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By Brian Robin

Summer Players Tell Matilda’s Story From the Ground Up

This was a field trip that turned into much more. And the best part of this was Hisa Takakuwa and Erin McNally realized it from the moment they embarked on it.

The trip came more than a decade ago, when Takakuwa and McNally saw Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical in Los Angeles. The Conservatory and Educational Programs Director and the Director of the Summer Players, Takakuwa knew she and musical director McNally were looking at a future Summer Players production.

“I said, ‘This is a jewel. We’re going to wait until the rights are available and they finish their national tour to do this,’” she remembered. “Technically, the score and adaptation are just brilliant.”

The future is now for the Summer Players to perform Matilda The Musical, running Aug. 8-14 on the Julianne Argyros Stage. The Summer Players are 29 of the best and the brightest from SCR’s Youth Conservatory, who have completed at least a year in the conservatory and auditioned for their roles.

Matilda The Musical tells the story about an extraordinary girl who dreams of a better life. Matilda’s talents are constantly belittled by her cruel parents and nasty Miss Trunchbull, the school’s headmistress. Using her sharp mind, vivid imagination and a love for books, Matilda dares to take a stand against Miss Trunchbull’s tyranny—with the help of her classmates and support from her teacher, Miss Honey.

Takakuwa chose Matilda The Musical because it gives the Summer Players the opportunity to tell the story from their point of view. She knew sitting there with McNally that this was a story that not only would stretch her cast’s limits in terms of acting and singing demands, but would be a story they would enjoy telling. They would relate to it instantly.

“This is always something we consider. Is there a reason this group should tell this story?,” she said. “We also look into performing something that’s really challenging. This is one of the most complex musicals we’ve worked on. We’ve done Into the Woods a couple of times. But I would say this show ranks up there in terms of complexity, and in terms of the elements of text and specificity that this show requires. The music is glorious, but also the lyrics and script are complex and specific.

“It’s really testing the skills of our young actors.”

Takakuwa pointed out that adaptation of Dahl’s work was one of the best she’s encountered due to the faithfulness it held to the book. For fans of Dahl, one of the 20th century’s greatest children’s storytellers, this is a key selling point. Takakuwa said Dennis Kelly’s book and Tim Minchin's music and lyrics successfully navigated the tightrope of fleshing out the concept and building on Dahl’s story while remaining true to the original.

When it came to choosing a work for the Summer Players, Matilda The Musical also pushed two other important buttons that Takakuwa didn’t need a field trip to see.

“I love Roald Dahl for his respect for young people and this story ultimately comes down to two really important things,” Takakuwa said. “The first is the power of storytelling, which we always love here in the theatre. The second is something that’s always important to us in the Conservatory, which is the resilience and power of a young person’s voice. Matilda is so much about the youngest person who can make a difference. It shows even the smallest person can and should have a say in their life.”

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About the author

South Coast Repertory

South Coast Repertory is a Tony Award-winning theatre is known for producing classics, contemporary hits and world premieres, for having the largest new-play development program in the nation and for advancing the art of theatre in service to the community. 

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