Smart, witty and extraordinarily precocious, 5 ½-year-old Matilda Wormwood in “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” is a more-than-avid reader, and she knows things.
While her family ignores her, and the headmistress of her school really doesn’t like children, Matilda makes her way and she doesn’t allow people to talk down to her.
“Even when you’re little, you can do a lot,” explained director Emily Clements. “And, if something’s not right,” she said, “you have to make it right. If you’re being mistreated or you’re not happy with your life, you have to make it right yourself.”
“Matilda the Musical” opens this weekend at the Wichita Theatre at 7 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. The show runs through March 13.
Dahl published his renowned book “Matilda” in 1988, which was made into a popular movie in 1996, and then a Tony-winning musical in 2010. This is the first production of the musical in the Wichita Falls area.
“Matilda” was to have originally opened last summer at the theatre, but was pushed back because of COVID-19 and then “Titanic” and “Moana.” The musical was cast in Feb. 2020 by former director Kimberly Gordon.
Rehearsals began in November, after Clements assumed the directorial role, since Gordon teaches school. Clements also plays Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey.
When Wichita Theatre co-owner Dwayne Jackson asked Clements to direct, she said, “‘Only if I can still play Miss Honey,’ I hadn’t been on stage in so long after directing ‘West Side Story’ last year, and I love this show so much. I love the character of Miss Honey so much.”
Clements asked Mark Dudley, who plays Matilda’s school head, Trunchbull (a former hammer thrower), to assistant direct, allowing her a second set of eyes as well as additional dramatic and musical experience.
Emily Calvert, a 6th grader at McNeil, plays Matilda. “She’s everything you could want in the character,” Clements said. “She’s so smart and expressive, has a good grasp on things, takes notes and if you suggest something, she’ll do it. She’s precocious and embodies her character a lot.”
Matilda’s father is a boorish used car salesman (Sheldon Clanton) who is addicted to television, and her mother (Adrian Cargal) is obsessed with dancing with her partner, Rodolpho (Anthony Delagarza). “Their dancing is sort of farcical,” said Clements.
Matilda grows up somewhat neglected, however, she learns to read and meets librarian Mrs. Phelps (Melissa Hansard) who “loves Matilda for her brain and her stories, including the Escapologist and the Acrobat” Clements said. “The library becomes her safe place.”
Most of the adults in the production, except the teacher and the librarian, are mean, said Clements, “but they’re also funny in a way. There’s a lot of darkness in Dahl’s book, but it’s covered with humor in the show.”
Clements and her crew adjusted parts of the movie for their stage production. “There’s so much in the movie that can’t be done onstage, like throwing kids out the window. Matilda’s psychokinetic powers also had to be adapted.”
Sarah Cook, the choir director at McNeil and Rider High School, is the music director; Stephanie Medenwaldt does choreography; and Casey Osborne does stage design.
The cast ranges in age from 10 to 65. While there a number of children in the cast, Jackson said, “Many people may think it must be a kids’ show. It’s not driven to be a kids’ show, but children will gain a lesson and thoroughly enjoy it,” he said.
The production will appeal to a wide audience, Clements said. “There is a group, my age – late 20’s early 30’s – where the movie came out when we were kids. I loved it and watched it all the time. A lot of people 25 and up have seen the film.”
The musical is a little different from the movie because of the songs, but the characters are the same, she said. “It’s such a fun show. There’s not a dull moment, and there’s a good mix of music and characters,” she said.
Tickets are sold online at WichitaTheatre.com, and there are no reserved seats. Jackson encourages people to purchase tickets in advance, but the theatre will also sell tickets at the door if any remain available. Guests may sit up to 10 in a group with two empty seats between groups, and rows are skipped.
The first patrons inside the auditorium choose their seats, and subsequent guests will distance themselves from already seated groups. Jackson said there will around 200 seats. Each patron must wear a facemask, and the theatre encourages guests to keep masks on at all times.
Concessions may be ordered and will be delivered to a guest’s seat. Ushers will give everyone a small program with a QR code and instructions. Guests can scan the code which will take them to an online store, where they order their concessions. If guests are unable to scan the code, they can also order through an usher with a manual order form.
What: Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical
Where: Wichita Theatre, 919 Indiana
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28; 7 p.m. March 5, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. March 6, and 2 p.m. March 7; and 7 p.m. March 12; and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. March 13.
Admission: $23 adults and $12 for students and children, tickets available at www.wichitatheatre.com