Photo by Ruben V. Nepales
When Matthew returns on stage for this interview, he has chucked away his early 20th- century costume as JM Barrie, creator of “Peter Pan,” and changed into a tee and blue jeans. He has grown a full beard for the show. But he says that the facial hair also means that he’s no longer Mr. Schuester, the beloved glee club director in “Glee,” which ended its song-filled, six-season run last March.
“That was my second show today,” Matthew says, referring to the matinee and evening performances. “Finding Neverland,” inspired by the 2004 drama that starred Johnny Depp as JM and Kate Winslet as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, marks Matthew’s return to Broadway. His previous Great White Way credits include “The Light in the Piazza,” for which he received Tony and Drama Desk nominations, “South Pacific,” “Footloose” and “Hairspray.”
The actor is in his element in “Finding Neverland,” which taps his triple-threat talents as he essays how JM came to write “Peter Pan.” Laura Michelle Kelly (luminous as Sylvia) and Anthony Warlow (as Charles Frohman and Captain James Hook—he is wonderful), who temporarily takes over for Kelsey Grammer through Sept. 10, later join our chat.
Harvey Weinstein, who produced the movie, is also behind this production directed by Diane Paulus, with a book by James Graham and music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy.
A pair of dogs that alternate in playing JM’s pet also reappears on stage and pose for pictures. Below are excerpts from our talk with Matthew:
When you were doing “Glee,” did you miss theater?
Maybe in Season Three of “Glee,” I was itching to be back on the stage. It was just like waiting till the show was over. I knew the next thing I would do after “Glee” was to be on Broadway. It was just a matter of what show.
Harvey Weinstein called me from out of the blue and said, “I got the perfect show for you.” I fell in love with it—the music, score and such an amazing creative team, Diane Paulus and me and (choreographer) Mia Michaels. It was just a no-brainer for me.
The “Glee” fans in the audience cheer you every night.
Yeah, but honestly, that’s why I grew the beard and stuff. I wanted the first impression to be, oh that’s not Mr. Schue from “Glee.” I wanted to get away from that a little bit.
Were you a fan of “Peter Pan” when you were growing up?
I loved Peter Pan Peanut Butter (laughs). When I was growing up, my thing was “Hook” with Robin Williams. That was my Peter Pan experience. I absolutely loved that movie so I wanted to be a part of it. That movie was definitely a big source of joy in my childhood.
I love telling the story behind the story. “Wicked” does that with its story (“The Wizard of Oz”). I feel that we are doing that with this. The movie, obviously, was so great and it came out in 2004.
Harvey has been wanting to make this for a long time. I think this story was meant to be on the stage because you could do so much more. The theater is a place for the imagination to come alive. That’s what I feel like we get to do every night. It’s just a thrill.
How did you practice your Scottish accent?
When I found out that I was doing this role, I practiced my accent while I was still doing “Glee.” I realized that was a mistake because I was playing Mr. Schuester and the accent started to come out. I went, “No, no, get out. ”
I had a great dialect coach named Dawn-Elin (Fraser). She really took me through the stuff because Scottish is one of the hardest accents to learn. It’s so close to Irish that it’s easy to slip into it. During previews, I don’t think I had the accent quite down. But when you do eight shows a week, you really get a lot of practice.
Is it easy to sing in an accent?
It’s funny because if you get the cast album, you won’t hear me singing in the accent as much as I do now. It’s just been a process of learning it and getting into it every night. It is easier now but I think that was one of the hardest things, for sure—learning that accent.
What have been the highlights for you so far?
Laura is such a pleasure to work with. And seeing the audience go through the journey we are taking them on every night. They are so there with it every single night. They are laughing and, at the end, they are crying. It’s cathartic and beautiful.
What have been some of the amusing miscues so far?
The dog. I never know what he is going to do. That dog gives me trouble sometimes. He just upstages me. The audience is just looking at the dog.
Does being in this play bring out the kid in you?
I feel like the theater is a great place to be a kid. This is what I was doing when I was a kid. I get to walk backstage and there’s a guy in a dog costume walking by. It’s playful and it’s fun.
Have any “Glee” cast members come and seen the show yet?
Yeah, a lot have. They have all come backstage and they are all so happy and excited to see me. But Ryan (Murphy, “Glee” creator) hasn’t come. He’s a busy guy.
How do you wind down after each show?
We eat after the show. Our hours are so weird because I can’t eat too close to a show or you will hear it (laughs). So yeah, I am about to have dinner.