The gender-flipping Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s 1970 musical Company now positions its central character, Bobbie, as a 35-year-old woman questioning the validity of a traditional marriage. But director Marianne Elliott’s reimagined production also features another major casting switch that helped land actor Matt Doyle a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.
Doyle plays the perpetually anxious Jamie, whose pre-wedding jitters serve as inspiration for “Getting Married Today,” an ingenious, high-velocity patter song that questions heteronormative traditions.
Doyle is no stranger to Broadway, having made his debut in the original production of Spring Awakening. Five shows later, including the lead role in The Book of Mormon and Elliott’s visually stunning production of War Horse, he’s back on Broadway after a pandemic hiatus that shut down the musical just as it was about to open.
“It’s a tough time to do theater,” Doyle told Queerty by phone. “But I said back in 2020 that I was going to be here on the other side of this, no matter how difficult and strange it is. And it’s been difficult and strange. And I mean, it’s not going to just, you know — finger snap — be exactly the way that it was before. We’re gonna have to work through it.”
The production’s resiliency (and that of Broadway itself) has been put to the test — literally — with an onsite COVID safety manager and regular protocols. But despite best efforts to keep the original cast intact, an influx of at-the-ready understudies are ready to step in at any given moment.
Beyond pandemic-related challenges, Doyle is well aware of the gifts of performing in a Sondheim musical and the opportunity to mature into a new career phase. Like Company’s title character, he turns 35 this month and is moving on from “that boy phase” that landed him on Broadway.
“A lot of actors joke about the dreaded ‘man-boy’ phase where we’re aging out of those roles and playing a teenager,” Doyle said. “I’ve always embraced getting older; I enjoy the opportunities that it presents to me and the roles that I get to take on now.”
“The hardest thing about this career is everybody puts you on a trajectory only to go up, but that’s not how it works,” he said. “Especially not in the theater. It’s always up and down. And there are always peaks and valleys. I’m thrilled to have this moment happening right now. It’s a nice time to celebrate this age and who I am right now.”
Getting the gig
Having difficulty casting the show as initially written (Beth Howland from TV’s Alice played the part in the original 1970 production), director Marianne Elliott asked Jonathan Bailey (the hunky viscount Anthony on Bridgerton) to play around with the song during an early workshop in the U.K.
Energized by the potential, she quickly emailed Sondheim, recounting to the New York Times, “I said, ‘Steve, you have to be sitting down. You have to be having a glass of wine in your hand. And take a deep breath, but I’m going to say something to you: I think possibly we should change Amy into a man.’ And Steve’s reply sums him up, really, as a collaborator. He basically said, ‘Marianne, you need to be sitting down, you need to have a glass of wine in your hand, you need to take a deep breath: I think it’s a great idea.’”
Despite the success of the show and Bailey winning an Oliver Award for his performance on London’s West End, the role wasn’t on Doyle’s radar. “I heard that it was possible that it was coming over. But I feel like any role that I’ve ever dreamt of playing or really gone after it, those are the roles that don’t happen, you know, you’re too desperate for them, they can smell you a mile away,” Doyle said.
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“The roles that have fallen into my lap have happened organically because of the relationships that I’ve built. And the people that I’ve worked with, know me as an actor, and trust me,” he said. “Marianne worked with me on Warhorse, and we had known each other for a while. She originally asked me to audition for Paul. I sat down and really thought about it. She knows I have an anxiety disorder. She knows who I am. We’re close friends. And I said, ‘You know, look, I’m sure you won’t cast me, but I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. I’d much rather read for Jamie. And she said, “No, no, please come in for Paul. You’re not Jamie.’ So I went in for Paul, and within about 30 seconds of my audition, she stopped me and said, ‘You’re right. You are Jamie,’ and sent me home to learn ‘Getting Married Today’ overnight. And I came back in for the callback.”
Doyle, having barely slept, returned the next day with the song memorized and additional scene work prepared. “Luckily, every word just somehow came out of my mouth the first time,” he said. Elliott worked with the actor, deconstructing the song verse by verse, then moved into the scene. “It felt more like a rehearsal. And we had already had a connection and a bond, and we were having a really wonderful time with one another. And I remember thinking, ‘I think that went well.’”
Then the waiting game began.
Five days passed, and still no word. Doyle wondered if no news was good news or if the casting was moving in another direction. He later found out that the production was waiting for Sondheim to watch the taped audition and give his blessing. “But they weren’t going to tell me that,” Doyle said. “Because if I did not get approved by Stephen Sondheim, I’d be carrying that to the grave.”
After stepping out of the audition room and into rehearsal (along with a two-year COVID hiatus), Doyle has had time to develop the role and personally connect to the character’s journey.
“The fear is that he’s going to hurt and disappoint [his fiancé] Paul, and that’s something that I can really relate to. As it relates to mental health and his anxiety disorder, that’s something that I’ve always struggled with,” Doyle said. “In my relationships, I act very self-destructively because I’m so worried about hurting them later. I know how irrational my behavior can be and how self-destructive I can be with my anxiety and depression, that I do it as almost a way of protecting them.”
According to Doyle, Sondheim’s lyrical gifts pave the way, regardless of who’s in the role.
“It’s something that the character of Amy, even in the original interpretation, has often done — trying to make it all go away so that Paul is not hurt,” Doyle said. “I mean, that’s the first thing said in the song: ‘I wouldn’t ruin anyone as wonderful as he is.’ And I think that is the root of the fear — that they’re going to ruin this perfect, wonderful person who’s giving them everything they could possibly ask for, and they don’t feel deserving of that love.
“And I think so many people in the gay community know that kind of self-loathing and fear because we’ve been taught to believe that we don’t deserve something that good and special. And he’s got this completely doting, wonderful man who sees only the good in him. It’s very hard for Jamie to see the good in himself, I think is where most of the anxiety in the scene is coming from.”
Recent developments with leaked Supreme Court documents that could ultimately put Roe v. Wade in jeopardy as well as same-sex marriage and other civil liberties, have only fueled the importance of onstage representation.
“Despite my character’s trepidation, I’m very grateful to bring the subject of gay marriage to a Broadway classic,” Doyle said. “What’s happening in the Supreme Court is truly horrific. I never imagined I’d see Roe v. Wade overturned in my lifetime, and based on Alito’s draft; I think we’d be foolish not to think Obergefell v. Hodges was at risk as well. Now, more than ever, it’s important to humanize a same-sex couple like Jamie and Paul with such deeply relatable and universal themes.”
Page to performance
Perhaps one of the most challenging songs to execute in Sondheim’s entire canon, “Getting Married Today” is a master class in articulation, one that Doyle delivers eight times per week.
“I have a ritual, which is just running the song endlessly,” Doyle said. “I think the people on my floor [Doyle’s dressing room is up several flights of stairs at the historic Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre] want to kill me at this point with how many times they’ve heard ‘Getting Married Today’ as I run it at different speeds, making sure that I drop into that kind of hyper-awareness of the language.
“I’ve learned very quickly that spit and burps are things I can’t control. For the most part, I’ve been able to stay on beat. But if there was ever a train wreck, I’ve talked about it with all the conductors: I’ll stop, you’ll hear me stop. It’s one long vamp. And I’ll just come back in when I feel ready. Luckily, it hasn’t happened yet.”
But even minor hiccups represent the kinds of moments that audiences have been craving since returning to the theater.
“Especially now, I think audiences are hungry for live experiences,” Doyle said. “This is what you can’t get from Netflix.”
Doyle shares the stage with Tony winners Katrina Lenk (Bobbie), Patti LuPone (Joanne), and a cast of Broadway’s best, which he described as “the most surreal thing in the world.”
“Marianne is a director who’s about the storytelling and the text being the most important thing, and whatever needs to support that she expects her actors to do,” Doyle said. “Including, you know, the legend, Patti LuPone herself. I’ve just been in awe because I am out there with my icons and heroes, and I mean that — all of them. It’s a very humbling experience.”
Coming out, onstage and off
Queer visibility has never been more critical as lawmakers across the country propose legislation that threatens LGBTQ rights. Like many actors in the entertainment industry, Doyle had to navigate when and how he would share his story, but not for the reasons people might think.
“When I first came to the city was 2006, I was thrust into Spring Awakening. At that time, my [then] agent and manager told me, ‘Don’t come out of the closet; you’ll just become a poster child for it. You have no idea where your career is going to lead at this point, so you don’t want to make any decisions now that you will regret later on.’ And I remember thinking even then, that’s not good advice, especially for the long run.
“I was a very troubled kid and dealt with a lot of really dark thoughts and contemplated suicide when I was 13. To make sure that I was healthy throughout high school, my parents were very encouraging of my individuality and making sure that I did what I wanted. Now, all that being said, I had a really tough relationship with my dad. And when I came to New York, one of the reasons I wasn’t just immediately talking about it was my bigger fear of somehow upsetting my father and making him uncomfortable. And that was the real hang-up for a long time — making sure that I didn’t disappoint him because I was so afraid of letting him down … It wasn’t until I sat down and kind of had a reckoning with my dad that I was much more comfortable publicly, and able to own it and make sure that he understood that this was who I was going to be in life.”
For today’s queer audiences, that kind of visibility can be hugely impactful.
“If you had told me then, in all of that fear and self-loathing, that one day I was going to use all of that in a very celebratory and exciting way, working with idols and heroes of mine and be able to put that all into something really special on stage, I would not have believed you,” Doyle said.
“I am so overwhelmed that I’m in this position because it would have been something that I would have wanted to see on stage,” Doyle said. “It’s representing something that seemed so impossible when I was a kid. I definitely feel that pressure to make sure that not only do we see this couple going through a difficult time, but we also see the love between Jamie and Paul on stage and how beautiful this relationship is. That’s why the end of the scene is so important to me, when he has the realization that he can allow this love in and yell out, ‘I’m the next bride.’”
Company plays at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.