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Student Press Review
In the background, but not in the shadows
While ensemble Matt Wall performs as part of a larger group, his enthusiasm for the theater lets him stand out
Editor's note: Originally published: January 16, 2004
"This is a dream come true," says Matt Wall, glancing around the empty theater. He gazes at the stage, then looks back. "This is exactly what I wanted to do."
Wall is sitting in the deserted Marquis Theater, discussing the origins of his career in the theater. It is nearing seven o'clock, and in just a few more minutes, Wall will be performing on the stage directly in front of him.
Wall is part of the cast of the Broadway musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie. He is tall, with blonde-brown hair and blue eyes; his boyish charm is infectious. He possesses both the enthusiasm and buoyant nature of an actor, and often drifts off into peals of theatrical laughter.
Wall is an ensemble member - he doesn't have an actual character name in the show, although he comes on stage for all of the big musical numbers. As an ensemble member, he doesn't go home in a limo followed by screaming fans, hounded by people on the street for autographs. Wall's role in Millie is relatively small, yet essential to the life of the theater and the success of the show.
"My parents started taking me to shows when I was around six or seven," the Poughkeepsie native recalls.
Then, in junior high-school, Wall played the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. After graduating from high-school, he attended the Boston Conservatory, and received a B.A. in musical theater.
Wall's first Broadway experience was as an ensemble member in Saturday Night Fever, in which he was a member of the original cast. He was first hired in Thoroughly Modern Millie as a substitute ensemble member for five weeks. But, five weeks in the cast has quickly turned into a year and five days.
"This job has come along and it's been fantastic," says Wall.
Wall's favorite part of the play is the "high-energy" opening act; it has the hardest dance number. When I ask Wall if he prefers acting, dancing or singing, he becomes pensive.
"I like dancing the best," he replies. But then, he balks. "Acting is the best....wait no! It's hard to say."
After a moment, Wall says that it's important to be equally good in all three areas. Perhaps acting does take precedence, because, as Wall says, "you have to tell a story."
Ultimately, ensemble members have to be talented in all areas, while keeping the the play fresh and energetic. In this sense, members of the ensemble are the support system of a musical; without a talented ensemble, the play would fall to the ground.
Wall can best be described as a working actor; his role in Thoroughly Modern Millie is the type of steady work many actors crave. And for many actors, including Wall, steady work in the theater has its own rewards.
After thinking about doing the same show every night and if it ever gets boring, like school or a job, he replies, "When you love doing what you do...it's different."
Unlike a nine to five job, Wall says that his job never gets bland or banal. Besides, there are lots of nuances that make each show special, such as differing audiences and understudies as variables that "keep the show fresh."
According to Wall, each performance of the play is practically a new experience. "I don't know how people can do nine to five jobs!" he remarks, incredulously.
But Wall's favorite part of performing in Thoroughly Modern Millie may be his history with the Marquis Theater itself. The first Broadway play Wall ever saw was Me and My Girl, which played in the very theater where he performs almost every night of the week.
Wall laughs as he points to the back, motioning to distant red seats. "I sat over there...maybe in row N," he says. It seems like a true Cinderella tale of Broadway.
Maybe it's Wall's history with this theater that makes his role in Thoroughly Modern Millie a "dream come true." Or maybe it's subtle combination of talent, optimism and luck - being an ensemble member is an everyday challenge.
Either way, it may be all in a day's work on the "Great White Way," but this hard-working actor is someone to watch.
Aliza Simons is a junior at the Bronx High School of Science in the Bronx, N.Y. Simons is one of 12 New York City high school students selected to participate in the Fall 2003 semester of CSPA's Stringers Program, co-sponsored with Camp Broadway.
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