Today, ‘another one bites the dust’ as We Will Rock You takes its final bow after twelve years in the West End. The jukebox musical, based on the songs of the legendary British rock band Queen, has been playing at the Dominion Theatre since May 2002, but the award-winning show is set to play its final performance tonight after previously announcing its closure on 31st May 2014. The music of Queen has lived on through the many fantastic performers who have passed through We Will Rock You over the years, including the wonderful company who will be saying goodbye to the show along with tonight’s audience. Led by Oliver Tompsett and Rachel Wooding as Galileo and Scaramouche, the current cast features some of the best and brightest talents in the West End, from the principal performers to the ensemble team and swings. Cast member Matthew McKenna is one such talent, and as such, has fallen under the spotlight of In Profile as this week’s featured ensemble member.
Matt McKenna has appeared in an assortment of shows, both in and out of the West End, and has a particularly special relationship with the We Will Rock You musical. He has eight years worth of experience as a professional stage actor and has proven himself to be a valued addition to the industry in that time.
The Scottish actor began his training at the Glasgow Academy of Musical Theatre Arts (GAMTA), the renowned performing arts institution which was founded in his hometown in 1994 and has become one of Scotland’s most successful independent musical theatre colleges. He then travelled south to attend Arts Educational Schools, London (ArtsEd), which is where he spent the next three years. During his time there he took on roles in a variety of productions, including playing Billy Lawler in 42nd Street, the Tin Man in The Wiz and Vlad Vladikoff in Seussical the Musical. He graduated in 2006 with a BA (Hons) in Musical Theatre, joining the ranks of ArtsEd alumni such as Danielle Hope, Nigel Harman, Sally Anne Triplett, Bonnie Langford, the Strallen sisters (Scarlett, Summer and Zizi), Samantha Barks, Dean Chisnall and fellow WWRY cast member Oliver Tompsett, all of whom went on to forge highly successful careers on the West End stage.
One of his first post-graduate roles was in an international production of We Will Rock You, the musical which has formed such an important part of his career so far. He appeared in a swing capacity, covering a range of roles in the production which played at Theatre 11 in Zurich between 2006-2007. The following year, he made his West End debut in one of the most popular and long-running musicals in town: The Phantom of the Opera. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical provided him with his first experience of a West End audience and he spent a year in the show’s ensemble playing Jeweller and also covering the leading role of Raoul, the handsome aristocrat who vies with The Phantom for the affection of young soprano Christine Daae.
In 2008, he moved from Her Majesty’s Theatre to the Dominion Theatre to make his first appearance in the West End production of We Will Rock You. He appeared alongside the likes of Ricardo Afonso, Sabrina Aloueche, Mazz Murray, Rachel Tucker and Ian Carlyle in the ensemble role of Mick Jagger and was also 1st cover Brit and 2nd cover Galileo.
He then joined the original London cast of stage musical Legally Blonde, which was adapted from the 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon. He originated the supporting role of wealthy law student Aaron Schaultz in the show and covered UPS Guy, as well as the more prominent role of young attorney and teaching assistant Emmett Forrest.
He remained with the show until 2010 and then joined the cast of The Three Musketeers at the Rose Theatre in Kingston. A musical version of Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 novel which featured music by George Stiles and lyrics by Paul Leigh, the production received mainly positive reviews. Starring Matt Rawle, Paul Thornley and Hal Fowler as the legendary swashbucklers, the cast also featured such names as Michael Pickering and CJ Johnson, as well as Matt McKenna of course, who played the role of Bicarat.
He went on the road after the Rose Theatre’s first ever musical ended its run there on 2nd January 2011, having been cast in the European tour of The Rocky Horror Show. He played the role of Riff Raff in the musical, who serves as handyman to Dr Frank N Furter and is the brother of Magenta. He also covered and played Frank N Furter.
He continued his travels in 2012, this time journeying to Germany with the touring cast of Starlight Express. After attending roller skating school he appeared in the musical playing new addition to the yard Electra, the rich and self-centred Electric Train who sets his sights on observation car Pearl.
His additional theatre credits include playing Billy in Angels and Kings (Arundel Festival), being a featured artist in the Side By Side by Sondheim 30th Anniversary Concert and a member of The Three Tenors at the popular satire show Jest End. He has taken part in workshops of Soho Cinders, Twang!! and the rock opera Romeo and Juliet, and can also be heard on the original cast recording of Just So and the live cast recording of Legally Blonde.
He returned to the West End production of We Will Rock You in 2013, once again playing Mick Jagger and as 2nd cover to the roles of Brit and Galileo – he played his last show as the latter just three days ago (28th May). He appears with the cast for the final time tonight as the curtains draw on the Queen musical. ‘Goodbye everybody. We’ve got to go’… We Will Rock You says its farewells to the West End tonight, but for Matt McKenna, it’s less of a goodbye and more of a ‘see you soon’ as this talented actor is sure to be back on the stage in the very near future.
By Julie Robinson @missjulie25)
You can follow Matt on Twitter: @mattmckenna85
Saturday 31st May 2014