BY SANDY STAGGS
Matthew Stocke has been a stalwart in Broadway musicals for over 25 years in productions such as Titanic, The Full Monty, The Boy From Oz (with Hugh Jackman), The Wedding Singer, Rock of Ages, Sting’s The Last Ship, and now, Pretty Woman: The Musical, the new lavish show strolling the streets of Greenville February 8-13 at the Peace Center.
Stocke has made a career as a chorus boy, a singing chameleon who transitions into myriad supporting and background characters, sometimes barely noticed. In Pretty Woman, he has landed a principal supporting role — and his first bad guy part.
But ironically, Stocke doesn’t sing a solitary note as Philip Stuckey — Jason Alexander’s role in the 1990 Garry Marshall film starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. Pretty Woman still reigns today as the most successful romantic comedy film of all time, which practically guarantees a willing ageless audience for this re-imagined stage version.
And as the “villain” in this updating of Cinderella and millionaire/prostitute romantic comedy written by Marshall and J.F. Lawton with music by rocker Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, Stocke gets booed at every performance of Pretty Woman. But he is content with the scorn and hisses. That means he is doing his job well “playing a guy who is a misogynist, a pig.”
“Being the only person who doesn’t sing means that every single word [Philip Stuckey] says is critical to character development or plot forwarding,” Stocke said in a recent phone interview from Boston when the national company was in residence.
“Not having to give a perfect voice every night certainly lessens the stress, but at the same time I miss [singing],” he added.
Joining Stocke on this national tour is superstar and Tony Award-nominee Adam Pascal (Rent, AIDA, Something Rotten) as Edward Lewis, rising star Olivia Valli (Jersey Boys, Wicked) as the charming and charismatic Vivian Ward, Jessica Crouch as Kit De Luca, and Kyle Taylor Parker as Happy Man/Mr. Thompson.
Like many Broadway and local productions, the road company of Pretty Woman has endured the strains of Covid, even canceling shows in Chicago and the entire run in Washington, D.C.
“It’s been challenging to say the least. At the same time, the company has been thorough, delicate and smart about everything: testing, cleanliness, etc. And they have spared no expense to protect the ‘team’ and the audience,” he added.
As a working actor, “being unemployed was always part of the deal,” Stocke said of the initial 2020 Covid shutdown of the arts. “But we never expected all of us being unemployed at the same time.”
Stocke has such as illustrious list of Broadway credits on his resume that on opening night of Pretty Women in 2018, he was recipient of the coveted Legacy Robe (formerly the Gypsy Robe) awarded to the chorus member with the most Broadway ensemble credits. This time-honored tradition dates back to 1950 with ties to the great Ethel Merman and a continuously updated dressing gown adorned with an item from the previous honorees and musicals represented. Stocke said he was the first recipient to insist their mother was present for the milestone. Sadly, she passed away later that year.
“This was truly a high point in my incredibly fortunate and humbling career. I never dreamed about being a ‘star’ on Broadway, but I was determined to be a part of the community, just to make a living as a Broadway performer,” the actor told told Actors Equity at the time. “This honor is, for me, the symbolic culmination of having done just that, creating and sustaining a career at this level. To put it another way, I guess I’ve stuck around…and knowing so many of the other folks who have worn the Robe, I couldn’t be more humbled or proud.”
Like any New York actor, Stocke has also made the rounds on the Law and Order TV franchise as well including a stint as “a sheriff who discovers five bodies in woods,” and a possible recurring role on Dick Wolfe pilot that that wasn’t picked up by NBC, which Stocke chalked to the nature of industry.
While not as high-profile as Pretty Woman or backed by a mammoth money machine like Disney, Stocke’s eclectic legacy also includes originating roles in the 2008 musical version of the film Mask at the Pasadena Playhouse with music by Barry Mann and lyrics by Cynthia Weil, and the 2012 Off-Broadway musical version of Giant starring Brian d’Arcy Jamesand Kate Baldwin.
Stocke’s fondest show memories of late are from his time with The Last Ship (2014) which he called the “most artistically, physically and emotionally challenging” shows of his career. The musical, he feels, did not get a fair shake or momentum it deserved. As a perk, he got to hang out with Sting: “He is not of this world. A stellar, generous and most wonderful dude you’ll ever be around.”
But what can audiences members who know the film Pretty Woman expect?
“We’re going to give you everything you want: the necklace, the red dress, the opera, the polo match. All of the lines you want, and all of the scenes lovingly adapted,” Stocke assured me. And of course, Roy Orbison and Bill Dee’s international smash hit song “Oh, Pretty Woman.”
Pretty Woman runs February 8-13 at the Peace Center, 300 South Main St. in Greenville. Tickets are available now at peacecenter.org or by calling (864) 467-3000.