It’s not often that “revolting” children get a standing ovation – but that’s exactly what will happen next week when nearly 40 East Valley kids and teens charge the stage in “Matilda The Musical.”
The Tony Award-winning show, inspired by Roald Dahl, has captivated audiences of all ages worldwide and will be presented by Gilbert’s Actor’s Youth Theatre in conjunction with Zao Theatre in Apache Junction, where the show will run June 10-26 with evening shows on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and matinees on Saturdays.
The cast, which includes Campbell Carr, 12, of Ahwatukee, performs in a story of a little girl with astonishing wit, intelligence and psychokinetic powers.
She’s unloved by her cruel parents but impresses her schoolteacher, the loveable Miss Honey.
They develop a powerful bond, but school life isn’t completely smooth sailing: headmistress Miss Trunchbull hates children and loves thinking up new punishments for those who don’t abide by her rules.
“Matilda is a really sad story about a girl who basically doesn’t have a family,” said Campbell, who plays Amanda, a classmate of Matilda’s.
“It has taught me to appreciate my family while I have them. Matilda grew up in an abusive relationship with her mother and father, and hopefully this show will teach everyone to be grateful for the family they have.”
Bonnie Wanstreet, 17, who is now a senior at Horizon Honors in Ahwatukee, said, “’Matilda’ was one of my favorite books when I was growing up, so portraying Miss Honey is like a dream come true.
“I have idolized her for so long. She learns how to stand up for herself and she is kind to everyone. She reminds me of my own kindergarten teacher, Ms. Shaw, who I still talk to now.”
Bonnie’s mother, Laura Wanstreet, is the principal of Horizon Honors Elementary School and the costume designer for “Matilda.”
While the story has sad moments, Matilda proves triumphant in the end. With an outsize share of courage and cleverness, she saves her classmates and beloved teacher from the monstrous Miss Trunchbull while creating a new and happier world for herself.
“I think Matilda is a role model because it’s really important to stand up for what you believe in and to stand up for other people,” said 11-year-old Belle Elle, who plays the title role.
Added Bonnie: “The message of this show is about how anyone can make a difference in the world no matter who you are. To quote the show, anyone can ‘change their story.’”
It’s a theme that director Lucy Garner hopes to drive home.
“I think the relevance of ‘Matilda’ in today’s society is especially poignant,” said Garner. “My goal is for the audience to feel the opposition between good vs. evil, acceptance vs. rejection, youth vs. age, and intelligence vs. ignorance.
“Through the eyes of a gifted and spunky 5-year-old, we learn that with a little moral courage, good can triumph over evil, and we can be the authors of our own life stories.”
“Matilda” delivers these lessons through high-energy dance numbers and more than a dozen songs including beloved favorites like “Revolting Children,” “When I Grow Up” and “Quiet.”
“The show is written from the perspective of the children, so a lot of the elements are larger than life,” said Stephen Hohendorf, artistic director of Actor’s Youth Theatre.
“Matilda’s world consists of oversized books that seamlessly open and close to reveal different settings. The entire proscenium is covered in Scrabble tiles that look like they’re falling right out of the bag.”
Since the first rehearsal on April 27, the young thespians have worked diligently to bring their characters to life – whether they’re funny, loud, fierce or crazy.
“It was imperative that we found actors who could bring these over-the-top characters to life, and we’ve done just that,” said Hohendorf.
“I often forget these are youth performers because their dedication to and delivery of their roles is unmatched. It’s so joyful to see them having so much fun up on that stage.”
AYT’s production features two casts – Telly and Book – that will take turns performing over the three-week run. Not only does this provide stage opportunities for more kids, but double-casting is a special accommodation amid COVID-19.
“I am really grateful for the opportunity for this show,” said Campbell. “This is like my favorite show in the world, and I was so excited to hear that AYT was doing it, and even more excited when I was cast.”
“Matilda” has won 99 international awards – including 24 for Best Musical.
“I think that the most fun part of this production is seeing it all come together,” said Campbell. “Everyone has worked so hard, and I’m really excited to see the full show all put together.”
“Matilda” is directed by Lucy Garner with artistic direction from Stephen Hohendorf, choreography by Jessi Rodriguez, music direction by Michael Snyder, set design by Mickey Bryce and Tanja Bauerle, costume design by Laura Wanstreet, stage management by Stephanie Coffelt.
The show will be performed at Zao Theatre at 550 S. Ironwood Drive, Apache Junction, at 7 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays with an extra show on Saturdays at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $20 in advance/$22 day-of and are available at aytaz.org/tickets or by calling 480-907-7050. Group discounts are available. Performances are expected to sell out quickly.