TOMS RIVER – A Toms River teen just finished his first run in a professional production of a beloved Disney film turned theater-musical.
Matteo Marretta, 16, a student at Ocean County’s Performing Arts Academy, made his debut professional appearance as Romeo in Disney’s “Newsies” at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal.
“Matteo Marretta embodies the dashing, confident Romeo in “Newsies.” As an Italian-American myself, I would never cast a non-Italian in the role. That’s a joke,” Andrew DePrisco, the theater’s artistic director, said. “In fact, Matteo is a superb dancer and growing actor and singer. It was a pleasure to watch him hone his skills under director-choreographer Marcos Santana.”
“Newsies” isn’t just Matteo’s first professional dancing credit. It’s the first Broadway show he saw with his family when he was 10. He remembers turning to his family and asking how he could get up on stage.
But Matteo’s always been on stage. Although it’s going too far to say the rest of his family are all left feet, besides his father’s brief stint as a street hip hop dancer in his youth, Matteo is the only right-brained member of his family. He would dance for everyone at family gatherings.
“It was just that pleasure of entertaining people and really getting positive feedback. It was something I always loved doing,” Matteo said.
He’s lived his whole life in Toms River with his father Carmen, mother Tina, brother Giancarmen and sister Alexandra. They have a puppy named Mickey.
He joined his first dance class at age 9 – a hip hop class – and then added more classes each year. By seventh grade, he knew he wanted to be a professional dancer. He’s studying acting and voice, what he calls a “triple threat.”
“My dad always tells me, if you love something enough that you think you can make a job out of it, then you don’t have to work a day in your life,” Matteo said
“The pride is immeasurable,” Carmen Marretta said. He said his wife is the anchor of the family, and that allows him to be able to help Matteo with his theater dreams. “Every adult has a job, and everybody likes what they do and most people do well. They enjoy what they do, but it’s not everybody who can say that they have a dream at such a young age and is able to pursue it. I love my job, but I can’t say when I was a child this was my dream. So, just being able to follow your own child through a dream they have, you can’t even begin to measure the pride.”
Matteo got an email several weeks after his audition for the show that he was in. He and his father were driving home from school when Matteo saw the email on his phone.
“And I said, ‘Dad, we need to stop for a couple of root beers right now,” Matteo said. Stewarts for everyone! “We just enjoyed the day, knowing that, hey, this is going to be a dream come true.”
Matteo described Romeo as “that charming teenage hunk, very easy with the ladies,” although he has more strike-outs than home runs, not too far a stretch to act.
“It was a perfect match when they gave me that role of Romeo. Everything I just said about is pretty much what I do in real life,” Matteo said.
He was nervous, of course, and working around professionals and neophytes who were in their 20s. He called his first professional job a fantastic experience.
He’ll have many more to add to his resume, again at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center. This month, Matteo will be in “High School Musical,” directed and choreographed by Nickelodeon and Disney star Lane Napper. In August, he’ll be part of the Axelrod Contemporary Ballet Theater’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” directed and choreographed by Gabriel Chajnik, Dance Director, Axelrod Contemporary Ballet.
And Broadway is in his sights. And one role in particular he wants to embody.
“Other than “Newsies,” my number one show that I would want to be any character in, I’d want to do “Jersey Boys,” and be Frankie Valli,” Matteo said. “That’s my number one Broadway goal in life. That’s at the top of the pyramid.”
So does he have a good falsetto?
“I’m working on it.”