WESTFIELD, NJ — From Westfield’s Workshop for the Arts to the stages of Broadway, Tony and Emmy Award Nominated Composer and Westfield native Matthew Sklar continues to wow with his third musical, “The Prom.”
The Broadway show, which opens Oct. 23 at the Longacre Theater, is about a group of Broadway has-beens who decide to shine and hopefully share the spotlight on the drama that ensues when a gay student in small-town Indiana brings her girlfriend to prom.
“It’s a really really fun, heartfelt show and I would love [for] everyone to come see it,” Sklar said.
Sklar, the son of Talbot and Alicia Sklar of Westfield, said he started playing the piano at 2 years old under the guidance of his father, who worked his way through dental school as a piano player in a wedding band.
“I definitely learned a lot from him,” Sklar said.
By age 10, Sklar said he knew that he wanted music in his future and recalls thinking that writing music and being a part of music for a Broadway show would be “the ultimate goal.”
Fellow Westfield classmate Leslie Klieger said she realized Sklar was a “prodigy” during a school talent show.
“Normally a kid gets up and plays 'Twinkle, Twinkle.' He slammed out 'The Entertainer',” Klieger said.
Sklar said it was a lucky coincidence that earned him his first gig. At 17, before heading off to his freshman year at New York University, he auditioned to be a substitute piano player for the production of “Westside Story” at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn.
Sklar had just finished production of the same musical before graduating from Westfield High School.
“I knew the score pretty well, and that helped me get the job, quite frankly,” he said, adding that the opportunity to play at Paper Mill Playhouse is what helped to springboard his career.
Sklar was also involved in the pre-college program at Juilliard and spent his Saturdays alongside other young musicians. Students are selected based on their level of talent, potential, and ambition and likelihood to lead to successful musical careers, according to their website.
“Because I had that credit with Paper Mill, I met somebody at Juilliard who had a connection at 'Les Miserables' on Broadway,” he said. “I was able to get a job subbing as a sub keyboardist at 18.”
The substitute opportunities expanded into roles within other Broadway productions including "Miss Saigon" and "Guys and Dolls."
“I got very fortunate,” he said. "For most pit musicians, it takes a while to network to get involved.”
Despite his early success, Sklar said his real goal was to write a musical, a dream he realized after being sought out by Andrew Barrett, a literary manager for an off-Broadway theater company.
“He liked what I did with 'Godspell' and asked if I wanted to write musicals,” Sklar said.
Barrett connected Sklar to lyricist and author Chad Beguelin, and the two immediately hit it off, Sklar said. ‘
“We had the same taste in music and plays and musicals,” he said. “We learned how to write together.”
The two have now been writing together for the last 25 years and are widely known for their work in Broadway musicals “Elf” and “The Wedding Singer.”
Sklar attributes a large part of his success to having his experience in Westfield schools.
“I am very lucky to have grown up in Westfield where there is such a great arts program,” he said. “Choir, band- It was a daily part of life.”
Sklar said he participated in New Jersey Workshop for the Arts programs beginning in kindergarten. During the school year, he participated in theater and school musicals.
In ninth grade, his music teacher Kristine Smith-Morasso, now retired, sent a demo of Sklar's work to the Disney Channel, which was later shown on television, along with an interview with Sklar.
“It was my first taste of being a professional composer directly coming from Edison Junior High,” he said. “Westfield has definitely been an influence in writing, performing, and in the arts.”
Sklar lives in New York City but says frequently visits his parents and his sister in New Jersey.
“Westfield is still very much a part of my life,” he said.
“The Prom,” directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw (“The Book of Mormon,” “Aladdin,” “Mean Girls”), opens Oct. 23 at the Longacre Theater, 234 West 44th St., New York, N.Y.
Ticket prices: $59 - $179. Purchase at theprommusical.com or by calling Telecharge at 212-239-6200.