On Friday at the Hotel Nikko, Broadway star Matt Doyle made his homecoming to the Bay Area with an endearingly raw, uncontrolled performance in San Francisco’s nightclub Feinstein’s.
Feinstein’s is an intimate, speakeasy-style venue filled with round black draped tables and tiny golden glowing lamps. On this evening, sparkling chandeliers glittered in the club’s cozy interior and stage lights tinged everything with red lighting. Soft jazz music and gentle murmurs of friendly neighboring conversations made the nightclub feel like an extra special night out with family.
The evening’s sense of familial intimacy turned out to be well grounded in Doyle’s performance; Doyle calls the Bay Area home, and the audience included some of the star’s biggest fans, lifelong supporters, friends and family. When the lights dimmed, Doyle, who is most famous for his work in “Book of Mormon,” “Spring Awakening” and “War Horse,” ran from the back of the room onto the stage. Exhilarated applause and joyful recognition arose from the crowd as he immediately launched into a heartfelt rendition of “One Song Glory” from “Rent.” Energy in the room was high as Doyle’s set — a compilation of his favorite songs, original compositions and personal life stories — began.
Throughout the evening, Doyle’s love for theater was powerfully evident — but this hasn’t always been the case for the performer. “I did go through that moment where I wanted to leave (the theater business),” Doyle said in an interview with The Daily Californian after the show. “I felt so glued to it, like if things didn’t keep happening for me in the way that they were, I would be ruined.”
During his performance, Doyle confessed as much publicly; there was a time when the magic of watching a Broadway show started to fade for him. Doyle related that he eventually reached a level of intense engagement within the musical theater world and was, at times unwillingly, hyperaware of insider politics and disputes.
When asked how he was able to work his way back to theater, Doyle responded: “All I had to do to fall in love with it again, to enjoy it again, is just prove to myself I could do other things. … Working on things just for myself allowed me the freedom to just be inspired again.”
Doyle let the audience into his past with a gentle grace and easy humor, summarizing the experiences that sparked his solo album, Uncontrolled. “I had just gotten out of that one terrible relationship everyone has in their early 20s,” Doyle said during the performance. “You know, the one that goes on for way too long.”
When Doyle sang the refrain of “What You Stole,” the first self-written piece he performed during the night, the room went very still. The audience seemed to hold its breath until the end of the phrase, “I’ve already lost control … I’ll let you keep what you stole / if you promise just to take a little more.”
One couldn’t help but smile at the message of this song, a selection from Uncontrolled; throughout his performance, Doyle did not just open himself up to the prospect of “losing control” — he embraced it. The theme of “Love Uncontrolled,” a constant throughout the album as well as the title of a song on it, is an inspiring and hope-filled presentation of one individual’s commitment to remain open to love despite a past that has made it easy to do the opposite.
From the moment he stepped onstage, Doyle welcomed the audience into his world. And when his set was finished, there was the sense that the audience had not only witnessed a performance but had gotten to know Doyle as an individual. The performance reminded viewers of what draws them to the theater — the feeling of connecting to others through stories, and witnessing individuals courageously choose to live and, of course, to “love uncontrolled.”
Contact Daryanna Lancet at [email protected].