Producer Louise Withers knew the moment she saw Matilda there was something very special about this musical and she wanted to be the one to bring it to Australia.
“It’s a beautiful piece of theatre and it’s why I was just so hoping to be the one to do it,” smiled Withers, sincerely.
I had the opportunity to see Matilda in Sydney and as we sat down to chat about the show I congratulated Louise Withers on an incredibly successful production that managed to live up to all the hype.
“It’s a beautiful thing isn’t it?” said Louise Withers, with a warm smile.
“It’s phenomenal isn’t it?” she added, admitting it’s a musical that broke all the apparent rules of musical theatre. “It doesn’t fit the formula – they chucked the recipe out the door and did what they felt like.”
It’s a good thing they did too, because this musical works on every level. Critics and audiences alike have been raving.
“It still has all the highs and lows of a musical you need to have: it takes you on a journey, it has a story that has a start and an ending … it has all those elements, but it comes up with little surprises when you don’t expect them,” said Withers.
I asked Withers what she thought was the key to the success of Matilda the Musical?
“I’m a firm believer in the fact that, in a stage show, all the elements play a part in making it successful and I think this is no different from that at all,” she answered.
“The other thing is that because the messaging is so broad to young people, but also to people of a certain maturity who like to also call themselves young, there is almost something for everybody in that story. So of course you get the joy, you get the humour, you get all that, but there’s actually a sentiment and a message in there that goes deeper than just watching a piece of entertainment for the night,” said Withers, regarding the musical as a piece of art.
Matilda is a musical that moves people in different ways and in different parts of the story. Withers shared a story of a grandmother who had brought her teenage grandchild to the theatre. The teenager seemed disinterested in the show until the moment Miss Honey had to visit Trunchbull in her office, when the teen turned and said, “That’s how I feel when I have to go to the Principal’s office.”
I admitted to Withers I found myself in “happy tears” during the song ‘Revolting Children’. The gently spoken producer looked me in the eye and asked what was in my background that would make me respond that way?
“It’s liberation, it’s freeing. I’d love to stand on a desk and yell, ‘I’m revolting!’ It’s the freeing of the downtrodden,” suggested Withers.
“Tim Minchin once said the show reminds adults that they got cynical too soon. And I think that’s totally true,” said Withers. “Did we lose the joy somewhere?”
Withers explained the incredibly clever lyrics by Tim Minchin “perfectly capture the sentiment in the most non-obvious way.” Songs such as ‘Quiet’ and ‘When I Grow Up’ are worth exploring the depth in the lyrics that totally capture the emotion of the moment.
The response from the Sydney critics was overwhelmingly positive, but what really surprised Withers and her team, was not the positive response, but, rather, the depth of the reviews, reflecting the depth in the story line of the musical, with long and considered comments.
“We couldn’t be happier with the response. I always believed Australians would just get it. They love Roald Dahl. They love the humour,” said Withers.
Now it is Melbourne’s turn to experience this phenomenal musical when it opens at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne’s East End Theatre District on Thursday night. The Princess Theatre will provide the ideal venue. Smaller, than Sydney’s Lyric Theatre, Withers feels this historic theatre will envelop the audience.
“I love the Princess. We don’t need to do anything other than just put up the set,” said Withers.
A new city also means a new children’s cast and four new leading young ladies to share the role of Matilda. Dusty Bursill (11), Tiana Mirra (11), Alannah Parfett (11) and Ingrid Torelli (10) will share this demanding leading role – and they all look perfect for the part.
The question is, which young girl is chosen for opening night to perform in front of the Melbourne critics and invited guests?
Withers said she has often been asked which girl is the “real Matilda” and which are the understudies, but the reality is that all girls are considered equals. For the Sydney opening night they literally pulled names out of hat.
“It’s imperative that all the four girls are treated equally and it’s not about one girl being better than the other. You want the audience to come and think they have seen the best Matilda and they fall in love with that Matilda. We literally pulled their names out of a hat and each of them had a special night. So we had four special nights and the invited premiere was just one of those special nights or special moments,” explained Withers.
In another deliberate decision to avoid any particular cast being considered more important, it will be a different cast that perform at the media call to those who perform for the opening night.
“The last thing we want to do is roster it in a way that creates competition,” said Withers. “We explain to them that the girls need each other – each one of them needs the other girls to do their part, because if they get sick they need the other one to be there for them.”
So, be assured, when you go to see Matilda, yes you have THE real Matilda and not the understudy … no matter which performance you attend.
Matilda the Musical is now playing at the Princess Theatre.