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On with the show: Stafford performer talks about his role in Pretty Woman: The Musical

They are the glue that holds an ensemble cast together, ensuring the show will always go on.

Pretty Woman: The Musical is directed by Jerry Mitchell
Pretty Woman: The Musical is directed by Jerry Mitchell

Swings - members of the chorus who learn multiple parts so they’re able to step in at a moment’s notice - are a valuable part of any musical theatre production.

Matt Jones, who grew up in Stafford, is currently playing this important role in Pretty Woman: The Musical in London's West End as well as being the show's resident choreographer.

The production, which is playing at the Savoy Theatre, is based on the 1990 film of the same name starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts.

Matt and the rest of the cast first began rehearsals at The Piccadilly Theatre in January 2020. Then two weeks after the musical opened to audiences, the Government announced the first Covid lockdown.

Matt Jones

The cast resumed performances from July 2021, this time at the production's new home of The Savoy Theatre.

Since then the popular romantic comedy has been delighting audiences with eight shows taking place every week.

Matt, who attended Walton High School, trained at the Sylvia Young Theatre School and Laine Theatre Arts.

He has appeared in the West End productions of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and We Will Rock You as well as a Broadway production of Wicked in Germany.

Other roles have included appearing as General Nikko in Wizard of Oz at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, a dancer for Pet Shop Boys; Inner Sanctum at the Royal Opera House and as Indio in West Side Story at Salzburg Festival.

Joining the cast of Pretty Woman and working with director Jerry Mitchell was an opportunity Matt says he couldn't pass up.

"It was a career goal to be part of an original West End cast and work with Jerry Mitchell. He's the brain behind Hairspray, Legally Blonde, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Kinky Boots. To work so closely with him was a huge opportunity," explains Matt.

"It's been amazing, lots of fun and lots hard work."

His job as a swing is to know all of the show's male ensemble tracks - this is a cast member’s role from start to finish of the entire production.

This includes all of the vocal harmonies and choreography as well as their locations on stage during each scene.

West End swings and understudies have received plenty of praise within the industry for their role in ensuring performances still go ahead when cast members have tested positive for Covid.

"When somebody is on holiday or off sick, we go on and the audience never knows anyone was missing," says Matt.

"If you do the same show every day, it can get boring for some people, but if you're a swing, you don't know what the week will entail. You can be on [stage] for a different person every day.

"As a swing, no two shows are the same."

As the show's resident choreographer, it's Matt's responsibility to ensure that every performance is consistent, which means knowing each of the dance routines inside and out.

Aimie Atkinson plays the role of Vivian Ward and Danny Mac plays businessman Edward Lewis

Matt also teaches the choreography to new cast members joining the show. He had to learn 21 tracks in total that he as resident choreographer he can can teach and seven tracks that he regularly goes on stage to perform.

A typical day with an evening performance starts at 3pm when he is informed of any performers who are off sick or injured.

His job is to then work out how best to cover the absentees which may involve making alterations to some of the routines.

"Based on what swings or understudies we need, if we don't have enough people to cover the show, it falls to me to cut the show. I go through every single dance number to make sure that between the swings we can cover all the bits.

"I may have to tell a certain couple to exit the stage earlier to keep the numbers even. The audience will never know there is anyone missing," explains Matt.

Ahead of the evening's performance, the cast will do a physical and vocal warm-up and take a quick break before the curtain rises.

When he's not on stage, Matt will be making notes through the show for "quality control" to ensure standards remain consistently high.

On days when the cast have a matinee performance, Matt will start his day at 11am by receiving and reviewing the absentee list.

The plot of Pretty Woman revolves around escort Vivian Ward who is hired by wealthy businessman Edward Lewis to accompany him to a number of high-profile events.

The show features an original score by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance

Matt also covers the role of Beverly Wilshire Hotel's dancing bellboy Giulio, who along with hotel manager Mr Thompson, teaches Vivian to dance.

"It's a really fun part. I do enjoy going on for Giulio," says Matt.

"My favourite part of the show is when we do Pretty Woman at the end of the show. The audience is happy and they've been waiting all show for that number. Most nights the audience is on their feet," he tells Weekend.

Taking on the role of a swing has been very rewarding for Matt and he says he has relished the chance to prove himself as a leader.

"The extra responsibility and pressure is what I have been aiming for in my career. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to work on such a big production and with such a renowned creative team," says Matt.

*Pretty Woman: The Musical at the Savoy Theatre is currently booking until April 2023. See www.thesavoytheatre.com/shows/pretty-woman-the-musical

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