They Named Her Matilda

By Marah J. Morrison

Easy Street Productions presented “Matilda the Musical” on May 10, 11 and 12 at Powers Auditorium. The story of the magical misfit, created by British novelist Roald Dahl, included some of Youngstown’s most talented performers during this year’s Mother’s Day weekend.

Todd Hancock, co-founder of Easy Street Productions and the director of the show, said they are the first people in the state of Ohio to produce this show other than the national tour. He said something like this has never happened for them before.

“In the 30 years we’ve been doing shows, we’ve never been the very first in the state to present anything,” he said. “Usually they’re shows like ‘Annie’ that have been around for several years.”

Hancock said this show is so new that it just finished its last national tour last year and the rights became available around Christmas of 2018. He said Easy Street Productions applied for it the day they were released and were fortunate enough to be approved.

“It’s kind of neat that we’re the first not only in the area, but in the state to do it,” he said.

Hancock said the musical is more like the book “Matilda” by Dahl instead of the movie. He said this musical has a life of its own and he believes there are a certain amount of musicals, like “Hairspray,” that were a movie first or a book and then made into a musical.

“It’s kind of got that circular life going now that it’s evolving into this big, broadway show,” he said. “It’s still playing in London’s West End. It opened years ago and it’s still selling out houses.”

Hancock said Michael J. Moritz, a musician, producer, musical director and conductor from Youngstown who moved to New York, conducted the band for “Matilda the Musical,” and Moritz has been nominated for several Tony Awards.

“Michael had the opportunity to do the same for the broadway production in New York, and he’s volunteered to come into Youngstown and help us with ours,” he said.

Hancock said they have 25 kids ranging from ages 7 to 15 participating in the cast who make up Matilda and her friends at the school Crunchem Hall.

“They do all the heavy lifting in the show,” he said. “The majority of the big dance numbers are all the kids, but that doesn’t mean there’s [no] adults in the show. Matilda’s parents, Matilda’s teacher, Miss Trunchbull and there’s an adult ensemble.”

Hancock said “Matilda the Musical” is for the whole family and for all ages. He said people who attended will enjoy a lot of the sets — which will be done by projection — and will be blown away by the local talent.

Maureen Collins, who played the Headmistress Miss Trunchbull, said she is filling big shoes because she has to wear army boots and in the past, she has played the villain in shows such as Cruella de Vil from “101 Dalmations.”

“I feel at ease because not a whole lot of people have seen the play,” she said. “They have seen the movie and that woman I can certainly wrassle with for sure. I’m excited to play the role.”

Collins said she is approaching the role of Trunchbull in a softer manner because her nature is more comical as opposed to dramatic, and she is playing it very tongue and cheek.

“Most people that know me know that all 25 of the kids on stage have been my students at one time or another,” she said. “I think they’ll appreciate that. I always tell people it’s Miss Hannigan on steroids.”

Collins said in this day and age, people are going to love seeing a real ray of hope that comes through the heart, mind and performance of Matilda. She said the world is ready to know that younger people are ready to stand up and face everything that comes to them.

“People will be charged by the newness of the title,” she said.

AnnaSophia Viccari, the 11-year-old who will be playing Matilda, said her favorite part about having the role are the songs. She said she likes how upbeat they are.

“I love the dance moves to all of them,” she said. “I [also] like all of the friendships I develop in the show.”