Matilda

Rehearsing for their roles as school kids in “Matilda” are, from left: Sadie Holdeman of Mesa, Lexi Tidwell of Gilbert and Colin Quintana of Mesa.

It’s not often that “revolting” children get a standing ovation – but that’s exactly what will happen this week when nearly 40 Mesa and other East Valley kids and teens charge the stage in “Matilda the Musical.” 

The Tony Award-winning show that has captivated audiences of all ages worldwide will be present by Gilbert’s Actor’s Youth Theatre at the Zao Theatre, 550 S. Ironwood Drive, Apache Junction. The show will run June 10-26 at 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturdays. 

“Matilda” tells the story of a little girl with astonishing wit, intelligence and psychokinetic powers. She’s unloved by her cruel parents but impresses her schoolteacher, the lovable Miss Honey. 

Over the course of her first term at school, Matilda and Miss Honey develop a powerful bond, but school life isn’t completely smooth sailing: headmistress Miss Trunchbull hates children and loves thinking up new punishments for those who don’t abide by her rules. 

“I fell in love with this show when I saw it on Broadway and was so excited at the idea of being a part of it,” said Iris VanSlyke, a Mesa 12-year-old who plays Alice. “There are lots of happy moments and some sad moments. I love the moments where Matilda finds her confidence and the rest of the class joins her.”

And while the story does have sad moments, Matilda proves triumphant in the end. 

“I think Matilda is a role model because it’s really important to stand up for what you believe in and to stand up for other people,” added 11-year-old Belle Elle of Mesa, who plays the title role.

It’s a theme that director and Mesa resident Lucy Garner hopes to drive home.

“I think the relevance of ‘Matilda’ in today’s society is especially poignant,” said Garner. “My goal is for the audience to feel the opposition between good vs. evil, acceptance vs. rejection, youth vs. age, and intelligence vs. ignorance. 

“Through the eyes of a gifted and spunky 5-year-old, we learn that with a little moral courage, good can triumph over evil, and we can be the authors of our own life stories.”

“Matilda” delivers these lessons through high-energy dance numbers and more than a dozen songs including beloved favorites like “Revolting Children,” “When I Grow Up” and “Quiet.”

Along with the life lessons is a healthy dose of fun – and this is especially true in the set design, which came together over the course of six weeks and hundreds of production hours. 

“The show is written from the perspective of the children, so a lot of the elements are larger than life,” said Stephen Hohendorf, artistic director of Actor’s Youth Theatre. 

“Matilda’s world consists of oversized books that seamlessly open and close to reveal different settings. The entire proscenium is covered in Scrabble tiles that look like they’re falling right out of the bag.”

“It was imperative that we found actors who could bring these over-the-top characters to life, and we’ve done just that,” said Hohendorf. 

“It’s so joyful to see them having so much fun up on that stage.” 

Bella Elle, 12, who plays the title role, said, “I have to speak Russian in my last scene. I don’t speak Russian, but my dad does. With his help, I’m pretty sure I can fake it.”

The kids are thrilled to be back on stage after a long hiatus, which, for many, put an abrupt stop to the thing they loved most. 

“I had been going through some rough stuff with friends and school and I felt alone and sad, but when rehearsals started, I was back to my regular self in days. I’m so excited to be back with my friends and cannot wait for the performance,” said Saniya Sapakie, 12.

“I love being back with my people,” said 11-year-old Savannah Springer of Mesa, It’s been a hard year and I’ve really missed being with kids who are just like me. I’m so happy that theater is back.”

Added Iris: “I’ve really enjoyed being able to socialize again with kids that share my passions.” 

“This show has been such a fast rehearsal process, and even within the short amount of time, I’ve learned so much and created many new friendships,” said Mesa’s Lily Nelson, 14, who plays Miss Honey. 

“Matilda” has won 99 international awards – including 24 for Best Musical.

“Matilda teaches people to stand up for themselves and never give up,” added 14-year-old Lily Nelson from Mesa. 

Mesa residents in the cast include Lindsay French, Brenna Glenn, Alex Hinkle, Sadie Holdeman, Bella Elle, Kendall Morgan, Carter Neef, Lily Nelson, Noelle Parent, Colin Quintana, Savannah Springer, Zach Thompson and Iris VanSlyke.

Mesa residents helping director Lucy Garner include Music Director Michael Snyder and stage Manager Stephanie Coffelt.

Tickets are $20 in advance/$22 day-of and are available at aytaz.org/tickets or by calling 480-907-7050. Group discounts are available. Performances are expected to sell out quickly. ′

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