Tony-winner Matt Doyle at Feinstein's: the 'Company' star comes home

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday September 6, 2022
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Matt Doyle (photo: Curtis Brown)
Matt Doyle (photo: Curtis Brown)

When Matt Doyle first performed at Feinstein's at the Nikko in 2019, he was a Broadway up-and-comer whose San Francisco draw was surely bolstered by the fact that he grew up in Marin County. He returns to Feinstein's this weekend as a bonafide Broadway star, friends and family discounts be damned.

Doyle is now recognized by theater cognoscenti as the recipient of one of two Tonys awarded to cast members of the recently closed revival of Stephen Sondheim's "Company." The other went home with a certain Ms. Patti Lupone.

"I did those shows in San Francisco six months before I got cast in 'Company,'" said a relaxed and affable Doyle as he recalled his hometown cabaret debut in a recent phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter. At that point, Doyle's Broadway musical experience included replacing prior cast members in the long-runs of "Spring Awakening" and "The Book of Mormon."

Etai Benson and Matt Doyle in 'Company'  

"I always like to open with something that's really stuck with me emotionally for some reason or other, so for those two nights I did 'One Song Glory' from 'Rent' which was an earworm for me as a teenager in Ross, obsessed with pop music and musicals."

This go-round, said Doyle, "I'll start with a big song from the show that's changed my life."

That'd be Stephen Sondheim's indelible "Being Alive," the urgent expression of perseverance, partnership and gratitude that became a mantra for Doyle and his entire "Company" company after the Coronavirus pandemic shut down the production after nine previews in March 2020. Their waiting game of unemployment and loose ends lasted until November 15, 2021 when previews resumed with the composer/lyricist in the audience.

Eleven days later, Sondheim died at age 91, and in another eleven, the show officially opened. Like every Broadway show last season, "Company" struggled with backstage contagion and the consequent shuffle of understudies. But the show went on to garner more Tony nominations than any of the year's other musicals.

Partners Max Clayton and Matt Doyle at the 2022 Tony Awards  

"The song has stuck with me in so many different ways," says Doyle, reflecting on his bittersweet but ultimately triumphant "Company" journey. "It's attached itself to me in a way that goes even beyond the relevance of the lyrics because it's something I kept playing and singing to myself throughout the profound experience of the past three years."

Making the experience all the more resonant was the fact that Doyle is the first actor to ever play the role of Jamie, who like himself is gay, in "Company" on Broadway. From the 1971 premiere production until director Marianne Elliott's 2018 London revival, the character was a woman named Amy.

Contemporary switch
But Elliott was not interested in presenting the show as a period piece and thought that Amy no longer felt like a believable contemporary woman. With same-sex marriage legal but still a relatively untried concept, she thought that the character's wedding day jitters were more fitting for a gay male character. And with Sondheim's approval and consultation, Amy became Jamie, played by Jonathan Bailey ("Bridgerton") in London, then by Doyle in New York. (Similarly, the lead character, Bobbie —played by Katrina Lenk on Broadway— was Robert prior to Elliott's revamp).

"The most fascinating thing about the gender flip," said Doyle, who was previously directed by Elliott in "Warhorse" on Broadway, "is that virtually all of the text and lyrics stayed exactly the same. But there was a single line of dialogue added, between Jamie and his fiancé Paul: 'Just because we can doesn't mean we should.'"

After seven years together, including intense pandemic quarantining in their one-bedroom apartment, Doyle and his partner, Max Clayton —also an actor, currently working as Hugh Jackman's standby in "The Music Man"— are in no rush to tie the knot themselves.

Matt Doyle photo: Instagram  

"We really work so well together," said Doyle. "Plus both of us have sisters who got married over the past couple years, and you never want to step on that! We call each other partners and have for years, and yet now there are people who say, 'But he's not your husband' It's almost like we have to go an extra mile now."

"Personally," said Doyle. "I know a million gay couples and they all have their own sets of rules and their own ways of finding joy within their relationships. I remember when gay marriage passed, people were running to the altar like crazy. I was in love then myself, but I was a kid and it just didn't make sense. When we were working on the show, we talked about the need to recognize this elephant in the room. It's not exactly the same for us. I wanted to explore this extra anxiety into the character, the added pressure of not knowing how to fit in this hetero-normative institution."

The opportunity to play a role with such a distinct connection to his own life undoubtedly fueled Doyle's Tony-winning performance.

"I'm sitting in my living room staring at the trophy right now," said Doyle. "I look at it and think it's just so weird that this happened, it's an unbelievable dream come true. People in the business are more aware of me now and presenting me with sorts of opportunities I haven't had before."

Matt Doyle, Sept. 7-9. $80-$85. Feinstein's at the Nikko. 222 Mason St. (866) 663-1063.

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