PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Matthew Saldivar, Peter and the Starcatcher's New Stache

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14 Jul 2012

Matthew Saldivar
Matthew Saldivar

Matthew Saldivar, a recent resident of Elysian Fields in Broadway's A Streetcar Named Desire, can now be found in Neverland, where he stars in the 2012 Tony Award-nominated play Peter and the Starcatcher.

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Matthew Saldivar knew he had his work cut out for him when he accepted the role of Black Stache in Rick Elice's imaginative new play with music, Peter and the Starcatcher. Saldivar, who was recently seen in the multi-ethnic revival of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, succeed Christian Borle, the "Smash" star who received a Tony Award for his performance as the menacing — yet bumbling — pirate. After a couple short weeks of rehearsals — while simultaneously performing Streetcar at night — the singing actor, who was also seen in the Broadway musicals Grease and The Wedding Singer, picked up the hook and donned the "stache" of one of literature's most famous villains. Following his first week of performances, we caught up with Saldivar, who talked about fearlessly throwing himself into the most cohesive and creative ensemble on Broadway.

You began performances in Starcatcher July 2. How's it going over at the Brooks Atkinson?
Matthew Saldivar: It's going great! I made it through my first week, which was a bit of a trial-by-fire, but it's super fun and a wonderful thing to be sharing with audiences and with my colleagues. It took a bit of fearlessness to get out there and start doing it…

Well, you have some pretty big shoes to fill, considering Christian Borle won the Tony for his performance as Black Stache.
MS: Yes, absolutely!... A well-deserved Tony Award. It was a wonderful performance, and he created a wonderful character — along with the directors and the playwright — so, yes, that expression, "big shoes to fill"… Fortunately, they're giving me my own shoes!

Borle passes the Black Stache coat to Saldivar at his final curtan call
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Did Christian leave you with any words of wisdom before you stepped in?
MS: He said, "You're going to have a great time. You're going to love it," which is funny because the last person to say that to me was Danny Burstein, who played Luther Billis [in the Broadway revival of South Pacific] at Lincoln Center, and then I played Luther Billis on the road in the first national tour. And, before I played Hamlet, I saw Ethan Hawke in a deli, and we talked. I said, "Hey, man. I saw your movie" — it was "Hamlet" — "I thought you did a great job." He said, "Thanks," and I said, "Yeah, I'm going to play it." He said, "What?! Oh my God, you are going to have the greatest time!" And, it's been true all three times. It's so wonderful to hear an actor say that and to believe it — "to be able to play this character is a gift, and you are going to have a wonderful time." And, it's true.

What were your thoughts before rehearsals began? Had you seen the show?
MS: I saw [Peter and the Starcatcher] the day that they offered me the job… I think that was good because I had been working on my audition just based on the script. I had not seen the show yet because I was [playing Steve] in A Streetcar Named Desire. So I saw the show the night they had offered me the role, and it was pretty terrifying because it's such an ensemble piece. And, while most people think of the great challenge to be replacing another actor — a wonderful actor who gave a wonderful performance — my true concern was getting up to speed with the ensemble because that is a lot of work, and it is a wonderful display of craft and dedication and timing. It's kind of theatrical magic to create the evening, and that was very daunting to me because I knew that I had a very short amount of time to rehearse and that I wasn't going to be learning it with the company, as the company learns it. It was scary, but I had two wonderful people, [assistant director] Lilly King and [movement associate] Patrick McCollum. They were incredibly patient and incredibly helpful. They kind of taught me the nuts and bolts, and then I had a few sessions with the directors, [Roger Rees and Alex Timbers], and then a couple of run-throughs, and then I was on. It was pretty crazy.

Saldivar and Celia Keenan-Bolger onstage as the show celebrated its 100th performance July 11
Photo by Monica Simoes

You just finished Streetcar, and now you're in Starcatcher. Are you finding a sudden interest in non-musical theatre [his previous Broadway outings include Grease and The Wedding Singer] or are these the type of projects that are coming your way?
MS: Well, when I [completed] graduate school [at New York University], my classmates did not expect me to be doing musical theatre. They thought that I was going to be into classical, experimental and political theatre. And, I did a lot of that for almost ten years before I did The Wedding Singer… So, in a wonderful turn of events, and over the course of the past year, I [was involved in the development of] a new play, [Michael Golamco's Build], up at Chautauqua [Theater Company], and then I did Much Ado About Nothing at the Shakespeare Theatre in DC, and then I did A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway, and now this. So I've had a wonderful year of dealing with straight plays, but I love all kinds of mediums. I love art, I love literature, I love music — so I like to get my hands on as much of that stuff as possible in whatever form it comes in.

You're also developing new work yourself?
MS: I actually am developing a piece of musical theatre based on a novel from the Mexican Revolution called "Los de Abajo" [by Mariano Azuela], which translates as "The Underdogs." I was doing a master's in Spanish, and I had a seminar with a wonderful professor named Seymour Menton — he taught my Gabriel García Márquez class, [which included Márquez's novel], "One Hundred Years of Solitude." I just admired and cared for [Menton] very much, [and] he came to see me in South Pacific when I was on the road. We stayed in touch, and I went to him when I was doing Much Ado About Nothing in DC, and I asked him what he thought about my idea — I thought that this book should be adapted in some form. He thought it was a good idea, and he put me in touch with somebody to make arrangements with [the author's] estate in Mexico to develop this piece for the musical theatre, so I've been adapting the novel this summer. Over the fall, I'm going to continue doing that and start workshopping it. It's incredibly exciting — my father's from Mexico… The goal is to bring the story of that novel and the story of that time in Mexican history to audiences — to a larger audience.

You made your Broadway debut as over-the-top rocker Sammy in The Wedding Singer, and now you get to "ham it up" in Peter and the Starcatcher. They're both great character roles…
MS: [Laughs.] Yeah! The funny thing about Sammy… He wears the Michael Jackson jacket and the glove, and he's got that super-intense, giant mullet because he is cultivating an image of himself that he wants to love and realize — he wants to be a character. And, Black Stache is the same way. He really wants to be a great villain, and he doesn't achieve that until he meets Peter and is completed by that. He meets his perfect foil, and that's what really brings the joy into his life. I mean, he has a capacity for joy and fun, but he is reborn when he meets Peter. He is fulfilled, and now they're going to fight forever.

(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work frequently appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Write to him at mgioia@playbill.com.)

Watch highlights of Peter and the Starcatcher: