Exclusive Interview: Matthew Henerson from Flashdance The Musical

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The electrifying stage adaptation of Flashdance is making its way to Segerstrom Center for the Arts May 7th to 19th, 2013! The musical features the popular disco favorites including ‘Maniac’, ‘Gloria’ and the iconic ‘Flashdance – What a Feeling’.  This is a new musical that awakens the dreamer and dancer in everyone as it follows Pittsburgh native Alex Owens in her journey to overcome many obstacles in her achieving her dream of becoming a professional dancer.

head1I got a chance to interview one of Flashdance’s cast members Matthew Henerson who just got in to Tempe, AZ after visiting with his family in Southern California.  He took the opportunity to make the drive over on his time off and is excited to make his way to Costa Mesa after the run ends in Tempe.

Matthew plays Harry, a tempered strip-club owner, in Flashdance. He has been in tv and film to Shakespeare all the way to this 80’s cult classic. I think it’s safe to say that he has dabbled into a little bit of everything.

Can you tell us about your character and role as Harry?

Oh, sure! Harry is the fellow who owns the bar where Alex our lead, our heroin, dances. Harry is a working class old ‘ynzer’.  He’s an old-style Pittsburgh working class guy and he runs this bar where the girls dance but it’s sort of in opposition to the strip bar that is ran by another person.  The play tries to make a distinction between this phenomenon of ‘flashdancing’, which was really kind of a performance art thing that some of these ladies did in the 70’s. It’s akin to burlesque… anyway a distinction between that and this seediness of stripping.

Harry is a touchy guy, he has a temper, but he loves his employees; he’s not out to exploit them.

What is your favorite part about playing the role?

My favorite part about playing the role is that I have this little piece of a reprise of a song the girls sing in the first half called “Put It On” and it’s the song when they sing it they are talking about the two kinds of dancing, but two of my feature dancers, the ladies that work at “my” bar, sing it to me and with me when I’m sort of at the low point of my character’s arc… …They say “Well yeah, you can walk away and be ruined or you can turn around and you can fight.”  So we do a little song and dance and that’s the fun part of doing the musical.

Did you have to prepare for this role in any way differently opposed to a straight play?

Well, I was concerned that I would not be able to pick up choreography very quickly. Our director Sergio is a king to directing choreography so I thought to myself that he was going to want everything right the first time.  So I took one of our feature dancers aside who is one of the two women that does the feature number with me, Rachelle Rak, (no long with the company), and I ask her “Hey can you help a little on the side and teach me some of this stuff.”  She tried her best and we came in for the first day of choreography and he (Sergio) asked me to do a bunch of things, which I took home and practiced it and couldn’t pick up right away and then it all gets cut. So it all worked out in the end.

What was one of your favorite previous onstage roles?

Okay, well one is definitely the Fool in King Lear. Another was the title role in a play called Galileo, Teyve in Fiddler in the Roof and probably the title role in Macbeth.

Being a Southern Californian native, are you more excited to bring Flashdance to Orange County or other stops on the tour?

It’s kind of exciting to see how different places respond to it differently. Pittsburg went nuts for it ‘cause it’s set in Pittsburg. Fort Lauderdale where there are some older people that are raised on classic musicals built around an actor like …Richard Harrison; they had a little less to say about this which is a rock opera musical. You know, they seemed to like it just not what they were used to. I think we are going to do very well in Costa Mesa.

Me personally I have been to places I haven’t been to before, which was exciting; I’ve been to Costa Mesa, but you know I love Costa Mesa and I worked at South Coast Rep so I’m really looking forward to bringing it back.

On your stops, what is probably your favorite thing to take in on your time off?

Me and the lady who plays Hannah named Jo Ann Cunningham like to go to art museums. All over the country we have been to different art museums and we have had a wonderful time.  We’ve seen a whole bunch of touring exhibitions, a whole bunch of terrific permanent collections, so that has been a highlight.

Obviously Flashdance brings a lot of nostalgia to many theater goers, but who do you think Flashdance most appeals to?

This show is designed to appeal to a number of different demographics.  Of course, there are the people that remember the movie and are now buying tickets, people that are my age.  Also there is this tremendous retro 80’s fad so we are getting a lot of younger people that is exciting.

What is your favorite aspect of this show?

The musical is America’s art form. I should say it is America’s theatre art form.  Our straight plays are derivative, I mean we really don’t have straight plays without the naturalist movement of the late 19th Century.  We wouldn’t have …Eugene O’Niel l, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, or LaBute, but the musical is OURS. We sort of created it out of vaudeville and it’s a terrific thing to be a part of. I don’t actually do a lot of musicals; a lot of them are cast out of New York and I’m in Los Angeles and you know, I can sign, but not like the kids in this can sing. Our male lead has a voice from Heaven. It has some of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. It is really fun to be in a musical and to be doing our art form.

I see that you have done some television and film, after Flashdance, where do you want to focus your career?

You know an actor like me it’s job to job, but I’ll say this: I would love to come back and do the Shakespeare festivals for a bit. I really really love doing Shakespeare, I’ve done a lot of it and I would love to go back to that.

Thank you so much! It was a pleasure talking with you Matthew and I just wanted to tell you that my wife is very excited to see the musical along with myself.  She became all giddy and is just ecstatic when I told her we are seeing Flashdance. We’ll see you then.

Oh great, thank you so much.

Matthew Henerson’s Bio: Theatre: Ahmanson, Romeo and Juliet; ACT, Indian Ink; La Jolla Playhouse, Good Person of Szechwan; Marin Shakespeare, King Lear (Fool), Northern Stage, Guys and Dolls (Nathan Detroit), San Diego Repertory, Romance, Brooklyn Boy; South Coast Repertory, Hamlet; Utah Shakespeare, Fiddler on the Roof (Teyve); Film/Television: HungBernie Mac Show, Christmas Carol and Mars Needs Moms.

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