By Eric Gelb
The title role of Matilda in the critically acclaimed musical of the same name is just as daunting as it sounds. Many know of Matilda as a movie, or perhaps a book, but in musical form, Matilda is front and center in this adaptation. Not only does Matilda sing, act and dance — she does quite a bit of it. If you’re a fact and figures kind of person, what I’m going to say next will appeal to you. Out of the nearly three hour musical, the pint sized powerhouse will sing two solo songs and deliver several impressive monologues.
Additionally, Matilda will speak in Russian and recite several times tables throughout the course of the show. Don’t forget that Matilda is from the UK! Each Matilda will have to master the accent as they will be speaking it it for the duration of the show. And if you thought I forgot about dancing – I didn’t! Matilda dances in a majority of the numbers, as well as her own choreography in the sassy “Naughty“. Matilda will maneuver around towering set pieces, manage quick changes and handle emotionally heavy plot lines and scenes.
The character Matilda is subject to abuse from her family, and the girl playing her must emotionally display a mighty sense of understanding of the story she lives in. While the role is often compared to Annie or the Sound of Music kids, but that is far from the truth – the role of Matilda is physically, mentally and vocally challenging, especially for such a young girl. She is onstage for most of the show, and the subject matter requires much more character development and acting skill than the others. She jumps, leaps, shouts and runs her way across the stage during the show and by the end of the show, she has the entire audience rooting for her.
Now, if you’ve already started to think “Wow, that IS a lot for such a young girl!” It is. The role of Matilda is shared by four other girls, each of them performing two shows a week and standing by backstage for another two. Initially, the role was split between with three other girls but was expanded to four when the show moved to the London’s West End. But, it seems that each Matilda’s run with the show ends far too quickly, for even if she is still short enough to play the role, no Matilda stays with the show longer than a year.
The youngest Matilda is eight years old! Each girl is cast out of hundreds of others after going through several callbacks. The show maintains a strict no social media or stage door rule: the girls cannot pose for pictures or sign autographs. This is done for the safety (and privacy) of the young girls being thrust into the Broadway spotlight.
The current Broadway production has just ushered in four “Newtildas” – Gabriella Pizzolo, Brooklyn Shuck, Fina Strazza and Ava Ulloa. Brooklyn was in the recent Annie revival, but the other three girls are making their Broadway debuts with Matilda. It’s incredible that these girls are going to appear on a Broadway stage for the first time in such a challenging but wonderful role.
To keep the experience a positive part of each girl’s life, the girls playing the title role do not stay with the production for over a year. It’s better that they leave happy to have done it, rather than sick of doing it. Sticking with theme of keeping the experience positive, the girls are never sent alone for press events. No girl gets more media time than the other – it’s equally divided, or they all appear. And although the Tony committee deemed the four girls ineligible to win Best Actress, they did honor the originals with Tony Honors for their performances in the show. Although Matilda might love to be a little bit “naughty”, we’re glad these talented young girls have gotten so much training that they have the honor of bringing to life the character eight times a week on Broadway!