For every child who was ever bullied; for every child whose parents didn’t treat them well, for every child who didn’t get the love they deserved, there is “Matilda.”
“Matilda the Musical” is the musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved book about a little girl who learns to stand up for herself against the cold, cruel world.
The lively musical, created by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin, and which premiered with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2010, is sure to inspire and delight youngsters, whether they are still young or all grown up. “Matilda the Musical” comes to the Ephrata Performing Arts Center stage today through Aug. 7.
As creative director Ed Fernandez notes, Matilda is a show for everyone. Everyone can relate to dealing with unkind people, whether they be so-called friends, teachers, or even family members. And while most kids don’t have families as rotten as Matilda’s self-centered parents or as evil as headmistress Miss Trunchbull, “Matilda” serves to offer hope that even the sweetest souls can be naughty enough to overcome the very meanest people they meet in life.
At the center of “Matilda,” the shy little girl who stands up to wickedness with some supernatural powers, is Matilda Wormwood herself. In EPAC’s performance, Matilda is portrayed by 11-year-old Carly Geiter. Geiter is the daughter of Lauren and Don Geiter of Lancaster, who have encouraged their daughter’s natural gifts for singing, dancing and acting.
A sixth grader at Lancaster County Christian School, Geiter has been doing local theater for about three years. She already has a powerful role lined up as Helen Keller at York’s Belmont Theatre, and has performed in productions of “Annie,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and “Honk Jr.” Her role as Matilda is her first leading role, and she says she has enjoyed getting into her character.
“She is gentle, but tough. She has learned to stand up for herself,” says Geiter. “She is also very, very smart, and that’s why her parents hate her so much. They are not very smart at all.”
Matilda is able to escape her situation with the help of a few supernatural powers, like being able to move things with her eyes, explains Geiter. Through some rather sneaky trickiness, Matilda is able to toy with her parents and play a few pranks on them, like turning her father’s hair green.
Since the musical “Matilda” premiered on the British stage, the cast traditionally uses British accents. Geiter has mastered a charming accent, and sings two of the most popular songs in the show, including the catchy “Naughty” and the thoughtful “Quiet,” which is in contrast to Mrs. Wormwood’s raucous song “Loud.”
“I watched the movie ‘Matilda’ and it helped me understand my character. She is timid and shy, and goes through such hard times that make her stronger,” says Geiter, who describes herself as very outgoing. “Thank goodness she has Miss Honey.”
Miss Honey is Matilda’s sweet and shy teacher, played by 18-year-old Maya Burdick, a recent Ephrata High School graduate. Like her character, Burdick confesses that she too is rather quiet and introverted. Put her on stage, though, and she takes on her role, whether it’s Penny in “Hairspray” or the tomboy Anybodys in “West Side Story.” The daughter of Stacy and Clinton Burdick, she has grown up in theater and at EPAC, where her parents volunteer doing set construction and costumes.
“To practice my accent, I sort of channeled Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins,” says Burdick, who wound up with a genteel British accent that would be well-suited for a Jane Austen film.
She was able to relate well to Miss Honey, who has been mistreated and put down by other characters in “Matilda.” As a result of empathizing with Matilda, the two form a loving mother-daughter-like bond, and Miss Honey proves to be Matilda’s salvation.
“She learns to come out of her shell and defend Matilda, which makes them both stronger. They help each other,” says Burdick, who sings “Pathetic,” “This Little Girl,” and “My House” in her lovely, clear soprano voice.
The sweetness and charm of Matilda and Miss Honey are sharply contrasted by the pure evilness of Miss Trunchbull, the wicked headmistress of Crunchem Hall. The role of Miss Trunchbull is traditionally played by a man, much like Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray.”
EPAC found its perfect Miss Trunchbull with Drew Becker, 26, an actor from Hanover who had been living and working in New York City until the pandemic forced him back to central Pennsylvania. When he heard that EPAC was planning to do “Matilda,” he asked a mutual friend of Fernandez to tell the director than he should cast him as Miss Trunchbull. When Becker read for the part, Fernandez knew he had exactly the right guy to be the certifiably insane Miss Trunchbull.
“It was kind of a joke, but I always wanted to do that part. She is just the evilest of evil, out to get the purest of pure,” Becker says. “I guess the best way to describe her is that hurt people need to hurt people.”
To clinch the role, Becker adopted an other-worldly accent with a touch of Moira from “Schitt’s Creek,” the Wicked Witch of the West, and a very scary British nanny. It was like nothing Fernandez had ever heard before, and it was hysterical.
“I just tried to imagine myself as the frustrated ex-Olympic hammer thrower who hates children and winds up as the headmistress of Crunchem Hall. She loves to prey on the vulnerable,” says Becker, who sings “The Hammer” and “The Smell of Rebellion.”
Even though “Matilda” delves into the cruelty of bullies like Miss Trunchbull and the awful Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood, the kindness of Matilda and Miss Honey manage to vanquish evil in this satirical look at the power of kindness.
“This is one of my favorite casts,” Fernandez says. “It’s so great to have all these fresh, young faces. These kids are unreal. And the show is hilarious, yet poignant.”
The rest of the Matilda cast includes Isaac Silver and Erin Quinn as Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood, Brandon Cameron as Rodolpho, Rachel Romack as Mrs. Phelps, and Preston Cuer as the Doctor. As for the kids. Maeve Larrimore is Lavender, Zane Zangwell is Bruce, Abby Leiboff is Amanda, Patrick McCarthy is Tommy, Nala Samuel is Alice, Maeve Sasse is Hortensia, Will Sensenig is Michael, Zach Sensenig is is Eric, and Noah Woods is Nigel. The cast also includes Damian Hemsley, Conner Moodie, Susanna Schelling, Emily Witmer. Zack Haines, Tori Nicktern and Meredith Stone.
Fernandez is director with Megan Riggs as assistant director. Music director is Cheryl Markle, executive director is Andi Jo Hill, choreographer is Kristin Pontz and stage manager is Mike DiSciullo.
“I think everybody bonded so well. We are like family,” says Becker, with an intimidating cackle. “But seriously, it was so much fun to be so evil.”