WEDNESDAY, April 20 — If you run into actor David Abeles on the street, you would see someone who would fit right into the cast of “Once.” (And he did — Abeles played Eamon in the Broadway version of the popular movie.)
But he has range. He also played piano man Jerry Lee Lewis in “Million Dollar Quartet” on Broadway. But his latest role is the biggest stretch yet. On the national tour of “Matilda the Musical,” Abeles plays Miss Trunchbull, an abusive schoolmistress and the musical’s main antagonist.
City Pulse caught up with Abeles in between tour stops to talk about the role and life on the road.
You seem like a nice, handsome young man. How do you make the transition to Miss Trunchbull in “Matilda”?
From a nice guy to horrible, monstrous woman, right? It was an out-of-the-box idea. I was aware of the show and aware of the character, but I hadn’t seen the show until I got the audition for it. When I saw it, I thought, “Oh my god, it’s such a transformative role.” It seemed like it would be a lot of fun, but I didn’t know how I would get from point A to point B. But then I started working on the material, and it was so much fun. I really took to it, really dove into the role. It’s deliciously evil fun.
“Matilda” is based on the Roald Dahl book. Is this a childen’s show?
The protagonist is a child, but it’s really a universal story. It appeals to all ages. I loved it when I saw it, and so did my wife. It’s something we can all relate to.
The thing that makes it not a “children’s musical” is that it’s got a certain darkness and imagination that pervades a lot of Roald Dahl’s storytelling. He doesn’t talk down to a child audience. It’s not saccharine; it doesn’t shy away from the dark aspects of humanity. It’s told in a larger-than-life way, and staged in really imaginative way, but the story is quite simple and lovely.
It’s the story of an incredibly brave, incredibly bright and extraordinary young girl who decides to change her circumstances in life. She’s been dealt a pretty bad hand — parents who treat her horribly and a schoolmistress who’s abusive — and she decides she can change her destiny. That’s a message that inspires an audience of any age. It certainly did when I saw it.
What do you do for fun while you are on the road?
We get to see so many new cities. I like to go on TripAdvisor and see what’s good in each city, what the popular attractions are. I like going to museums. One of my castmates, Jennifer Blood, is doing a sort of coffee shop tour of America. She’s going to as many coffee shops as she can and trying different coffees and posting pictures and all that.
The kids are in school — they have school all day and then they have rehearsal — and a lot of the ensemble has rehearsals during the week. Even though there’s some downtime, there’s not as much as you might expect. It’s really a full-time gig, and the show itself is exhausting for everybody. We often need to recoup and rest.
But I like getting out and seeing new cities. I take it as a chance to see what’s interesting at each stop.
How does your wife deal with you being on tour?
Thank god for Facetime and Skype. That makes a big difference. We talk several times a day, and she comes out to visit when she can. But it’s tough; it’s a challenge. My wife is a performer and understands it in a way that other people might not, so I’m really lucky in that way. I’m lucky to have her support. She gets it.
Our goal is to not go more than three weeks without seeing each other at least for a night or a weekend. If we have a long weekend, I can fly back to New York, or she can come out to where we are.
It looks like you are having a lot of fun on Twitter.
I’m so new at Twitter. I’m so bad at it. I basically joined right before I left for “Matilda.” I have a handful of followers. But it is really fun. I can post silly pictures and stuff like that.
I read that you also play piano. Do you play music outside of Broadway shows?
I have a few other music projects. I play in a group with Cristin Milioti, who was the lead in (the Broadway version of) “Once,” which is a show I was in from the beginning. A bunch of us got together and we play as her backing band. And then we had another music project named Fair Play, which is a band that I and Elizabeth A. Davis and Will Connolly made — we were all original “Once” cast members. We got together and did an EP together and played lots of places in New York and New Jersey.
Most of my time is spent as a working actor, but in my downtime, I love to play music. I’m always noodling and writing on my own. Hopefully someday I’ll put together some songs and make an album and play out more.
“Matilda the Musical”
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 20-Thursday, April 21; 8 p.m. Friday, April 22; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 23; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 24
Tickets start at $38/$25 students
750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing
(517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com