Asolo Rep board member Len Gumley brought his grand-nephew, Matthew Gumley, to see a performance of Deathtrap over the weekend. But not because he hoped to spark Matthew’s interest in theater.
At the tender age of 14, Matthew is already a Broadway veteran, having appeared in the musicals Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins, The Addams Family and, most recently, Elf.
A native of West Palm Beach, Matthew’s big break came when he was taking part in an Orlando dance competition when he was 7. Impressed with his singing and dancing, the competition’s manager sent his tape to a New York contact, Nancy Carson, who would become Matthew’s agent.
“We never thought anything would come of it,” Matthew said. But suddenly, he was cast as the plucky teacup, Chip, in Beauty and the Beast, and a career was born.
Matthew was in Sarasota enjoying some rare free time between productions. In Elf, which closed in January, he played the half-brother of the title character, who arrives from the North Pole to teach him about the joys of Christmas. “I’ve loved everything I’ve done, but Elf probably was my favorite, because I love Christmas so much anyway,” Matthew said. “It’s great doing a Christmas show, doing Christmas things with Christmas people.
“Also, it was a brand-new musical, which followed the [Will Farrell] movie flawlessly and had an incredible book.”
As the understudy for Pugsley in The Addams Family, Matthew often shared the stage with Tony Award winners Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth. “Watching them every single day was the greatest acting class you could ever take,” he said. “It was so beneficial. As an aspiring comedian myself, I was so impressed with Nathan’s comic timing. I paid close attention to his body language, and the way he said his lines. And Bebe is so inspiring, and an incredible dancer. She is 52, but seems to have the body of a 25-year-old.”
Matthew, by the way, may be only 14, but he seems to have the maturity level of a much older and wiser soul. He is remarkably articulate and clear-eyed about his goals, and he appears likely to avoid the pitfalls that sink so many child actors.
“I constantly think about how absolutely lucky I am, and about how so many people would give their limbs to have the opportunities I’ve had,” he said. “There’s no way I would get egotistical, because so many things besides talent have contributed to my success. My family, my agent—so many people have been in my corner and have been supporting me with every decision I’ve made.”
He counts his great-uncle Len, who had acting dreams of his own when he attended the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse, as one of his biggest supporters.
“With his many years in the acting community, he’s been able to guide me in the right direction,” Matthew said. “He’s always telling me about the Asolo, and it’s great that he’s having such a good time here.”
Matthew takes high-school courses online while he’s performing (“It’s like being home-schooled, except instead of my parents teaching me, I’m kind of teaching myself,” he says), and he’d like to study acting in college some day. Yet his long-term goal may take him to the operating room instead of the stage.
“My dream is to one day become a cardiologist,” he said. “I don’t know where that comes from, but I’ve always been fascinated by the heart.”