Currently, Matteo Johnson is performing as Giulio in the London revival of The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, with the Tennessee Williams play running at the Charing Cross Theatre until 22nd October. For his West End debut, Matteo recently played Joe Pesci in Jersey Boys at the Trafalgar Theatre, performing at West End Live twice during his run, and as first cover Frankie Valli, he had the opportunity to perform on Loose Women. During the pandemic, Matteo performed with the graduate choir for The Show Must Go On concert at the Palace Theatre and, having been involved with Halls the Musical since the first Fringe performance in Guildford, he performed in the Flat 15B video release. Whilst training at Guildford School of Acting, Matteo was in the cast of a number of shows including Oklahoma!, A Christmas Carol and Mack and Mabel, and he performed in the pantomime Beauty and the Beast in 2019. Speaking to us, Matteo told us about playing Giulio in the London revival of The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, making his West End debut as Joe Pesci in Jersey Boys and performing in the Flat 15B music video for Halls the Musical.
You are currently performing as Giulio in the London revival of The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Charing Cross Theatre, how much did you know about the Tennessee Williams play before booking your role and can you tell us about your character?
Prior to my audition, I had never heard of this piece before. I had studied Tennessee Williams at GSA and so I was really excited to not only read this piece of work but potentially be given the opportunity to perform in it. The play itself hasn’t been performed for around 30 years in a professional setting (to my knowledge) so it’s a pleasure to be a part of its revival in London.
The character I am playing is an Italian servant named Giulio, who works for a woman who has resided to Italy before being met by the Angel of Death in her final days.
Why would you recommend booking tickets to see the show and who do you think it will appeal to?
I think being able to perform with two legendary actors like Linda Marlowe and Sara Kestleman is a huge selling point to any theatregoer to get them to come and watch the show. Also, the fact that this piece from Williams is so rarely performed is something really exciting to be a part of that I think will attract a lot of people to come and see the show.
What are you looking forward to most for continuing your run in The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore?
I think I’m most excited about continuing performing in something so different from my last role in Jersey Boys. After training for five years to be a musical theatre performer, I’m really grateful to have been given this opportunity so early on in my career to be able to perform in a play. I’m also really looking forward to continuing to work alongside some incredible performers who have been in the industry for years and I intend to just soak up as much knowledge from them as possible.
You have recently finished making your West End musical debut in Jersey Boys at the Trafalgar Theatre, how was it finding out you’d booked the role of Joe Pesci for your professional debut and was there anything that drew you to the musical?
Landing the role of Joe Pesci as my first professional West End job was the most surreal experience. I remember getting on a train home to Milton Keynes from London that evening after work so that I could tell my family the news in person. The musical itself was so appealing to me as it contains all the music that I loved already. Being predominately a pop singer in a musical theatre environment, I loved that the show gave me an opportunity to sing in that pop style whilst also being able to explore taking on the role of a real person.
What was Joe Pesci like to play and what did you enjoy most about working with the rest of the cast?
I had so much fun performing as Joe Pesci in this show. The character is young and so full of life that every night I was able to just flick a switch and be filled with all this energy regardless of how my body would feel that day. As for the rest of the cast, I feel so grateful to have met such incredible people on that contract. Those who have worked for much longer than I have would remind us how special this cast was and it was truly one big Jersey family. We all got along so well and I was able to learn so much from every single person.
As first cover Frankie Valli, what do you remember from your first performance in the role and getting into character for the first time?
My first performance as Frankie is still a bit of a blur. I was on for the first matinee that we opened so it was a very quick turnaround from learning the track at the same time as my own, having a tech session, and then being put on three days after we opened. I think I remember finishing singing Walk Like a Man and thinking “Wow. Thank god I made it through that”, only to then quickly remember I had about another 15 songs to go until the end. It was incredible to have so many family and friends in supporting me. I’ll never forget taking my first bow in the track and being incredibly proud of myself and noticing how lucky I was to have this as my job for the next year.
How was it portraying Frankie Valli and did you have a favourite song to perform?
Frankie Valli was definitely a mountain to climb. I have always found that I work best when challenged and this role was far from easy. Vocally the track is very technical and demanding, reaching notes that not many other male tracks in musical theatre have to but I loved being able to hear my voice strengthen and grow throughout the contract. The challenge is also in ageing the character throughout the show, starting as a teen and ending when he’s just over 50 years old. The book really did a lot of the work for me though as it was so well-written.
As for my favourite song, I think Beggin’ has to be up there.
What are some of your favourite memories from performing in Jersey Boys?
Getting to perform at West End Live twice in one contract was big highlight for me. It was a really surreal feeling having gone to watch in previous years to then being up on that stage instead of in the audience watching. I was also fortunate enough to perform as Frankie on Loose Women during the Christmas period, which was something I never thought I’d be given the chance to do being a cover of the role.
During the pandemic, you were part of the graduate choir performing at The Show Must Go On concert at the Palace Theatre, what was this like?
The Show Must Go On was a great project to be a part of. Getting to sing alongside the West End’s top performers was incredible and I loved getting to meet so many grads who had all gone through a similar experience in terms of graduating drama school during a pandemic (practically all over Zoom). It was definitely strange, however, performing to a socially distanced theatre but a memory not to be forgotten.
You performed in the Halls the Musical video for Flat 15B, can you tell us about this?
Halls the Musical is a really exciting project I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of since its first Fringe performance in Guildford. Written and created by Jennifer Harrison and George Stroud, it’s basically a story of a group of uni students going through their lives within their student accommodation. Being a part of the video alongside some amazing performers was a huge privilege and I can’t wait to see what’s next in store for this new musical. Keep your eyes peeled!
How did you find the experience performing in pantomime in 2019 for Beauty and the Beast?
Beauty and the Beast was pretty much my first professional on stage job that I got. I had never even been to watch a panto prior to this so it was a huge learning curve into a whole new art form of theatre but I had so much fun (Even on three show days).
Was there anything that encouraged you to train at Guildford School of Acting and how was your time there?
I think what appealed most to me about GSA was the sense of family and support I got just from my auditions there. The success of their alumni kind of shows for itself that the training works but it really comes down to what you put in to your training wherever you go. I loved my time at GSA and am forever grateful to the lessons I learnt there but I’m glad I stayed true to myself throughout my training and left with my feet planted on the ground ready to enter an industry that I was prepared would be difficult but rewarding when the right opportunities come through.
During your time at Guildford School of Acting, you performed in the shows Oklahoma!, A Christmas Carol and Mack and Mabel, what were they like to be part of?
The shows that we did at GSA were all so much fun and each taught me new skills. What I think I found that correlated with all of my roles in these shows was that I was kind of on track to being seen as the ‘comedic sidekick’. I was able to learn so much about comedy in theatre and am grateful that I could then apply this to my first professional role as Joe Pesci.
Can you say about some of your other projects which have included workshops, Pitch Battle and Teen Spirit?
Prior to my time at GSA, I trained at Arts 1, where I was lucky enough to be a part of some incredible projects such as Pitch Battle and the feature film Teen Spirit. Both these opportunities not only gave me a taster of what working in TV and film are like prior to my professional training, but some amazing memories were also made.
Where does your love of acting come from and is it something you always wanted to do?
My passion and love for performing started from a young age and was inspired by my older sister Laura. Both of us have always been interested in performing and all I can remember is copying her as a child and feeling so motivated by her performing and succeeding that I just wanted to follow in her footsteps. From the first time I performed on stage, I think I knew that that was always going to be something I wanted to pursue. However, it wasn’t until I was maybe 17 years old that I decided I wanted to pursue it as a career and I haven’t looked back since.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
My all-time favourite musical I’ve seen has been In The Heights. It was the first time I was able to see a show that reflects a similar culture and family values that I’ve been brought up around. As for what’s on the ‘to see list’, I think I’m most looking forward to watching Moulin Rouge! and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a transfer of Beetlejuice.
How do you like to spend your time away from acting?
I try my best to have hobbies totally separate from performing. Whether that’s going to Boot Camp classes or catching up with friends and family, I just enjoy keeping busy and constantly expanding my knowledge and skills in the hope that a new opportunity will come through to allow me to perform again.
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