Interview: Matthew Stocke on ‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’ and How He’s “Stuck Around” as an Actor

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Actor Matthew Stocke

“If there’s anything you love to do as much, do that. If you have to do it, you’ll figure out a way to do it.” – Matthew Stocke

Matthew Stocke got his Equity card almost 30 years ago and since then, he’s been making his living as an actor ever since. With roles in Broadway shows Titanic, The Full Monty, The Boy From Oz and The Wedding Singer, he’s “been the most fortunate person in the world,” he told me. “I’m so unbelievably grateful to have spent every day of my adult life doing exactly what I wanna do,”

After appearing on the Broadway in Pretty Woman: The Musical, he’s now starring in the touring version opposite Adam Pascal and Olivia Valli, where he plays Philip Stuckey, the “bad guy” of the show. “I’ve not played a whole lot of baddies in my career, and it is so fun.”

In this interview, he talks about the show and his role, touring during COVID and his advice on how he’s “stuck around” as an actor. These are edited excerpts from that conversation. For the full interview, check out the video below or on YouTube.

I don’t think anybody needs to know the plot of the show, but let’s start with who you play.

Matthew Stocke: I play the bad guy, the Jason Alexander character from the movie, a guy named Phill Stuckey, who is Ed Lewis, our protagonist, his consigliere. I like to refer to myself as Tom Hagen, for those of us of a certain age, who does his bidding. I make him money; he makes me money. And for 90% of the movie, and for 90% of our play, Phil’s not a bad guy, Phil’s just doing his job. But then of course, it all goes squirrely.

But it’s a really fun role to play. I’ve not played a whole lot of baddies in my career, and it is so fun. I keep using the word delicious when I do interviews, and it’s just… It’s really fun, and my fellow actors are awesome. And, as far as heavy lifting goes, I’m on stage for 14 minutes.

You were in the original Broadway run of the show. For the tour, do they ask you to be in it, or do you have to re-audition?

Matthew Stocke: It’s part of having stuck around for almost 30 years in this business that the director, Jerry Mitchell and I have been good buddies for a long time. He was the choreographer on a show I did in 2000 on Broadway called ‘The Full Monty’. Before he started directing, he was a very sought-after choreographer and still is. So I’ve known Jerry for 22 years, and one of the things that oftentimes happens in the business, because it’s such a small business, is when projects are being shepherded and developed, they won’t have auditions. The directors who have been around a while, and have worked with a lot of people, they’ll just kind of hand-pick groups of people to come in and do readings of new musicals to develop the work, which is how musicals and plays get developed. You just keep doing new versions of the scripts and the scores, sitting around a table. Sometimes you get up and act out a few scenes until you get into the workshops, where you actually start to stage numbers and things like that. But it starts with readings.

So, in 2016, he asked me to be part of the first reading of this version of Pretty Woman, which was actually the first reading after Gary Marshall died. Which is just heartbreaking ’cause he was such a good guy and really shepherded this project from way back.

I was involved in the first reading, where Patrick Wilson played Edward. And then we did several more readings and workshops of it until we did the first actual production in Chicago in 2018, in the summer of 2018, which was our pre-Broadway try-out. And Jerry just kept a lot of us along for the ride.

It sounds kind of bizarre, but if you get to a point in your career where you have worked with a bunch of people, where you’ve been fortunate enough to do a bunch of projects with the people who put these things together, sometimes you actually don’t audition. You kind of get in on the ground floor. And then every time they did a new production of it, I kept expecting to get the phone call that said, “Yeah, you’re not doing this one.”

Certainly, with the goings on in the world in the last two years, to be able to do the Broadway production before the pandemic, and then coming out of it, to get asked to do this tour and also to get bumped up, ’cause I understudied this role on Broadway. And then to get asked to do the role on tour, I didn’t hesitate, I was thrilled.

The show is a musical. But your character, from what I read, doesn’t have any songs or doesn’t sing at all?

Matthew Stocke: No. It’s changed a lot over the years. At first, Stuckey had a few songs and it became very clear through the development of the show that they were kind of superfluous. Basically, all they did was just point out what a D-bag this guy is over and over and over again, so they kind of felt that that would play out on its own, and it has.

And there was a song at the beginning of act two in the Broadway production, but when the new version of the script came around, we were putting the tour together and that song had been cut. I wasn’t doing cartwheels because I’d made a living singing, but at the same time, it wasn’t a necessary song at the beginning of act two, and the beginning of act two now moves at a much better clip, it gets right to the point of beginning the exposition of the show.

And honestly, on tour, I don’t necessarily miss singing, only because there are so many things that can affect how well you sing when you’re on tour, not the least of which, obviously COVID, which I’ve had twice, but other things. We live in hotels week to week to week, and theaters, some old, some new, are all varying degrees of dusty and moldy, and you’re traveling, you’re flying every week.

The opportunity to get some sort of infection outside of the COVID world is incredibly prevalent. So, there have been times when, if I had a big singing role in the show, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do the show, but given what my workload is, it affords me the opportunity to not be vocally at my best and still do the show. Where other people, if it’s not 100%, it’s really quite challenging.

You kind of mentioned this earlier, but what’s it like touring and being in a show in the time of COVID? I saw a Hadestown a couple weeks ago where two of the leads were out. What’s it like for you, or the company as a whole?

Matthew Stocke: We have incredibly strict protocols, obviously based on CDC recommendations, locality recommendations and things like that. We’re obviously vaxed and boosted and all those things.

We’ve been cobbling together shows since the beginning of the tour, we’ve had a couple of surges. We were in Columbus in March, and we had nine people out. Somehow our stage managers and our dance captains cobbled together a show. We haven’t, and I’m gonna knock on everything, we haven’t cancelled a show since before Christmas. We’ve been very, very, very fortunate, but… And the testing, while it’s a nuisance, it’s basically to mitigate huge numbers. If you have one or two people out, you’re fine, you get up to five or six people out, then you have… You really have your work cut out.

The funny part is I interact with so few people, that there have been nights when I turn around and I see somebody and I go, “Hey, how you doing? Didn’t know you were playing this role tonight, interesting.” But, yeah no, it’s been a challenge, but the people in charge have given us all the tools we need to make it successful, and it’s been incredibly successful.

You’ve been basically making your living acting for 30 years you said?  

Matthew Stocke: I moved to New York 27 years ago, but yeah, I got my equity card almost 30 years ago.

What advice would you give somebody? How have you been able to maintain this career this long?

Matthew Stocke: Certainly a combination of things. Number one, you have to wanna do it worse than anything else in the world, and I tell students this all the time: If there’s anything you love to do as much, do that. If you have to do it, you’ll figure out a way to do it.

I entered this career round and third, because A, I’m a six-foot-tall average looking White male, and even in Hamilton there’s a role for me. So, it’s like, there’s always work for somebody who fits my build. I’m a Baritenor, I’m kind of… And I don’t say this in a self-deprecating way, I’m very kind of average looking, I can fit into every show. They can put wigs on me, I can wear a fat pad, I can get skinny… There’s a lot of options for somebody in my situation, that puts me ahead of the curve.

I do have, thank God, some God-given talent but I also worked my butt off, I went to Carnegie Mellon, which opened up a thousand doors. Of course, I had to work my butt off to get into and then to survive Carnegie Mellon. But, my training is something I rely on even 27 years later, all the time. I feel like I was prepared to be a professional, which is not the same as being an actor. So I had a lot of things going for me.

And also, I was not going to be in any way, shape or form denied. I knew I was going to do this. At the time, I would have stepped on my grandma to succeed. I also had some of the friends that I had mentioned before, two of the guys that I graduated with were Patrick Wilson and Christian Borle. And Christian’s got a couple of Tonys, and Patrick’s got a bunch of nominations for all kinds of stuff. So, I don’t mind being the least successful out of the three of us. We’ve all been incredibly blessed, but we pushed each other, and we supported each other, and having that community around you is important. I was the child of a single parent. My mom supported me, she gave me everything I needed to succeed. I was fortunate, the entire culmination of support and tools that I needed were there, then I just had to see it through.

It’s a tall order, It’s a tall order man, and also you can’t be afraid to get kicked in the jewels a few times, it’s gonna happen over and over and over and over. You have to embrace uncertainty, you have to embrace being poor, ’cause every now and again, you get a great gig, and you make a lot of money, and then you go two years and you don’t do crap and then you lose it all.

And, you have to be fearless about that, you have to love what you do more than you are in fear of the uncertainty. I get to play make believe for a living man. I’ve been doing it for a long time, and I’m the luckiest person in the world.

Another thing that helps, is get creative, find other means of paying the bills. I’m a photographer and I make a really nice living on my side hustle, but I also worked real hard to create that brand and to do it that way. Things to supplement your career.

But it’s a tough racket man. I’ve been the most fortunate person in the world. I’m so unbelievably grateful to have spent every day of my adult life doing exactly what I wanna do, and fortunately, I’m still here doing it.

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