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Magic to do: Community Players' ‘Matilda’ drives home the message of standing up for yourself

Two young girls in matching fluffy red wigs and royal blue smock dresses stand back to back with their hands on their hips. Behind them is a chalk board with the word Matilda written in block letters.
Community Players Theatre
Violet Miller, left, and Khaleesi Elder share the role of Matilda in Community Players' production of "Matilda The Musical." The show runs through July 31 at Community Players Theatre.

Community Players’ marketing chair Emily Ohmart has fond memories of reading Roald Dahl’s book “Matilda” as a kid. The title character, a bookish, brainy child who uses telekinesis to right the wrongs all around her, is the main reason she wanted to produce the musical version.

“Matilda the Musical” runs through July 31 at Community Players, marking the end of the theater’s 99th season.

“I remember loving that sense of power Matilda had,” Ohmart said. “She’s such a strong-willed child and it’s really fun to see that come to life."

Matilda, the unwanted, largely ignored second child to Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood, is exceptionally bright and rather mischievous, using both her brains and magical powers to punish the immorality and abuse of the grown-ups around her. The main culprits are her parents and the school’s headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, a beast of a woman who takes pleasure in torturing children through solitary confinement, shot putting them through the windows or, in one case, force feeding a child an entire chocolate cake.

A person wearing platform boots and a khaki, belted dress and ascot waves a ribbon wand standing in arabesque. Behind them are four ensemble members singing and a desk with stacked televisions. A structure of large, stacked, lettered play blocks is placed on the right.
Community Players Theatre
Jay Williams portrays the gruff and ridiculous character of Miss Trunchbull, Matilda's headmistress, in Community Players production of "Matilda The Musical."

Matilda and her loving teacher, Miss Honey, live happily ever after, with plenty of antics (and songs and dances) along the way.

“There are so many touching moments in this musical, but also moments that make you want to stand up and cheer,” Ohmart said. “You really go through the range of emotions.”

Violet Miller and Khaleesi Elder, both age 10, share the title role. While Miller said she and Matilda share a love for reading, Elder relates to Matilda’s pernicious side.

“I’m stubborn. I like to get revenge,” Elder said.

“I definitely agree,” Miller said. “I have siblings and I always want to get revenge.”

Miller attends Thomas Metcalf School and Elder goes to Parkside Elementary. They may not have the power to move objects with their eyes, but memorizing songs, dances and lines for the two-hour musical is a feat of magic in and of itself. (Both asked for shout-outs to their music teachers, Mr. T and Mr. Byrne.)

Elder said it can be challenging to manage switching between Matilda’s world and real life. “I have another theater camp that’s going on, and then this, and then actual home life — but it’s fun,” she said.

Miller said her favorite thing about Matilda is that she stands up for herself. “In the world there are bullies and people who are trying to hurt you,” she said. “In ‘Matilda,’ Miss Trunchbull is the bully, but in the real world, what I would do is stand up to bullies.”

“I was going to say the same thing as Violet,” Elder said. “There are bullies in the real world, and you gotta stand up to them.”

Like Ohmart, I read Roald Dahl’s books as a kid and, like Elder and Miller, I saw parts of myself in Matilda. Dahl was a complicated man, which makes one ponder why so many of his protagonists were such exceptional humans. Dahl was openly anti-semetic and leaned into harmful racial and gender stereotypes — such that aspects of this musical can feel downright cringey.

Community Players did not want to comment about Roald Dahl specifically. And Dahl’s family issued a public apology in 2020. What is abundantly clear from watching the show is that everyone involved really believes in the production and its overarching message about standing up to bullies.

Perhaps that is what matters the most.

“Matilda the Musical” runs through July 31 at Community Players Theatre. For tickets and more information visit communityplayers.org.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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