Roald Dahl always has created mystical worlds full of cross-conniving adults testing the moral aptitude of young children in order to teach them a lesson. “James and the Giant Peach,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Matilda” are among them. Thalian Association is bringing two of Dahl’s stories to life this season; their children’s theater just closed “James,” and now the multi-award-winning musical, “Matilda,” debuts locally on the main stage at Thalian Hall Friday night.
“I saw ‘Matilda’ on Broadway and it was a fantastic show,” artistic director Chandler Davis says. “It was also one of my favorite books growing up, and I loved the  movie as well. I’m also always looking for shows that are new to Wilmington audiences. I thought it would be great to open our season with a Wilmington premiere.”
The film was directed and coproduced by Danny DeVito. Both the screen version and musical follow Dahl’s book closely. “The music in this show is really special,” according to Davis. The show features a full band (bass, drums, guitar, two horns, wind player and keys), punctuated by Jason Aycock’s interpretation of quirky, complex moves from the show’s original choreographer, Peter Darling.
“I’ve done my best to stay true [to the show and mix] jazz with stylized blocking,” Aycock says. “The most challenging thing has certainly been the cast size. The past several shows I’ve worked on have been much smaller casts, and it’s been probably two or more years since I’ve worked with a group as big as this.”
The central players include George Domby in drag as Miss Trunchbull, Reagan Shumate as Matilda, and Meagan Golden as Miss Honey. The story follows Matilda, who comes from an abusive home, and, along with her friends, has to endure the evil doings of her mean principal at school. Once Matilda hones in on her telekinetic powers, she puts them to work in her favor.
“My favorite scene is in Act 2 when the kids sing ‘When I Grow Up,'” Aycock says. “It’s such a pure moment of what kids think adulthood will be like and how excited they are about the life that’s on the horizon. It’s balanced with Miss Honey’s current life which is less-than desirable, and I think that bittersweetness encapsulates a lot of what the show and adult life is like. I love how clever the show is.”
encore interviewed the show’s director, Cathy Street, about what more to expect from this night of fantasy in local theatre.
encore (e): How have you approached directing the show?
Cathy Street (CS): I see the show as a morality tale told from the viewpoint of a child So with that, everything is larger-than-life: If people are bad, they are very bad; if they are good, they are very good—there is no gray area—and all to a comical degree.
e: What do you love most about the story?
CS: I love the quirkiness of it, and I love that it encourages children to learn and to speak out about things that aren’t right.
e: Tell me a little about your cast and how they’re fulfilling their roles.
CS: Everyone is bringing a ton of creativity. Like I said, the characters are larger-than-life and it really allows the actors to bring any and all ideas to the table.
e: What have been the most challenging and rewarding parts of the show?
CS: It is challenging because it is a big show with lots of technical elements to consider. The most rewarding is seeing the young children work with our older teen and adult cast. There is so much excitement in the rehearsal process it is impossible to not get swept up in that energy. I love working with young people and helping them grow as actors.
e: What will the world look like, and who’s building it and putting the pieces together?
CS: The set was designed by Andy Bleiler and the build is being spearheaded by Lance Howell. Andy and I spent a lot of time talking about the gothic feel of Dahl’s work and how things would look if they were from a child’s point of view.
We are also using projections in the show to support and enhance the storytelling and the off-kilter feel.
e: Who’s the music director?
CS: So we are doing something unique for this show. We have broken the role of musical director into two parts. I am the vocal director and Myron Harmon is the band director and will be playing keys. He has been present during the rehearsal process and we have worked as a team. Music and underscoring is integral to the piece and really contributes to the feel of the show.
e: Tell us about the music: what styles, rhythms will we hear?
CS: It is a unique blend of a modern and classic musical theatre sound. We run the gamut—from a salsa feel to a loud rock-out number in “Revolting Children” and everything in between.
e: What do you love most about the score?
CS: I love that it is rhythmically challenging and interesting. It supports the off-kilter/quirkiness of the entire show.
e: Fave song and why?
CS: There is the big number, “Revolting Children,” that is great because you see and hear all of these kids just being amazing and powerful. But the cast would probably tell you that my favorite moment is in the middle of the opening number “Miracle,” when the song, led by a doctor channeling his inner boy-band, goes into a parody of a slow-jam, groove rock. I can’t help but jam out with them.