The Interview: Tomás Matos in Disney’s Newsies at Arena Stage
Actor Tomás Matos is making his DC theatrical debut in Disney’s Tony Award-winning musical Newsies, an inspiring story about kids who fight for what is right at the turn of the century. With music by Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors), lyrics by Jack Feldman (Beyond Therapy) and book by Harvey Fierstein (Torch Song), the iconic show, based on the 1992 Disney movie starring Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, and Ann-Margaret, flies head strong into the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City. The family-friendly musical follows the story of newsboys and newsgirls who dream of a better life and lead a crusade for justice.
Directed by Molly Smith (Arena Stage’s Anything Goes), with choreography by Parker Esse (Arena Stage’s Oklahoma!), one of these brave young men is Fench, played by Tomás, who is no stranger to the stage. His most recent credits include the pre-Broadway musical Diana, West Side Story and In the Heights. He has also appeared in Amazon Prime’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Modern Love, and HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness.
Tomás was raised in Staten Island and graduated from the acclaimed ‘Fame’ high school in NYC. He was kind enough to sit down and chat with frontmezzjunkies as he prepares to take on the role of Fench in this beloved Disney classic in the iconic in-the-round theater at Arena Stage D.C..
R: What was your first exposure to this piece of musical theatre? Did you see the Broadway production? Live or the taped version? Or did you see the 1992 Disney movie?
A: I was fortunate enough to see the original cast on Broadway when I was 13 years old. Being the only boy in my middle school dance company, there was nothing more exhilarating than seeing a stage full of male dancers kicking their face and turning for days.
R: I bet! How did the role come to you?
A: I auditioned for this production back in April, and got the call in August that I would be spending winter in D.C! I didn’t know I was playing Fench until the first day of rehearsal, but having done the show before I was pretty familiar with the role and couldn’t wait to put my own spin on it!
R: Director Molly Smith talks about the importance of this play at this specific time in history, reflecting the young adult’s fight for gun control, climate change legislation, and a voice at the political table. How does this story reflect that idea for you?
A: To me, the story of the Newsboy strike is an exact replica of today’s youth standing up for what they believe in. I can’t put into words how grateful I am to be doing this production with such an amazing director like Molly Smith, with the political climate we are currently facing, in the Capital of our country no less. Using my voice to tell the story of Newsies has actually strengthened my voice as an individual to stand up for what I believe is right. I have learned to stand tall and act up for what I believe in by doing this show.
R: How has that fed your experience playing Fench?
A: It is so liberating being able to use my voice to stand up for what I believe in 8 times a week. Every night I get to channel the anger I have towards the NRA, the monstrous acts taking place at the border, and the climate change legislation and put it all into my performance.
R: Tell me about your Fench.
A: My Fench definitely adds some latino flare to this group of newsboys. He is extremely outspoken, a charmer and a leader in his own way. It’s really fun to have created this big tough guy to play, because honey, I am about as camp as they come.
R: Fantastic! Tell me a bit about what it is like to work with Choreographer Parker Esse?
A: Working with Parker Esse has been one of the best experiences I have had in my professional career. He makes every performer feel heard, safe and appreciated. And his choreography is STELLAR! He’s like my dance dad, always making sure I feel protected and secure in everything I’m doing. Parker Esse is a treasure in this industry.
R: What’s been the most challenging part of this process for you?
A: The most challenging part of this process would definitely have to be the toll it takes on my body. Warming up my body has become a necessity to do such an athletic show like this one. From moving the giant set pieces across the stage, to the story driven dance numbers topped with some fierce vocals, it can sometimes upset my body. Nothing a little physical therapy can’t fix, though. 😉
R: The most rewarding?
A: The most rewarding would simply be that I am able to do what I love for a living. I get to express myself on stage and share such a relevant story in front of 680 people eight times week. I am so lucky, and blessed beyond belief to get paid to do what I love.
R: Well, thank you for sharing your blessing with us all. Lastly, tell me how it feels telling this story, as you also look into your future, particularly your upcoming Broadway debut in Diana the Musical?
A: Looking into the future, I cannot wait to take with me what I have learned from Finch, and I have Molly Smith to thank for all of it. By helping me create such a strong character on stage, she gave me the tools I needed to make myself stronger. My voice will be heard, and I am much more confident in standing up for what I believe in because of this story. Broadway better get ready for its next shining star. Because ready or not, HERE I COME!
Disney’s Newsies runs from November 1 – December 22, 2019 in the iconic in-the-round Fichandler Stage within Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. For ticket information, click HERE.