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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 15, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 29
Matt Leisy: A Gentleman's interview
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Matt Leisy: A Gentleman's interview

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE
TO LOVE AND MURDER
5TH AVENUE THEATRE
July 12-31, 2016


A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder is the musical farce that won the 2014 Tony for Best Musical. Telling the story of an Englishman's low position on a hereditary fortune, the musical boasts quick costume changes and high laughs. As The 5th Avenue Theatre presents the Seattle debut of this musical hit, the Seattle Gay News spoke to one of its leading players.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?

Matt Leisy: I was a late bloomer. I was painfully shy as a kid, but I always loved to sing. I toured with the American Boychoir for two years as a boy soprano, singing at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, on two recordings for Angel EMI, and all over the world. Despite this exposure, I was still really shy. I didn't start to open up until high school. I went to go see Sunset Boulevard on Broadway with my family and got the cast album for Christmas. I wore that CD out! I would act out the entire story in front of the mirror playing all the characters from beginning to end. So embarrassing! Then in college, I took an acting class and the acting bug got me. Thank you, Kim Rubinstein!

Andrews-Katz: Despite being born in Boston you were raised in England. How does the English view on and support for the theatre differ from American views?

Leisy: I think the main difference between the British and American theatre is government funding. London has a national treasure aptly named The National Theatre where actors, directors and designers can risk pushing the theatrical envelope with each of their government subsidized productions. The British are afforded the luxury of taking risks. We are not able to do that in the U.S. because there are no real subsidies, and too much painstakingly raised money is at stake. I sound like such an Anglophile, but in England, going to the theatre is more common practice. It's more akin to going to the cinema. And I think their lower ticket prices definitely have something to do with that!

Andrews-Katz: You were in the comedic spoof The 39 Steps. How did that prepare you for the quick comedy of A Gentleman's Guide...?

Leisy: That was the perfect preparation for A Gentleman's Guide... The styles are very similar and Monty Navarro has a very similar arc to The 39 Steps' Richard Hannay. Hannay, like Monty, becomes the unexpected 'hero' who also happens to remain on stage for the entirety of the show while larger than life characters come and go. Both roles are mini marathons and so much fun!

Andrews-Katz: In L.A., you were part of a cabaret show called 'Songs We Shouldn't Sing from Roles We'll Never Play.' What was the song/role you performed and what made the song appealing for you?

Leisy: I sang 'Unusual Way' from Nine partly because it is such a departure from our show, stylistically. I just got to stand there and sing a simple, poignant lyric. Then for something completely different, and equally satisfying, we boys put on high heels and sang 'My Body' from The Life, portraying gritty NYC hookers in the 1980s!

Andrews-Katz: How did your audition for the Broadway company of Gentleman's Guide come about?

Leisy: My audition process spanned a year! I have a lot of serendipity to thank for being cast. I heard about the show during its infancy, while they were trying to find the right venue for the out-of-town tryout. I was then coaching audition material with the composer, Steven Lutvak. Years later, I ran into Steven at a restaurant the week before the Gentleman's Guide Broadway opening. He told me that if the show were to run, I would be great for it. I was invited to the Broadway opening through one of the producers. I made it my mission that night to get myself into the show.

Months later, the team got together to audition possible replacements in the Broadway company. Steven put me on the audition list and I flew myself back to NYC for the audition from rehearsals for Pride and Prejudice at Cincinnati Playhouse. Nothing came from that audition. About 9 months later, I bumped into Steven Lutvak. He asked me if I would be willing to tour. I said yes and a couple of months later, I found myself at the final callbacks for the tour. The rest is history!

Andrews-Katz: Since A Gentleman's Guide... has so many quick costume changes and character switches, have any of the actors gotten it wrong and gone on as a different character or costume than called for?

Leisy: It's shocking, but that hasn't happened yet! I'm sure it happened to someone during tech rehearsals. But I've definitely started to put the wrong costume on before. Thankfully, I caught myself before it was too late!

Andrews-Katz: Aside from being a gypsy, what are some of the challenges of traveling on the road with a Broadway company?

Leisy: Being on a national tour has a lot of benefits (getting to explore the country, save money, etc.), but I think the hardest part for most of us is the fact that we've left loved ones behind. Long distance relationships are hard, let me tell you. Being on tour is different than working in New York. There, the show is just a part of our day. We get to see our friends and have more of a separation between work and play. On tour there isn't a delineation, so it's all about finding the right balance for you.

Andrews-Katz: Which do you think are more popular, reality musicals (Ragtime, Spring Awakening) or fluff musicals (Mamma Mia!, A Gentleman's Guide...)?

Leisy: No offense to Mamma Mia!, but I wouldn't put Gentleman's Guide in the same category. Our show is light in tone, but it is quite witty and is masterfully realized, in my opinion. I think, on the road, recognizable titles and known commodities are the most popular. Gentleman's Guide is less recognizable, but we fill touring houses, luring audiences with our Tony Award for Best Musical and the fact that it's hilarious. Word of mouth is also good for us. In New York, I think people are more swayed by reviews. A rave in the NY Times is like gold and can keep a show running. Same thing goes for Tony Awards. I don't think there is a correlation between the type of show and its popularity. I think it depends on the show's content and if it finds the right audience at the right time.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role - regardless of any limitations - what would it be and why that role?

Leisy: That high school student in front of the mirror would like a shot at Norma Desmond, I'm sure! In a more realistic world, I would love to play King George in Hamilton. That show is not going away any time soon and I think I would have a blast doing it!

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder is based on Roy Horniman's 1907 novel, Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal. The musical opened on Broadway in 2014. This is the first National Tour.

https://www.5thavenue.org/ or 206-625-1900.

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