Leon Worden

Rising local star headed for Broadway

Leon Worden · June 11, 1997

I first noticed Matt Gould last fall when he stole the show as "Seymour" in the Canyon Theatre Guild production of "Little Shop of Horrors." Since then his name has popped up all over the place.

There was Matt Gould the emcee of a benefit variety show at Magic Mountain. And Matt Gould the inspiring orator at recent Memorial Day services. The other night there was Matt Gould on public access television. Now, Matt Gould is headlining another Canyon Theatre play, a delightful Broadway comedy set in Roman times.

There are many busy people in this town, but what sets Matt Gould apart -- besides his raw talent -- is the fact that he's just 17 years old and, until next week, still in high school.

"It is really unusual for someone to be born with that much talent, energy and drive," says Canyon Theatre's Ben Boydston, director of the current production.

You could say Gould's acting career began in the fifth grade when he gave an oral book report and threw up in the middle of it. "I realized how much attention I could get by being overly dramatic," Gould said Saturday.

From there things happened fast. His father had insisted on piano lessons when Matt was 7, and by sixth grade he was up for musician of the year. His elementary school music instructor wanted him to play piano when both moved over to Placerita junior high, but with no piano at Placerita she stuck a tuba in his hands and told him to learn it. Eventually Gould would parlay that role into drum major (marching band leader) at Hart.

But it was the stage that truly attracted Gould in high school. The big break in his young life came when Donna Manfredi, then Hart's drama teacher, cast him in a lead role -- something unheard-of for a freshman. "I decided then to become an actor," Gould says. "Donna gave me the theatrical discipline I needed and molded me into the performer I am today."

Gould joined Hart's Sound Vibrations singing group -- he's now president -- and as a sophomore started up a jazz choir that finished second in an international competition. "It was an amazing opportunity because I was a sophomore leading seniors and juniors. It proved to me that I was a good musician and that I could lead. It was a real confidence-builder."

Next came singing lessons at Vibe Vocal Studios. He wound up with a paid job there, a new experience that led to a second paid gig as musical director of dramatic productions at Valencia High School under his old mentor, Manfredi.

Canyon Theatre's Boydston noticed his musical talents, too. Not only does Gould currently act on stage; he is also the behind-the-scenes musical director. "I think (Gould's busy schedule) nearly killed him," Boydston says. "He must have lost 10 or 15 pounds in the last six months."

Nonetheless, Gould maintains a 4.0 grade point average and "takes a full and challenging academic load," Hart principal Laury Strauss says. "Matt is honors-qualified in a variety of subjects. He does a fine job of balancing his schedule, and I think he is destined for something very prominent in the creative world."

The next step -- after next week's graduation speech, that is -- is the arts school at Boston University, where Gould won one of two annual scholarships. Although he had been accepted to NYU, he found that school too loose and unfocused when he visited the campus. "Boston was much more focused, and that's what I need. I'm learning that being overly dramatic is not always best, and I'm looking forward to the shaping I'll get in college."

Gould will leave behind a Santa Clarita which has given him great opportunities but which, he says, could do more. "I don't think enough attention is paid to talented people, either in school or in the community. There are many talented adults and students who never get seen (because) this valley is so sports-oriented, and I feel sorry for them. I don't see how the city could not build a theatre district or how Santa Clarita could not support the arts more."

Where will Matt Gould's name pop up next? On Broadway, at this rate. "I think I'll make it. If I tell myself that enough, I'll make it. As long as I work my butt off I can do anything I want to do. Anybody can, for that matter."

"But first I have to figure out how to work a washing machine."

Catch Matt Gould in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" on Fridays and Saturdays through July 5. Call the Canyon Theatre Guild at 805-298-0058 for reservations.

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Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident. His commentary appears on Wednesdays.

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