Matilda Returns with Multi-Cultural Cast and Big Surprises
By: Ellis Nassour
December 5, 2019: Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly’s West End and Broadway hit musical Matilda returns for a limited engagement at A.R.T. New York Theatres [503 West 53rd Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues], following more than 1,500 performances [March 2013-January 2017] for a revival with a multi-cultural cast of adults and children and more than a few surprise twists. There are five weekend performances Friday-Sunday, December 7 – 22.
Todd Etelson, founder of ATNY acting school, is co-producing with actor Carl Anthony Tramon (a Peter Pan revival; Fame, the Musical), who’s making his Off-Broadway directing debut. “Matilda is one of every kid’s favorite stories and was a huge family hit on Broadway,” states Tramon, an investor in the original Broadway production, “but our revival brings it to life with some inventive new turns and cool story angles. We’ve been fortunate to be joined by not only Broadway veterans, but also some of the most astonishing young talent in the country.”
Tramon notes the revival “makes the concept of time more fluid, thus increasing the foundation of Matilda’s supernatural abilities. When the show was on Broadway, we heard numerous theatergoers wonder why the production didn’t bring her powers to light sooner, instead of waiting half way into Act Two. Even there, they were brief, almost as if it was background information totally unconnected to Matilda. But she drives everything, not just in the theatrical sense, but more importantly, in the journey of her life. She manipulates her entire environment – much to the incomprehension of those around her – until she chooses to let them in on it, mostly to save the life of her teacher, Miss Honey.”
He did a Matilda workshop in July as an educational showcase and “came away with the bug to mount it with the entire acting company.” It’s been in the works for three six months. With the double casting and alternates, the cast, which ranges from eight to 35, totals 46.
Tramon said the month-long auditions yielded two amazing spitfire dynamos for the title role. “It was impossible to choose one over the other, so we have rotating Matildas.” They are eight-year-olds Natalia Artigas, who becomes the first Hispanic Matilda [she’s a native of Mexico] and Clara Stack.
Adding to the multi-cultural cast, the role of the menacing Miss Truncbull is double-cast, with African-American actress Zakiya Baptiste (Violet in the national tour of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and Gisela Ribeiro.Mary Claire Allen and Shea Rodriguez share the role ofMiss Honey.
Etelson stated that one of Broadway’s original Matildas, Milly Shapiro, who, with her sister co-stars shared a 2013 Tony Award for Excellence in the Theater, was integral to the production in giving her time and talents.
Regarding taking “a fresh new look” at the musical, Tramon explained that “not a line or lyric has been changed. I made my adjustments with strategic staging, pauses, and focus. to create a more powerful, honest, and audience-friendly treatment. Matilda has a few lines that are so deeply tucked away in the script amid monologues and lyrics that no one ever thinks anything of them. But they’re so important as they add nuance.”
He points to an offhanded comment of Matilda’s in Act Onethat he aldo drew inspiration from: “The one thing that no one is master of is time.” Other new thinking came from the song “Quiet,” which Matilda sings late in Act Two. It goes:
“If we are travelling at almost the speed of light,
And we’re holding a light,
That light would still travel away from us
At the full speed of light … But this noise becomes anger,And the anger is light.”
“I am a fan of physics,” states Tramon, “and these references are to time. They were intense clues in Roald Dahl’s novel that no one picked up on.”
Robert Taylor Jr. (SpongeBob Squarepants; TV’s So You Think You Can Dance) is choreographer. The production uses Christopher Nightingale’s original Tony-nominated orchestrations via licensed audio tracks from Musical Theatre International.
Matilda, the Musical, a 2013 Tony nominee for Best Musical, was first produced in 2010 by London’s Royal Shakespeare Company and on Broadway by the Dodgers. Minchin’s score, Kelly’s book, anddirector Matthew Warchus (current A Christmas Carol; Groundhog Day)were also nominated. The stage adaptation was preceded by a 1996 film directed by Danny DeVito.
Tickets for this first Matilda revival are $15 – $20 and available at www.tututix.com/ATNY. Reserved and front-of-stage “Pillow” seating for patrons 12 and younger are available.