‘Matilda the Musical’ Celebrates the Power of Imagination and Storytelling

Quinn Mattfeld as Mr. Wormwood in 'Matilda the Musical (Press Photo)

“Just because you find that life’s not fair, it doesn’t mean you just have to grin and bear it. If you always take it on the chin and wear it, nothing will change.”

So, why don’t you just change your story?

That’s the question a precocious little girl named Matilda Wormwood asks in the hit Broadway show “Matilda the Musical,” which is now touring across the country.

Based on the popular children’s book by Roald Dahl, “Matilda” is the story of a 5-year-old girl with a veracious love of books and imagination to spare. Matilda is a truly gifted child, but her self-obsessed parents cruelly mock her reading habits, encourage her to watch more TV and refuse to acknowledge her advanced intelligence.

Rather than pout over her mistreatment, Matilda pores over her books and begins to wonder how she might alter the course of this tragic tale.

“It’s kind of about her trying to overcome circumstances of her life,” said actor Quinn Mattfeld, who plays Matilda’s used car salesman father, Mr. Wormwood, in the touring production. “The opening of the show starts with all these parents talking about how their children are such amazing, wonderful miracles and they’re so special and advanced. And then there’s this real, actual miracle child, Matilda, who has parents that don’t like her.”

When Matilda begins her first year of school, she finds comfort in the company of a nurturing (and similarly lonely) teacher named Miss Honey, but her safe haven quickly becomes a prison thanks to the school’s nasty headmistress, Miss Trunchbull.

With the young girl’s narrative poised to take yet another unhappy turn, Matilda becomes even more determined to “be a little bit naughty” and use her mind to not only change her story, but Miss Honey’s as well.

No one could have known, however, just how powerful Matilda’s mind has the potential to be.

For more on “Matilda the Musical,” which is currently playing at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia through November 29, check out the rest of my interview with Quinn Mattfeld below:

 

David Onda: There’s not much to love about the Mr. Wormwood character as a person, but it does look like a fun character to play.

Quinn  Mattfeld: It is! I would say that the big determining factor for him is he’s a very insecure individual. He’s not very smart. He’s constantly telling people how smart he is. He is certainly trying, in his own way, to include Matilda, but she doesn’t wanna be included in the way he wants to include her. Just from my point of view. He would love it if she would be quiet for once and stop criticizing his brilliants ideas and just watch television with the rest of them and tell him how great he is every once in a while. But she doesn’t do that, because she has a grasp on reality. His way of trying to include her in the family is bullying her into silence. Yes, from the outside, it’s not very kind and it’s not very thoughtful. But from the inside, I’m playing it as though he’s trying to do the best thing for her. It is also a lot of fun, because the counter to there being the meanness and the stupidity is the fact that I get to do a bunch of really goofy stuff like try to take a hat off of my head that’s been glued on there. And I get to sing a song all about how children shouldn’t read books and they should, instead, watch television. And that’s pretty fun.

Onda: Had you seen this show before being cast in the tour?

Mattfeld: I hadn’t, actually. I was cast in the show and then they got me a ticket to go see it. The lights started to come up and I was nervous because I was like, “Oh, my gosh, what if I hate this?” [laughs] And I can tell you definitively that I did not. It’s one of my favorite musicals that I’ve ever seen.

Onda: Having seen someone else play your character on Broadway, did you feel pressure to either mimic that actor’s performance or go in a totally different direction with it?

Mattfeld: Yeah, well, Gabriel Ebert, who played it on Broadway the first time, won the Tony for it, so there’s a certain amount of pressure that goes along. But there’s almost no way for an actor to try and imitate another actor’s performance. For me, it was all about finding out who this guy is and what he wants, what the ultimate goal is. And, really, in every situation, he just wants people to recognize how great and special he is. And he’s not. He’s not a smart man. It’s really about trying to find a way to distill the largeness of the character – this almost cartoonish physicality, the really strong point of view and the loud voices – and distilling it down to an essence.

The Wormwood family, sans Matilda, in 'Matilda the Musical' (Press Photo)

Onda: And you get a sweet mustache, too.

Mattfeld: Dude, I rock a sweet mustache! A sweet mustache and chops and a sweet green wig.

Onda: This show is unique in that you’re touring with a cast of children. I’d image that creates a different kind of culture backstage in terms of, at the very least, having to behave yourselves.

Mattfeld: Yeah! The nice thing, too, is that they’re great kids. And they’re really professional kids, or else they wouldn’t have been cast in these roles, you know? We have such wonderful kids that are so sweet and so down to Earth and so normal. And part of the modus operandi of the production is that we allow them to be kids and to not have to feel like they’re superstars and they’re magical, special, wonderful, amazing actors. We kinda go, “You’re a kid and this is your job and that’s cool.” I think, from the beginning, the director Matthew Warchus said to us, “We wanna make sure they’re regular lives are not a letdown from this.” It’s really nice to have that sensibility so we don’t have to deal with kids freaking out over their career visibility or anything like that. [laughs] That would just be a downer for everybody, and luckily they’ve done a great job in getting kids that are able to do their job and also very down to Earth.

Onda: There are three young actresses play your Matildas on the tour. Has the adult cast become quite protective of them?

Mattfeld: Yeah. Luckily, there haven’t been any real issues or anything, but occasionally you get people who say, “Where do the Matildas come out? I’d really like to take a picture with them.” And it’s one of the things, I think, the Royal Shakespeare Company is trying to minimize so they can have a normal kid experience. Yeah, there is a bit of protection. It hasn’t really happened, but they’ve warned us about people going, “Hey, who’s your favorite Matilda?” And it’s like, “Oh, that’s a terrible question!” Kind of an awful thing to ask.

Onda: Why should people come check out the touring production of “Matilda” when it comes to their town?

Mattfeld: I think the thing I fall in love with the most about the show is it’s a story about how imagination and storytelling allows you to change the circumstances of your own life. And that’s what happens for Matilda. She’s someone who falls in love with story and falls in love with books and imagination. And because of that, she realizes that, in a sense, her own life is metaphorically a story, and she has the power to change the ending if she wants to. So, when you see something that’s not right, when you see something that’s a problem, when you see something that isn’t working in your life, you get to change the narrative by way of your own thinking or by way of your actions. And I think that’s a really good story, especially for people in 2015 where most of us spend 90% of our time locked into a little screen or a big screen. The stories you tell yourself end up being the stories of your life. It’s just depending on what you’re putting into your brain. The more magical and the more out-there and the more exciting and positive stories that you’re telling yourself, the more magical and positive your experience in life can be.

Onda: And it’s worth noting that this is definitely a show that parents and adults will enjoy just as much as children will enjoy it.

Mattfeld: Yeah, it has that sort of Pixar magic to it. It’s really fun for kids, and it has that great visual aspect and that cartoonish outside, but there are a lot of multi-layered jokes and there’s a very serious theme of self-identification and self-actualization in the show. I’m sure all the kids are going, “I can’t wait to go see the cool self-actualization in ‘Matilda’!” [laughs] But it certainly gave me a lot to think about in terms of the meta-reality of the stories that you tell end up becoming your story, which I think is a really neat theme for kids, even though they may not recognize it on that level.

“Matilda the Musical” is now playing at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia through November 29. When is the show playing in a theater near you? Click here for more info.

 

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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