Given how director Marianne Elliott flipped the genders in Stephen Sondheim’s Company for London and recast it for Broadway, it’s not surprising that Katrina Lenk and Patti LuPone—its leading ladies—earn their thunderous applause. What is surprising is that a relatively unknown member of the opposite sex achieves a comparable reaction for four minutes and nine seconds of stage time.
He’s Matt Doyle, and he plays Jamie (flipped from Amy), whose wedding-day jitters are off the charts and expressed hysterically/hilariously in a rapid-fire showstopper. Although he says 17 times he’s not, the song is titled “Getting Married Today.” It’s the first time since same-sex marriage became a reality that a man gets to sing this. It’s been called “the greatest show-tune tongue-twister of all time” (by Peter Marks at The Washington Post) and few would dispute that. It has as many words as Leap Year has days: 366. (I like to think that Sondheim did that on purpose.)
So far, Doyle hasn’t stumbled at all, and, for that, he credits a lot of breath support. “I do think that being healthy and fit really matters with something like this,” the actor admits. “I make sure that I run every single day and that I’m ready and capable to do the show. The show itself is a beast, but this is such a strong ensemble. Even Patti’s in there with us, dancing all the ensemble numbers. It feels more like a sporting event than any other thing I’ve ever done.”
What sport? Singing his big number, he says, is like skiing down a mountain slope and doing it succinctly. “There are so many key points I want to hit. What I love about Marianne’s direction is making sure every single individual thought is given a moment. That’s difficult to do with a song like this. We worked it to the bone, making sure that every thought became muscle memory for me so that I could live within the song and allow it to come out of me, versus trying to discover it in the moment. It’s trusting that it’s in my body, and then just going for the ride every single night.”
Doyle and director Elliott first crossed paths with her 2011 Tony-winning War Horse. “I was Billy Narracott, the cousin of the lead boy, Albert. I also covered Albert and did about ten performances of him, but I loved playing Billy. He was this really obnoxious, nervous kid who ended up shellshock with PTSD. At the end of the first act, he rides Joey, the famous horse, into battle, with his sword out in front of him, shaking. That’s how Marianne and I got to know each other. I told her that she will only cast me as people who are having nervous breakdowns.”
Actually, Elliott saw him as Jamie’s about-to-be groom, Paul, and had him come in to read for that part, even though Doyle emailed her his interest in Jamie. The audition changed her mind, and she gave him 24 hours to learn “Getting Married Today.”
“I went back home and just drilled the song from the end of my audition that day to about four in the morning. The next day I just spat it out at the audition. I actually learned that song in one night. After booking the role, though, I will say that I practiced it endlessly. What’s exciting about Marianne’s specificity is it really does make the song easier. That audition lasted an hour. It’s the longest audition I ever had in my life. We just kept playing and doing it in different ways. When I left the room, I felt I’d just been rehearsing for the role rather than auditioning for it.”
When rehearsals began, he had an edge—if not much of one. “The first time I sang it through, it felt as if Marianne was stopping me at every syllable and making sure I understood what triggered the next thought and the next thought and the next thought. I recognized what a challenge this was and how blessed I was to take on something this difficult. For the past two years, since I have been a part of this project, it’s been what I look forward to every night most.
“The reason I knew I was perfect for this character and related so much to him is that I was diagnosed in middle school with this horrible panic-attack disorder. Personally, I have never seen a panic attack so perfectly captured theatrically than it is in George Furth’s brilliant scene and, especially, in Sondheim’s song. It’s so rooted in the song—the way the music moves and grows, the way the language grows. The panic grows throughout it to this cacophony at the end. I think I could bring a lot of myself into that because it’s a very familiar emotion to me.”
What Doyle doesn’t relate to is Jamie’s fear of matrimony. “I know it’s in the cards for us,” he concedes. “I love my partner very much. We’ve been together about seven years now. He’s another actor. His name is Max Clayton. He’s standing by for Hugh Jackman in The Music Man.”
Company was to open at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater on March 22, 2020, Sondheim’s 90th birthday, but it only got in nine performances before it was shut down for 19 months.
“I felt like I was just starting to really discover it,” Doyle says with a wistful sadness that suddenly bursts into sunshine. “What’s incredible is the trauma that we all went through has made us grow more in our roles. We all reconnected through that entire experience. There’s nothing you can teach a group of actors within a normal rehearsal process. The pandemic has made us a family. We’ve become a rep company. We know each other in and out in a way we didn’t before, and, for a show like Company, that’s vital. What really brings a lot of the energy you see on stage this time to our current production is knowing we have each other’s backs.
“That’s something I need during ‘Getting Married Today.’ In the end, it is an ensemble piece. I’ve got a great set of partners up there with Etai [Benson] as Paul and Nikki [Renee] Daniels as the priest who pops out of the freezer. It’s exciting to do such a scary song and know I have the support of the cast back there behind me on backup vocals and ready to jump out of the walls.”
The scene has been enhanced by all manner of theatrical trickery. “Obviously, we started with the song—just me and the music director. Then it was me and Marianne. Then we brought the choreographer in. Then we were working on the set. Every single day that we returned to ‘Getting Married Today,’ there was some new layer we were putting on it. It felt like another hurdle I had to jump over. I couldn’t get to the next step until I’d trained enough to get there.”
Company was Doyle’s second Sondheim interaction. He was cast as Anthony in the 2017 Off-Broadway production of Sweeney Todd, and the night the composer came to see the show, Doyle made a point of singing “Johanna” directly into his eyes, thus ridding himself of any fears of working with him in the future. “Luckily, we did meet again because he was the final stamp of approval for me booking Company. He was very involved with this production and gave us notes right up to the end. We were devastated to lose him. He was a huge fan of the show.
“Thank goodness, we started previews when we did because he was able to come to our first preview. He’s the best audience member there is. No one laughs harder at jokes. No one is more vocal. You can hear his laughter from anywhere in the theater. He is so generous, so kind and supportive. His biggest note to me was about his favorite line of George Furth’s: ‘I’m the next bride.’ How profound that is now, coming from a man. Something he said to me constantly—’I need to make sure that you are screaming that line up to the heavens.’”
Sondheim wasn’t casual about words, he says. “There’s always power in his lyrics. Nothing he writes lacks intention. Everything has such clarity, every note matters. That’s why he is the Shakespeare of musical theater. Everything that goes down on that page is all an actor needs.”