Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Matt McGrath: The Actor Behind the Devious Stache

Wyatt Fenner and Matt McGrath in Peter and the Starcatcher.  Photo by Debora Robinson.
Matt McGrath
This will be the fifth time that actor Matt McGrath has been on South Coast Repertory’s stages. He has been chameleon-like in each role he’s taken on. Stealing scenes and leaving audiences laughing until it hurts, McGrath excels in Peter and the Starcatcher as Black Stache, the pirate you can’t help but love.

Between the swashbuckling and shipwrecks, McGrath took time to talk about his first trip in Neverland, his approach as an actor and how this show affected him.

What first drew you to performing?
My local piano teacher happened to be the Mistress of the Children’s Chorus at the Metropolitan Opera and the David H. Koch Theater. After stepping on stage in front of 4,500 people to perform, I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

What was one of your earliest experiences performing a Peter Pan story?
I was cast in the role of Slightly Soiled in the Broadway production of Peter Pan, with Sandy Duncan. I took over for the actor Chris Farr. The original Lost Boys had outgrown the pirates and the Indians, so we were the second string of young actors. Then, I graduated to the role of John Darling for the national tour and went around the country for two years in the early ‘80s.

Matt McGrath and Kasey Mahaffy. Photo by Debora Robinson.
So you’ve come full circle playing Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher at SCR. Does Peter Pan hold a special place in your heart?
It really is a story that resonates with so many people because it’s about the psyche. Playwright Rick Elice has brought a novel to the stage for the child in all of our hearts, so that we can fly again. This is so tangible when you play this piece in front of a live audience. A prequel to Peter Pan? It’s as if Captain Hook were to post a "Throwback Thursday" on Facebook! And honestly, who can’t relate to the boy who doesn't care to grow up?

You’ve tackled a variety of roles from Hedwig (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) to the Emcee (Cabaret) to Lonny (Boys Don’t Cry). How do you approach each character?  
Gosh, I’ve done some intense projects, huh? I try to bring as much of myself to every role, of course. Stick to what you know, as the saying goes. Some portrayals are more successful than others and this is why a casting director is so important. Fortunately, SCR has one of the best—Joanne DeNaut. And in my role as Black Stache, I’m helping director Art Manke tell this story the way he envisions it.

What do you love most about playing Black Stache?
Truly, it is being with this group of actors. Art Manke has brought us together in such a way that has really astonished me. I'm always game to try new things: approaches to text, exercises in the rehearsal space, and the like, but I’ve never really been a "joiner" per se. This process for this play has changed that in me; I would follow these people anywhere. That may scare some of them when they read this!

Why do you think this show resonates so well with children and adults alike?
Well, it plays with our darkest fears, doesn’t it? Like Oliver Twist, it starts with the idea of not having parents and, therefore, not having a home. Although, this version doesn't have Peter Pan literally wrestling with his shadow in the Darling family’s nursery, he deals with a wrestles with the shadow that is Black Stache. He offers the idea of being constantly at sea with a ticking clock nipping at one’s heels. So, what does "Pan" mean and what is he supposed to be other than fun and frolic? Like reading in general, it teaches us about empathy and the importance of helping others. Even though no one has ever helped Peter, he learns to help someone else—Molly—and look at what they accomplish against all odds.

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