Pioneer Theater Guild takes on Matilda for Fall Musical

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This year Pioneer Theatre Guild’s fall show will be Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical directed by Noah Wolfe and choreographed by Thani Brandt. The musical is based off of the 1988 children’s novel and 1996 adaption. 

Due to the rigorous demands of Broadway performance in the show the child roles were played by adults. “[Child roles are] going to be played by all people who are  coming of age like the characters in the show,” said Wolfe, “[Adult actors] add an interesting angle to have everybody between 15 and 18 years of age rather than having the roles of 5-year-olds played by adults.”

Matilda also features a smaller cast than typical Pioneer performances. This format gives every role purpose. “Everyone gets to feel deeply involved.” Wolfe said.“They aren’t written in just to fill up space and it gives each performer a sense of importance.” 

The smaller cast also allows for more one-on-one time with students. Wolfe noted that the smaller cast allowed all students to be “[involved in]learning about acting techniques… I’m hoping everyone is going to come out of this a better actor and performer.”

Matilda’s small cast is a result of the lack of an ensemble (the large groups of nameless characters typically featured in Pioneer performances). To compensate for this, they changed all the small roles, or bit roles, into a 30 person ensemble. “On Broadway, there was a lot of bit roles that only had one line or only appeared in one scene, so I made them into actual roles to come in for the big song at the end and other moments,” said Wolfe. 

One of the most unique characters in the show is Miss Trunchbull, the villain of the show. On Broadway, this female  role is typically played by a male and Pioneer followed that trend. Pioneer Theatre Guild’s casting philosophy revolves around choosing who’s best for the role regardless of gender or appearance. Though they weren’t specifically seeking out testosterone, the majority of those called back were male. JuniorLucas Connor, who will be playing the role, said, “I think the preconceived notion might’ve been there from everyone auditioning, but the directors had come up and said they were going to cast Miss Trunchbull whoever they wanted, man or woman.”

This idea of trying not to cast a certain look is prominent in all Pioneer castings. Junior, Martha Laramore-Josey, who will be playing the role of Matilda didn’t expect to get the role, because her image of Matilda was a white girl. She said, “In the theater world there are always assumptions about what people can play what role based on race. I think that affected me because I had that image of a 5-year-old white girl with short hair in my mind.” She believes it’s empowering to women of color to see themselves as Matilda. She said, “there are no limits in theater. A 16-year-old black girl can be Matilda and young women of color can be whatever they want.”

To prepare for the role, Connor studied a Spanish dance that reminded him of Trunchbull’s behavior. He said, “I studied the Paso Doble which symbolizes the bull and the matador, because I found her character showing herself as one thing, the bull, when she gets violent or aggressive and I wanted to work with that.”

The cast involved is interested in developing this unusual musical. Laramore thinks students should come see the show because of the depth the Musical adds to the well-known story, “It goes into more detail about the relationship between Miss Honey and Matilda, as well as Miss Honey and Trunchbull. It’s not just a show for little kids.” 

Senior, Ella Maki, who will be playing the role of Lavender, Matilda’s best friend, said “I’ve listened to the soundtrack nonstop since I found out we were doing Matilda this spring. I can tell it’s going to be the most fun shows we’ve done in a while.”