Actor Swaps Press-On Nails for Yellow Shoes, Doing Double-Duty On Broadway for Kander and Ebb

News   Actor Swaps Press-On Nails for Yellow Shoes, Doing Double-Duty On Broadway for Kander and Ebb
Though many Broadway actors wait around for their next gig to come along, Matthew Deming found himself juggling two shows in recent weeks. While performing nightly as Mary Sunshine in the long-running revival of Chicago, the actor has also been rehearsing the role of aged eunuch Louis Perch in the new Kander and Ebb musical The Visit.

Deming, who was also cast in the Williamstown run of The Visit (and has been part of the show's development for several years), began Broadway rehearsals for the new musical the week of Feb. 24. After rehearsing all day with John Kander, John Doyle, Chita Rivera and company, he would hustle uptown to the Ambassador Theatre to slip into the heels and wig of Mary Sunshine in the long-running, hit revival of Chicago. caught up with Deming the day following his final performance in Chicago on March 3 to find out what it was like straddling two Kander and Ebb musicals and his experience revisiting The Visit.

How crazy was your schedule during the overlap weeks of Chicago and The Visit?
MD: Chicago's performance schedule means that we have a five-show weekend, starting on Friday night and with two shows on both Saturday and Sunday. I had been in rehearsals since Tuesday, [Feb. 24] for The Visit and was there from 10 AM-6 PM every day during the week and then in the mornings before the matinees. By Sunday night I had burned through so much adrenaline from being excited and nervous about maintaining my voice with so much singing that I thought I wouldn't make it. But, I was so tired that I couldn't possibly be tense and actually had one of my best vocal shows. The upside was that I was so busy for the two weeks I lost six lbs!

Backstage at <i>Chicago</i>
Backstage at Chicago

What was it like doing your last Chicago performance and then coming into work on a new Kander and Ebb show the next morning?
MD: Last night at Chicago when I finished my big number, I could tell in an instant a giant feeling of relief. Not that I was glad to be done, but that I didn't have to try to maintain that high level of performance while also giving my best for a full week of rehearsals with the new show. It's a wonderful burden to work on two Broadway contracts at the same time, but oh boy, it was not easy! It was nice to rehearse today and not have any thought of worries about my voice for an evening performance, or dealing with those press-on nails that I seem to have such a talent for losing onstage.

Did John Kander have anything to say to you about being in two of his shows?
MD: John has always been very supportive of my voice and participation in The Visit. When the audition came up for Chicago and with me booking it, he said it wasn't surprising to him at all. I suspect he did me a great kindness in passing along a good word to the team at Chicago... After doing one of Kander and Ebb's most enduring shows and now a brand-new piece, do you feel like a Kander and Ebb vet yet?
MD: I have always been drawn to Kander and Ebb's music, so being a part of these two productions feels right to me. My recent time as Mary Sunshine was actually my second run with Chicago, and I have now been involved in three versions of The Visit. So in a way, I do feel quite at home working with the creative team behind both shows.

Do you find that there are some similar artistic sensibilities between the two shows?
MD: The only thing that is similar for me with both shows is generally the vocal range. Mary Sunshine is the limit of how high I can sing in my counter tenor voice, or what I jokingly call my lady voice. The role I play in The Visit is more like a mezzo, but still pretty high at times. As far as characters go, they couldn't be more different. I think of Mary as being a young or youngish, energetic working girl with a bright outlook. Louis Perch is perhaps around 70, blind, bent from age and is a eunuch!

All made up for <i>The Visit</i>!
All made up for The Visit!

What's it like being in the room with Chita Rivera for The Visit, who was also the original Velma?
MD: Chita is the most loving, approachable and down-to-earth Broadway legend there is. I was quite nervous to work with her at first. I mean... who am I compared to the career she has had? But from day one she made it clear we were all on the same level and we genuinely love one another... It's been seven years now, and I am still in awe of her talent and spirit.

Are their things performers today could learn from watching a pro like Chita Rivera still tackling new roles and shows into her 80s?
MD: It is amazing to me the energy that she has... and despite the length of rehearsal days – knowing she is carrying so much of the show, she never lets up or gives any signs of complaining. She works harder than anyone in the room, I suspect, but does it with grace and elegance.

You also did The Visit in Williamstown. What makes this project special or unique to you?
MD: Working with John Doyle on this has changed my whole perspective on what the show is and what it can be. I don't want to give anything away in terms of his direction, but I'll say that have worked with him previously on Merrily We Roll Along, he has a way of making sure everyone in the company is always present and equally important in the storytelling. His take on this production is shedding new light on the story... so many layers of humanity.

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