in Broadway Across Canada's presentation of Pretty Woman in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre. Click here for tickets or for more information.

* Note that this interview has been edited for length and conciseness.



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