Stage preview: "Matilda the Musical" plays Benedum Center
May 29, 2016 12:00 AM
"Matilda the Musical" will arrive at the Benedum Center stage in May 2016.
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Paula Brancati is still attending school, but Degrassi Community School and Crunchem Hall are as different as the dreadlocks sported by Jane Vaughn and the prim blond wig atop Miss Honey’s head.
“Matilda the Musical” is hitting reset with its cast as it heads to Pittsburgh, and Ms. Brancati is among the newcomers. It’s also the first musical tour for the 27-year-old Ontario native, best known for her years on the Canadian TV series “Degrassi: The Next Generation.”
‘Matilda the Musical’
Where: Benedum Center, Downtown.
When: Tuesday through June 12. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $26-$80; trustarts.org or 412-456-6666.
In the stage version of “Matilda,” based on Roald Dahl’s dark and magical tale of an empowered and empowering little girl, Ms. Brancati plays the timid schoolteacher who recognizes Matilda’s gifts.
“Miss Honey admires her and wants to be more like her, and that’s what’s so special about the show, is seeing everyone come out the other side and learning from Matilda, even though she’s undergone a lot of hardships,” Ms. Brancati said by phone from Cleveland.
She was speaking the night before her first appearance as Miss Honey, after weeks of prep work with other new cast members in New York City.
“I’m really over the moon,” she said. “We’re all like, ‘Is it real?’ We had our wig fitting the other day — I get to be a full blonde in this — so it’s a real treat. I’ll see if blondes really do have all the fun.”
She was so giddy about her upcoming debut as Miss Honey — a character who has some troubles when we meet her and everyone’s nemesis, the tyrannical headmistress Miss Trunchbull.
Miss Honey sings ballads of love and pleading, such as “This Little Girl” and “My House.” But the song “Revolting Children” — as in revolution — is Ms. Brancati’s favorite.
“It’s the one I do my workout to, it’s so empowering,” she said. “My favorite line in the show is, ‘Nobody but me is going to change my story.’ I think that sort of is the hook of the show. Bullying is timeless, and Miss Trunchbull is a classic bully. Matilda is deeply bullied and she’s so resilient. She’s a beacon of hope for her fellow students and certainly for Miss Honey.”
“Matilda” won the Olivier Award for best musical and lost to “Kinky Boots” at the 2013 Tony Awards. The Broadway production, which opened in April of that year, recently announced it will close in January. The ongoing tour opened last year and arrives at the Benedum Center Tuesday.
“Degrassi” fans are legion and include Lin-Manuel Miranda, which Ms. Brancati found out when visiting backstage after seeing “Hamilton” while in New York rehearsing for the tour.
Even the most avid fans will have trouble recognizing the shy, sweet Miss Honey as her TV persona.
“It couldn’t be further from my character on ‘Degrassi’ — I had fake dreadlocks, piercings and camo pants,” she said. “I think if I’ve learned anything about ‘Degrassi’ it’s that fans are far and wide and they surprise you. I’m sure they will be shocked to see that Miss Honey is football-playing Jane.”
Ms. Brancati was still learning the ropes of musical touring in the lead-up to her “Matilda” debut.
She was told by some of her co-stars to get a steamer.
“I thought they meant to steam my clothes. They meant for my voice; they are ahead of me — they know all of Celine Dion’s tricks.”
To get herself pumped up before a performance -— although it is hard to imagine that the bubbly actress needs it — she listens to rap that she says is completely opposite of her character, who really needs a boost when Matilda comes along.
Roald Dahl’s stories, as in most fairy tales, plunge a youngster into a dark world. For instance, Miss Trunchbull employs a torture chamber known as “The Chokey” to keep children in line. Matilda’s parents are anti-knowledge and trivialize her love of books.
“Life is a lot of dark and light, I think,” Ms. Brancati said. “The show certainly has that, and Tim Minchin’s lyrics are so cheeky and smart so I think there will be a lot of fun for the parents coming and of course for their kids.”
And for Ms. Brancati, too.
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. Twitter: @SEberson_pg.
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