More than any other character, the girls wanted to play the title role in “Matilda.”
Holly Reichert and Nava Ruthfield, both 11, share the role of Matilda in Village Theatre’s “Matilda,” opening on Friday in Everett. It was a dream come true for Holly and Nava. Why Matilda? Because Matilda is an extraordinary girl.
The hit musical, inspired by Roald Dahl’s beloved 1988 children’s book of the same name, is the winner of five Tony Awards, seven Olivier Awards and was named Time magazine’s No. 1 show in 2013.
Like the novel, the musical is set in England. Matilda is a genius who is neglected and abused by her parents. A love of reading has armed Matilda with a sharp mind and a vivid imagination. In turn, she has a gift for storytelling, a knack for pulling pranks, and — spoiler alert — telekinesis. With the help of a kindly teacher, Matilda realizes that she has the power to change her destiny. (The night I saw the show, Holly was Matilda.)
Nava has seen the musical twice: Once on Broadway, and once at the Paramount. When she was given the choice to audition for roles in either “Matilda,” “Annie” or “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” it was no contest. She had to try out for Matilda.
“If I hadn’t gotten the part, I don’t think I would have been able to see it,” Nava said. “It would have just made me really sad.”
“Matilda is a very interesting character,” added Holly, whose family moved from Las Vegas so she could play Matilda. “She’s one of those characters you don’t see often played by a kid. She doesn’t smile a lot. She’s not all sing-songy and happy.
“When you see her, you think, ‘Oh she’s so cute!’ But when you get to know her, she’s actually quite mischievous. She’s not afraid to be naughty and she’s not afraid to stand up to people.”
“Matilda” was turned into a movie in 1996. I saw the film adaptation when I was 10. All I remember about it decades later is that the girl from “Mrs. Doubtfire” played Matilda, and that the title character has the power to move things with her mind.
I almost streamed it on Amazon Prime, but I stopped myself. I decided I would rather watch Village Theatre’s show without comparing it to the movie.
Thus, I saw “Matilda” as if for the first time. It was magical.
Take a page from the director’s book and do the same: “We were instructed not to watch the movie,” Nava said. “The movie is an Americanized version of the book. We didn’t want anyone copying that or changing their acting. We can read the book — but not watch the movie.”
Village’s set, sound, lighting, costumes, choreography and orchestra were all exceptional, but it was the story itself (and Matilda’s storytelling) that grabbed hold of me. It’s a story about girl power.
“The message of the show is, even if you’re little you can do a lot,” Holly said, quoting lyrics in the song “Naughty.” “A lot of kids don’t know that about themselves. They think they have to be grown up in order to do great things, and it’s not true. We really can do a lot of stuff in this world.”
Favorite scenes include when Matilda is telling the story of an escape artist and an acrobat, played by the amazing Matthew Posner and Ivanna Wei, who act out the tale as if they’re alive in Matilda’s imagination. In the story, the escape artist and acrobat are a husband-and-wife duo famous for their dangerous stunts. They find out they’re expecting a child — a baby girl. Despite risks to the pregnancy, they are forced to follow through and perform the biggest stunt of their careers.
Matilda tells this story while standing on a chair in the library, the librarian rapt with attention. It’s a very powerful series of scenes.
At 11 years old, both Holly and Nava already have impressive acting resumes. Holly comes from a family of Hollywood actors. Most noteably, she played Lilly in “Help Me Obi Wan” (2016) and Peyton in “Cosmic” (2018). Nava has been in a few Village Theatre’s Kidstage shows. She also played Gemma in Seattle Public Theater’s “The Flight Before Christmas” and Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird” for Edmonds Driftwood Players last year.
Both Nava and Holly want to make it to Broadway when they grow up. Holly’s dream is to play the title role in “Anastasia.” Nava — if she doesn’t find herself doing space research — hopes to be Dawn in “Waitress.”
Featured in the cast are Basil Harris as evil principal Miss Trunchbull, Marissa Ryder as Matilda’s teacher Miss Honey, Shaunyce Omar as librarian Mrs. Phelps, and Chris Ensweiler and Ann Cornelius as Matilda’s cruel and self-absorbed parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood.
Harris, crossing gender lines as the cartoonishly crabby (and equally cartoonishly buxom) Principal Trunchbull, steals every scene he’s in. Expect to guffaw when you see him. Miss Trunchbull hates children and loves disciplining them. She has a reputation for locking students in the Chokey, a child-sized cupboard in her office that is lined with nails.
One more thing: Ian McCabe, a friend of mine who grew up near Newcastle, England, joined me for the show. He was impressed by the British accents. He couldn’t tell whether the actors were actually British, or Americans putting on fake accents.
“I was surprised when I discovered that Matilda’s father wasn’t British,” Ian said. “He had the bad boy Cockney accent and swagger down perfectly.”
Wow, right? “Matilda” fooled a Brit.
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; firstname.lastname@example.org; @sarabruestle.
If you go
What: Village Theatre’s “Matilda”
When: Through Feb. 3, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 and 7 p.m.Sundays
Where: Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett
More: 425-257-8600 or www.villagetheatre.org