Matthew James Thomas :: Broadway’s ’Pippin’ sounds off with ’No Sound At All’
Getting the leads in two Broadway musicals before the age of thirty is a seemingly impossible feat for any actor, yet Matthew James Thomas has made it seem easy. In just three years, he’s landed major roles in two hits: first as the alternate Peter Parker in the acrobatic musical, and, currently, as the title character in the equally mobile revival of "Pippin" that recently won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.
Not that acting is anything new for the 25-year-old Brit who emigrated to the States in 2010. In his homeland, he’s been an actor from an early age, appearing in television shows (most notably "Britannia High," the UK answer to "Glee") and movies ("Billy Elliot" when he was 12). He’s also a musical theater veteran, having a featured role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s "Whistle Down the Wind" in the West End and, more recently, as the title character in a new version of Oscar Wilde’s "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (called "Dorian Gray") in 2009.
Noting Coldplay and U2 as a couple of his favorite bands, it isn’t surprising that Thomas took easily to the music of "Spider-man": its score was written by U2-mates Bono and The Edge. But the range of Matthew’s fluid and soft vocals also lend themselves well to Stephen Schwartz’ classic songs in "Pippin" such as "Corner of the Sky" and "With You" (heard on the new release of "The Original Pippin New Broadway Recording").
Given his success, it was only a matter of time before we knew that Thomas would grace us with a studio recording of his own material. Matthew released his debut EP "No Sound At All" produced by Grammy and Tony winner Duncan Sheik this past month online. A collection of only three songs, Matthewl gives us some very personal pieces of work represented in the titles alone, "Mother, Not So Simple," and the title track.
I had a chance to chat with the "Pippin" star and talk about his EP release, the coincidence of its release to the "Pippin" cast album, his plans to release a full-length album, and the snub by the Tony Award’s nomination committee.
BeBe: Was musical theater as a part of your life growing up?
Matthew James Thomas: My family, my mom and dad, are into music. My mom’s a dancer and dance teacher, and my dad was a mathematician and musician. My grandmother was a pianist. So, we would go to musicals, and my mom would take me to auditions.
BeBe: Is it true for you that getting involved with musical theater and acting was an outlet for you to get away from the bullying you experienced as a kid?
Matthew James Thomas: Actually, some of that (bullying) came from my success from being on television. I think it was difficult for some kids to deal with me getting all the attention. I’d be in school with them, and they’d go home from school, and there I was on their television. So, I got teased a bit especially when I did "Billy Elliot" (2000). I got teased quite a bit for that film. I didn’t really mind it. The physical bullying stuff at school, however, had nothing to do with (my acting work). When I moved to go to drama school in London, it was a good escape for me. I could get away (from the bullying) with my training, which is what I liked to do.......sing and dance!
BeBe: Since coming to the States, you’ve managed to score roles in two huge Broadway productions with the original "Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark" and the current Tony-winning revival "Pippin." Tell me, how does a newbie on Broadway manage to land roles?
Matthew James Thomas: I have no idea! I guess... I have a good team. I have a good agent and manager. I could say I’m disciplined, but I think most guys on Broadway are. It’s a lot of luck involved, but I do have a good team and work really hard. You have to do a lot of auditions. I auditioned for "Spider-Man" in London actually. That’s where they hired me, and I wanted to come to America. And "Pippin" was another audition. I didn’t really know much about the show at all. So, I was curious and learned the songs and went to the audition. And that was it.
BeBe: The two productions do have some similarities, though it may not seem so apparent on the surface. They are both very physical types of productions with death-defying stunts, and the music in both is what I consider to have pop-driven scores. The music definitely has a non-Broadway appeal to the public, meaning people have enjoyed and been exposed to the music without ever seeing the shows. Do you think these type of productions as I’ve described are going to become your niche for you as more shows come along?
Matthew James Thomas: I would hope not be pigeon-holed like that. I just want to be involved with projects here people are aiming for the highest standard of work possible. I don’t really care what style it is. I just like being involved with interesting people who are working to impress, and to involve, and to excite the public.
No nomination? No problem
BeBe: Now, the revival of "Pippin" has gone on to win multiple Tony Awards in 2013 including Best Revival of a Musical, and many of your fellow cast mates were nominated and won Tonys such as Andrea Martin and director Diane Paulus. Do you think you being a Broadway newbie caused the Tony nominating committee to overlook your performance as the title character in "Pippin"?
Matthew James Thomas: I don’t know. I don’t know how any of that works. I worked really hard on the role. I think if I do my job the best I can, the more you (audience) get taken away by the story. The better I got at that the more I got taken in by the world combined with everybody (involved with the production).
Therefore, I don’t feel like I didn’t get nominated for a Tony because the show got the Tony award for Best Revival, and I played a character in that show. It’s my first time on Broadway. I don’t expect to be there with all the big players right away.
Why the EP title?
BeBe: Now after all the early success on Broadway, you have released your first recording project, your EP "No Sound At All." Why did you choose the EP’s title?
Matthew James Thomas: Not only is it one of the tracks on the album, it’s probably one of (my) most personal pieces of work surrounded by the emotions I went through for the past 2 years. There’s an obvious metaphor about the song related to my relationship. I couldn’t hear anything where there was so much music and so much love and excitement, and then suddenly, it all disappeared. There was no sound there even though the music was still playing. It’s kind of a very interesting way to describe how I was feeling. It made sense to make it the title of the EP, and (it) will probably be the title for the full-length album when I’m finished.
BeBe: There are only three songs in this collection, so this is just a teaser of what’s to come?
Matthew James Thomas: Yes, we wanted to get some music out there at this point and time so people could have something to listen to, but I’m never going to rush writing music just for the sake of having it written and out there. I try to be as honest as possible in the stuff that I write. I just sort of have to take my time and get it right, and put it in the best shape it can be so I can be proud as possible (of it), no matter what everybody else’s opinion is (a sarcastic laugh).
Testing the waters?
BeBe: Was the release of your EP "No Sound At All" coincidental in timing to the digital release of the new "Pippin" cast album (now available in stores as of July 9) or was it planned to have your voice prominently heard on two new sound recording releases simultaneously?
Matthew James Thomas: I like that question. It’s been a real fun moment for us. My manager and I have spent the last 2 years getting this music out. It’s taken a long time. It’s always good to give yourself a deadline. We were planning to release another 5-6 songs, but it’s very concentrated work. Every single song should have its own legit story pertaining to my life. That’s why I wasn’t rushing.
But at the same time, I’ve had in my playbill for the last 3 years ’shortly releasing a new album of music,’ and people were getting a little pissed off. Where’s this album!? So, we said why don’t we just give the public something and see if they like it. That was the idea, and it just happened to be at the same time that the "Pippin" cast album was released.
BeBe: With your attempt then to ’test the waters’ with the EP "No Sound At All," do you plan on doing performance showcases to get immediate feedback from your audience?
Matthew James Thomas: Now that the music is out there, we’re hoping that the public will begin asking for shows. But until then, I will continue writing music, and perhaps by the time I have a show, I’ll be able to introduce some new songs.
BeBe: You are a television star in the U.K. You’ve done a couple of films. You’ve successfully tackled Broadway. And, now you are a recording artist. That’s a lot of expression of one’s talents. You are doing it all! Do you think there will be a time where you will have to set a primary medium to express your talents?
Matthew James Thomas: I’ve thought about that a lot. And, every time I try to settle on one direction, an opportunity in another direction comes along. That’s really been happening my whole life. I just say why try and make a decision at this point to one thing or another when I enjoy doing all of them. I’m young and full of energy, and will continue to do them all. It seems to be my destiny to do everything.
Matthew James Thomas’ "No Sound At All" is now available digitally online at iTunes, Amazon, and CD Baby.
Thomas can also be heard on "The Original Pippin New Broadway Recording" album now available digitally and in hard copy form online.
The Broadway revival of "Pippin" is currently running at the Music Box Theater, New York City.