Matthew Steffens Returns to UVA
This summer marks the dawn of a new era at Heritage Theatre Festival, and the continuation of a deep friendship and professional partnership nearly a quarter century in the making, and launched right on Grounds. New Heritage Theatre Festival Artistic Director Jenny Wales (College ‘98) was just a few days into her UVA career 24 years ago when she headed to Peabody Hall for the first interest meeting for First Year Players. There on the stairs that day, she met fellow First Year Matthew Steffens (College ‘98), and the pair was cast in that Fall’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Later that year they would share the stage again in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This summer, the dynamic duo will team up again to launch Wales’ tenure at Heritage with the season-opening production of A Chorus Line, another in a long line of collaborations between the pair, but the first one coming back to their old training ground.
“Directing at Heritage is the most wonderful opportunity for me,” Steffens said, “because it really feels like I am coming home. I am bringing all the experience that I have garnered over the past 20 years, whether on Broadway or at the Kennedy Center, and sharing all of that with my Charlottesville family and the HTF family. There is nothing more rewarding than to give back to the community that made me the artist I am today.”
Steffens, a Politics major who spent “every waking moment” in the Drama Department, spent seven years working on major brand and political campaigns in the advertising world before pursuing his true passion. He has toured the country with multiple Broadway touring productions, including Beauty and the Beast and West Side Story before taking his talents straight to the Great White Way in shows such as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown with Patti Lupone, and Promises, Promises opposite Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth. Steffens is also an accomplished choreographer with credits including the Off-Broadway immersive hit Queen of the Night. Over the course of their numerous collaborations, including during Wales’ tenure at PlayMakers Repertory Company at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the two have developed the kind of creative and personal shorthand that happens when friends become family. “From the very beginning,” Steffens said, “I think we got each other’s sense of humor. And now, after almost 25 years, we can say a lot to each other with just a look.” The synergy, Wales said, was encouraged by their UVA experience. “We get along really well and understand each other’s aesthetic. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have difficult conversations, and I think that is something that UVA cultivated in us. UVA encouraged us to think critically, to constantly refine our viewpoints, and to have a deeper understanding of the world around us.”
Reuniting in the Drama Building for such an iconic show, Steffens said, feels almost too perfect to believe. “To have the opportunity to show this diverse cast on stage in Charlottesville,” he said, “and to look at 1975 through a 2018 lens through these intriguing characters and challenging issues like racism and homophobia is a powerful thing.” The excitement about the show is clearly shared in the artistic community, Wales said. “You are never really sure what kind of interest you will get for a show when you start out, but we have seen over 400 actors in New York, Washington, and here in Charlottesville.” A big reason for this, Steffens said, is the universal appeal that has made this show an international sensation. “I think there is something in this piece that everyone can relate to, because everyone has a dream they want to pursue. And that is what this show is about to me, pursuing your dream and finding your family.” A Chorus Line will kick off the 2018 Heritage Theatre Festival season from June 21 through July 1.