In theater, musical theater especially, one is a “triple threat” if one can sing, dance and act with equal facility. Pine Cove resident Matthew Shaker does it all. He also plays piano, composes, orchestrates and is writing the book, music and lyrics for a new musical.
He recently won the 2015 Desert Theater League Award for Best Actor in a Comedy (professional category — he is a member of Actor’s Equity) for his role as Felix Unger in Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple.” He has long been active in the Palm Springs theater scene, as both an actor and musical director for numerous productions.
Shaker comes from a musical family. “My grandmother was a big-band singer and my dad played piano, classical and some jazz,” said Shaker, of his childhood in the City of Orange in Orange County. “I remember being under the piano listening to my Dad playing and wanting to learn to play piano. My favorite of his was, ‘Here’s That Rainy Day.’”
Shaker started piano at age 9 and became active in theater in junior and senior high school. “My Mom took me to a production of ‘Music Man’ in Riverside in sixth grade,” he recalled. “I was transfixed. From that moment on it was theater. I played some sports but mostly it was theater, choir and vocal ensemble. I was already composing and writing songs when I was in my teens.”
And like many, Shaker moved to New York City to be part of the theater scene. He remembered being wide-eyed at the noisy life of the big city. “Before New York, the only place I had been, other than where I grew up, was Baja,” he said. “I played piano bars in clubs, studied acting in Manhattan at the Uta Hagen/Herbert Berghoff Studio with Earl Hyman and, as every actor does, struggled to make a living. You come here thinking it is all going to happen, and often it doesn’t. But I had found my passion, as both a writer and performer.”
Shaker observed that finding one’s passion in life is important, especially in the arts where finding regular work is often difficult. “It’s not about getting a real job,” he said, “It’s about finding your real purpose in life. You have these muses and spirits who inspire you and if you don’t respond, they move on.”
Shaker has responded and continues to respond to his musical muses. He and partner Robin Johnson have lived in Pine Cove for a little more than a year. Shaker still goes to the desert to play club gigs and perform occasional acting roles but his current project is writing his musical.
“It’s a historical musical, taking place during the same time period as ‘Downton Abbey,’ about the hero’s journey of Lord Carnarvon [George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon] and his passion and mission to discover the tomb of King Tut. I’m writing the script, the music and the lyrics, and doing all the arrangements in my home studio. I don’t care where it’s produced. I just want to see it produced somewhere.”
Shaker has a background in film, television, commercials, theater and modeling. With writing and composing added in, he is more than “a triple threat.” He also is enthusiastic and vitally engaged in every aspect of his life — his passion for the arts and for his current writing project — his historical musical, working title “Egyptomania!”
For more on Shaker, Google “Matthew Shaker” on IMDB and YouTube.