Those who see the touring production of “Les Misérables,” when it stops by the Center for the Arts Escondido, Feb. 7-8, will witness a pint-sized powerhouse in La Jolla resident Matthew Garbacz, playing the young Gavroche.
Matthew, a fourth-grader at La Jolla Elementary School, will participate in the tour (sharing performance dates with another young actor) all the way through to summer in San Francisco with the Lake Elsinore-based Theatre Royale.
The production will be Matthew’s first with a professional company, but he has done other youth productions in the past — such as theater camps at the La Jolla Playhouse and shows with Young Artists Studio, San Diego Junior Theatre and North Coast Repertory Theatre.
Although Matthew jokes that when it comes to acting he “just wanted to give it a try” — there would be little inspiration without his older brother, Luke, also a young actor.
“Matthew was dragged to all of Luke’s shows and rehearsals at North Coast Rep, and I think he just got tired of sitting in the audience,” said his mother Lauren Krause Garbacz, to which he nods enthusiastically.
At one time, Luke even played the part that Matthew now holds, which is where Matthew learned all of Gavroche’s songs, cockney accent, and the ability to stomp around the stage and command attention. During a youth production of “Les Mis” in April 2014, Luke played Gavroche and Matthew was in the chorus.
When the opportunity for a touring professional production came up, it was Luke who originally auditioned, but at age 11, he was deemed too tall for the role. When Krause Garbacz told the director Luke had a little brother already familiar with the songs, the director asked to see a video of Matthew singing.
Matthew was called back for an audition. “He went through four callbacks and on the way home the fourth time, we got a call from the assistant director saying the director wanted to speak to him,” she said. “We knew he got the part.”
Now ingrained in the role, Matthew said his favorite part is singing and dancing, and (spoiler alert) dying. “I get shot three times. It’s the most active scene I get to do,” he said. He also likes spending time with the older actors. “They are really fun and we play football when we have breaks. I like hanging out with them,” he said.
His least favorite part is the drive to Murrietta and Lake Elsinore twice a week for rehearsals. “It’s the worst,” he said.
But, if he wants to continue in the theater business, he’ll have to get used to travel. With grandparents living outside of New York City, Matthew said he’s seen many Broadway plays, his favorites being “Newsies,” “Matilda,” and “The Lion King,” and he plans to see more.
In the meantime, he will continue his studies at La Jolla Music and play in the school band.
As for Luke? With expertise in dance, he, too, is on his way to more musical theater. Luke got the understudy part of Billy Elliot in the McCoy and Cathy Rigby Entertainments touring show of “Billy Elliot,” but had to turn it down due to scheduling conflicts.
At the time of the La Jolla Light interview with Matthew, Luke was on a callback for a show at a local theater company. Getting parts left and right, Luke had already been cast in something else, but wanted to have his choice of shows.
And he’s not the only dancer in the family. Sister, Juliet, age 8, has participated in City Ballet of San Diego’s “The Nutcracker” in 2013 and 2014. She has also expressed an interest in music, particularly playing piano.
Encouraging all her children to participate in theater, Krause Garbacz said, “I think kids that act and get involved in theater become good public speakers and gain confidence, and acquire memorization skills and team-building skills. It’s just good for them in school and in life. Whether they want to be professional actors or just do it for fun, performing gives them a sense of self-awareness. Also, with it being such a big commitment, it teaches them discipline, how to take direction and work with others.”