BWW Interview: Matt Wood of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY at Peace Center
I recently spoke to Matt Wood, who plays the gluttonous young Augustus Gloop, and asked him to tell us about the show.
BWW: First, please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm an actor and I've been out and about doing it for about the last 10 years or so. I've been splitting my time between TV and commercials and live theater. Last year, I made my Broadway debut in SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS. I was a standby for Patrick and for Mr. Crab. It was a great experience - love the show, had such a great time doing it. And that led straight into this. I kind of left that to do this, right as that was winding down. And I've been on the road with this since, well, about a year now. We got on the road about a year and three days ago. It's been a good time traveling around and having a good time with the rest of this cast.
So is this your first touring show?
This is my first tour. And so far it's been a very good experience! I like the touring aspect of it a lot - the constant change of scenery is really nice. You know, it's really like you're getting paid to travel the country. So what's not to love about that?
Right? Well, that's very exciting. So tell me then a little about this production. I know, it's sort of different from the original film. I suspect it's not much like the Burton film, but maybe kind of a melding of the two?
I would say definitely a melding of everything. It does have a completely original score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who wrote HAIRSPRAY, but it also has four songs from the original movie. I think those songs are by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. So you've got "The Candy Man," "I've Got A Golden Ticket, "Pure Imagination,' the Oompa-Loompa song -- it's a nice melding of those two sounds, little hints to the past and also acknowledging new stuff, too. I would say it doesn't borrow from the Burton film. But it borrows a couple of sensibilities in, like, modernizing it, from the Tim Burton film. And then it also has its own original spin that's more closely tied to the books. It's very similar to the production that was on Broadway last year, but there've been some substantial technological updates in scenery and set. We use these LED panels in the three wings of the theater. And then there's a back LED wall, which is used tastefully and sparingly, but really brings things to life, in the second act especially,
We've had a couple of shows come through town that used LED walls, and it's tremendous.
It can really be super effective, the technologies that are in place nowadays. You know, we still, of course, have traditional set pieces. But it's interesting to see the LED technology enhance it a little bit, especially when you're telling more magical, extravagant stories.
So tell me about playing Augustus Gloop. And I guess you've got adults playing most of the kids, right?
It's adults playing the four bad kids, quote unquote. And then Charlie is played by actual 11 to 12 year olds, three of them who split the part. And I think that was different from how it was done in London, it was all all children. When I heard about the show coming to Broadway, and I saw those casting calls go out, I thought that was one of the more interesting things about it. And it's nice, because then you have four adult actors who can kind of bring out the nastiness of those kids in a way that some child actors might not be able to go that far, or that audiences wouldn't even necessarily want to see. So that's a nice aspect of it. They also let us ramp up -- their demises can be a little bit more fun, too, when you're not dealing with actual children. There are also some surprises in store that are new to the story. But, yeah, I love playing Augustus. He's probably the most silly of the four kids and definitely the most joyful and exuberant. But it's an interesting thing to play this character. It's really about how he's just been overindulged in every way, you know, by his parents. And he doesn't have a very good sense of right or wrong at that point. So it's been very fun. I get to play with a lot of other great actors up there. And that's the most fun, you know, when you've got different actors playing the kids and their parents. We kind of get to do some fun ensemble work up there, especially in Act Two.
Do you get a big intro song for yourself?
Yeah, all four kids have their own song. And mine is called "More of Him to Love." Traditional German Polka. Very silly, but a lot of sausage and pretzel props.
This production definitely has a --I don't know if I would call it cartoony but it seems like maybe an over the top kind of spin to it.
Absolutely, an over the top kind of spin. And I think that's what keeps it fun and fresh. And within that you have Charlie and his family to kind of ground things out a little bit. So you have all these insane things happening around this strong central group. And then once we get inside the factory, we're the least of the craziness that's going on. Things get a little wild in there.
So what was your personal experience with the story before?
I definitely think that my first experience was the Gene Wilder movie, which we had on VHS, and I watched quite a bit. So yeah, I knew that movie very, very well. And then I think, probably in middle school or late elementary school, I read the book. I went through a Roald Dahl phase, reading all of his books, and seeing the differences there and getting, like, a sense of his sensibilities, you know, that it's a bit more macabre than the movie is. And then the Johnny Depp movie came out when I would have been in high school. And it was popular among my generation just because there are people who love the story, they love the book, too, in addition to the modern movie. So it's nice to see a fresher take on that.
What do you think, are some of the elements of the original books that maybe are in this that haven't been in the Gene Wilder version?
I would say it's a look at the Wonka character in a different way. He definitely has a wicked sense of humor. Gene Wilder brings a really lovely touch to it, but I think he's a bit more Dahl-esque in the musical a bit more biting, you know, a bit sharper in his feelings about the whole thing. There's also just a little bit more of that. But it's definitely a show that's great for family and kids, young kids, too. But there is a little bit of that darkness that creeps in, more so even than in the Gene Wilder movie, I would say.
What have been the audience reactions so far?
You know, that's one of the funny things about traveling across the country. You hear from other friends and touring shows that some towns just have a different approach to how they view theater. So it's funny, you know? You'll be playing in one place, like the West Coast or LA, the audiences are so engaged and so responsive, and very with you. But then you play some of the Midwest towns and they love it, they're so happy during group curtain call, but they're just so polite and reserved while they're watching. So it's always kind of fun to gauge a new city. And that makes you have to adjust your approach. It's a good way to keep it fresh.
So what are some of your favorite big production numbers?
Well, the end of Act One has one of my favorite songs from Mark and Scott, it's called, "It Must Be Seen to be Believed." I think that number captures the essence of the story overall, and the Wonka character overall. That's a really wonderful one. It also features great dancing from the ensemble. The ensemble has such a hard job in the show, to do so much production number dancing inact one, and then they handle all the heavy lifting in act two, which is incredibly impressive. I don't want to give anything away there, but it's incredibly impressive what they're able to do.
What do you guys hope audiences will take away with them?
I would say for me, personally, I hope audiences take away a respect for creativity. I think that's the core theme of the show - having a respect for your own creativity. And when you're feeling creatively empty, how to approach that, to encourage you to not necessarily give up.
I love that!
Yeah, I would say that's an element that Jack O'Brien, our director, really put in there. That was something that was important to him.
Well, I'm really excited about seeing this. It sounds like it should be a lot of fun.
Oh yeah, it's a very fun time. It's a very fun show.
And I think you'll also enjoy seeing our town.
I've heard nothing but great things. I've heard that Greenville's fantastic. I'm so excited to come by.
Well, we look forward to having you!
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY will play eight performances in the Peace Concert Hall, Oct. 1-6, 2019, as part of the Peace Center's 2019-2020 Broadway season. Tickets are $35-$95.
Tickets may be purchased by calling 864.467.3000 or 800.888.7768, in person at the Peace Center Box Office or online at www.peacecenter.org. Service fees will apply to phone and online sales.
For more information about the Peace Center and its upcoming events, visit www.peacecenter.org.