Matt Doyle Revels in Shakespeare and Show Tunes in Paper Mill's West Side Story

This veteran of three original Broadway musicals talks loving the Bard, singing Sondheim, and branching out.

Matt Doyle is known to Broadway audiences for having appeared in the original production of Spring Awakening, playing Elder Price in The Book of Mormon, and starring in War Horse. This spring, he's expanding his horizons with a starring role in Paper Mill Playhouse's revival of the classic musical West Side Story — not to mention a solo album and a comic book series, Dents (cowritten with Two Broke Girls star Beth Behrs).

As Tony, Doyle is looking forward to tapping into yet another of his interests: Shakespeare, whose Romeo and Juliet serves as the groundwork for Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim's beloved musical. "Romeo and Juliet had a huge influence on me, growing up," he told TheaterMania, "I've got a Juliet quote tattooed on my arm, I love Romeo and Juliet so much." Specifically, the line, "My bounty is as boundless as the sea, / My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite ."

As Doyle explains the impact that quote has had on his life, it begins to become clear just how and why he manages to throw so much of himself into so many projects. "I think that the more care and love and devotion I put into something the more I expect in return from it," he says, "and I think that is a good way to live, to be as passionate as you can be about the things that you love."

Matt Doyle as Tony in rehearsal for Paper Mill Playhouse's West Side Story.
Matt Doyle as Tony in rehearsal for Paper Mill Playhouse's West Side Story.
(© David Gordon)

You've got a lot going on.
It's been a really crazy year. I made a pretty conscious decision last year to try and do some more projects on my own and diversify a little bit so that I could develop things that I felt more in control of and do things that I'd always wanted to accomplish, like a full-length album. And I've been very interested in writing a comic book since I was a kid, so to see that come to life has been absolutely unbelievable. We have 26 chapters so I'm writing that after rehearsal every day. I think it's easy to get swept up in this business as an actor and get sidelined in focusing on what's next just in terms of this career. But I think life is so short you have to create as much as you can.

You're known for your work in original musicals, but what has it been like to work on a musical-theater classic?
I'm thrilled. I'd actually never done Westside and before this and really did not know the show that well, so I get to go into this experience completely open-minded. I'm so excited because I feel like I get to build it from the ground up as much as I think you possibly could with West Side Story.

How are you developing the character of Tony?
I have been going back and forth from the book scenes to the original text in Romeo and Juliet and trying to find as much as I can in that character. I think [Tony and Romeo] are actually both quite dark in a lot of aspects. Tony is the leader of the Jets and that's no joke. He formed a gang. So he does come from a much harder background than you would imagine for this romantic lead. And then the overwhelming influence of that young adolescent love kind of takes over and turns him into such a different person — so much more boyish than I think he's ever allowed himself to be.

Matt Doyle and Belinda Allyn rehearse West Side Story, running June 1-26.
Matt Doyle and Belinda Allyn rehearse the West Side Story classic "Tonight."
(© David Gordon)

What aspect of West Side Story are you most excited about?
I'm absolutely excited about this score. That's the one thing, I at least was familiar with the score. How could you not be? I mean the songs are so iconic, so finally I have the opportunity to sing these songs and really dive into the material. These writers were so brilliant that every note and every word means something and it's all in the text and you just have to dive into it and give yourself over to it. Every scene in this show is underscored and every line follows the underscoring. It's such a technical piece and that's been really thrilling.

How have you been getting along with the rest of the cast?
The cast is absolutely incredible. I've had the most wonderful experience working with them so far. My Maria is absolutely gorgeous in this role and it's so thrilling to watch her. But also Natalie Cortez, who I worked with on Giant for years is Anita, and I'm head over heels for her. We had done almost four years workshopping that piece and we played lovers, so it's funny because she'll be Anita in the scenes that I have with her and Maria, and I'm like, "Who am I in love with!?"

How does this production manage to stay fresh?
A lot of [cast members] did the revival, a lot of people have played the characters in other regional companies prior to this, so Mark [S. Hoebee], our brilliant director, said to us at the start, "Let's throw all of that out the window. Don't be afraid to make suggestions based on what you've done in the past and bring that to the rehearsal room, but don't approach this like you've already done this and we just have to get this up. Let's not be afraid to really look at it with fresh eyes."

Belinda Allyn and Matt Doyle in West Side Story, running June 1-26.
Belinda Allyn and Matt Doyle in West Side Story, running June 1-26.
(© David Gordon)

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West Side Story

Closed: June 26, 2016