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Four-Time 2013 Tony Award® Winner Matilda the Musical Dramatizes Roald Dahl’s Book

The students of Miss Trunchbull's school jump for joy in <em>Matilda the Musical</em> (photo by Joan Marcus)

The students of Miss Trunchbull’s school jump for joy in Matilda the Musical (photo by Joan Marcus)

The Durham Performing Arts Center will present Broadway’s latest box-office sensation, four-time 2013 Tony Award® winner Matilda the Musical, based on Roald Dahl’s 1988 children’s book about Matilda Wormwood, a plucky five-year-old English girl from an abusive home, on Jan. 19-24 as part of its immensely popular SunTrust Broadway Series. Matilda loves to read and demonstrates unusual intelligence — not to mention psychokinetic powers — which her self-absorbed parents overlook in their malign neglect of their precocious daughter.

“The show is a fantastic piece of theater,” claims Chicago actress Ora Jones, who plays Mrs. Phelps, the librarian at Matilda Wormwood’s school who befriends the precocious child and becomes her confidant. Jones adds, “[Matilda the Musical] is one of the most amazing things that I’ve ever been a part of.”

An Ohio native and Notre Dame graduate, with a BA degree in theater, Jones is a proud member of the ensemble of the Windy City’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. She is making her national tour debut in the plum part of Mrs. Phelps, a role made more challenging by the fact that three different young actresses portray the title character. Currently this talented threesome includes: Sarah McKinley Austin, Savannah Grace Elmer, and Lily Brooks O’Briant.

Ora Jones says, “These children are just wonderful to work with…. All of my scenes are with Matilda. She is my scene partner.”

So, Jones must build bonds with the trio of actresses who play this remarkable child at any given time, so that the relationship between their characters is palpable to the audience and so that they can bring their scenes together to full, glorious life. Jones notes, “Mrs. Phelps … works in the library where Matilda goes every afternoon to escape her [miserable home life]. She is the first person to realize how extraordinary Matilda is.

“In the book, Mrs. Phelps gives Matilda books that she’s sure that she will enjoy. She’s a very encouraging and nurturing person. That is her role in Matilda’s life…. Their love of literature is what makes them friends,” says Jones.

Devouring book after book opens up brave new worlds for the unhappy child. According to Roald Dahl: “[Matilda Wormwood] went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”

Matilda the Musical</em> stars Ora Jones (right) as Mrs. Phelps, the librarian who befriends Matilda Wormwood (played here by Gabby Gutierrez) and becomes her confidant (photo by Joan Marcus)

Matilda the Musical stars Ora Jones (right) as Mrs. Phelps, the librarian who befriends Matilda Wormwood (played here by Gabby Gutierrez) and becomes her confidant (photo by Joan Marcus)

Ora Jones adds, “Matilda tells stories. She is one of Mrs. Phelps’ favorites, because she’s so much fun. Mrs. Phelps lets Matilda be herself; she appreciates Matilda’s uniqueness without drawing attention to it.”

Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Matilda the Musical features music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and a book by Dennis Kelly, based on Roald Dahl’s perennially popular novel. The show had its world premiere in November 2010 in The Courtyard Theatre in The Immortal Bard’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, where it played until January 2011. The musical made its West End debut in October 2011 at the Cambridge Theatre. The still-running London production, which is now booking through December 2016, won a record seven 2012 Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical.

Matilda the Musical made its Broadway debut on April 11, 2013 at the Shubert Theatre, where it also is still running, with nearly 1,160 performances to date. Nominated for the 2013 Tony Award® for Best Musical and 11 other Tonys, the show won four Tony Awards — for Best Book of a Musical (Dennis Kelly), Best Scenic Design of a Musical (Rob Howell), Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Hugh Vanstone), and Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical (Gabriel Ebert as Mr. Wormwood), plus a 2013 Tony Honor for Excellence in Theatre and the 2013 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical.

Praise was unanimous. The New York Post raved, “Once in a blue moon, a show comes out blazing and restores your faith in Broadway. Matilda the Musical is that show.” The Wall Street Journal agreed, “The makers of Matilda have done the impossible — triumphantly! It is smart, sweet, zany and stupendous fun.”

Time magazine called Matilda the Musical “the best musical since The Lion King“; — which returns to DPAC on Feb. 16th for an extended run that will end March 20th — and the Chicago Tribune characterized the show as “the best family musical in years.”

“Welcome to the deliriously amusing, malevolent, heartwarming, head-spinning world of Matilda the Musical,” wrote Bloomberg News. “You won’t want to leave.”

Matilda the Musical’s current National Tour, which kicked off on June 7, 2015 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, CA, is being produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company and The Dodgers (Denise Wood and André Ptaszynski, executive producers); directed by Matthew Warchus; and choreographed by Peter Darling.

<em>Matilda the Musical</em> stars (from left) Danny Tieger as Michael Wormwood, Cassie Silva as Mrs. Wormwood, and Quinn Mattfeld as Mr. Wormwood (photo by Joan Marcus)

Matilda the Musical stars (from left) Danny Tieger as Michael Wormwood, Cassie Silva as Mrs. Wormwood, and Quinn Mattfeld as Mr. Wormwood (photo by Joan Marcus)

In addition to Ora Jones as Mrs. Phelps and Sarah McKinley Austin, Savannah Grace Elmer, and Lily Brooks O’Briant alternating as Matilda, the tour cast includes: Quinn Mattfeld Cassie Silva as Matilda’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood, and Danny Tieger as her older brother Michael. David Abeles (in glorious drag) plays Matilda’s school’s horrid headmistress and former Olympic hammer-throwing champion Miss Trunchbull, and Jennifer Blood portrays the sympathetic teacher Miss Honey.

Other adult cast members include: Megan McGuff as Hortensia, Justin Packard as The Escape Artist, Ashley Elizabeth Hale as The Acrobat, Jaquez Andre Sims as Rudolpho, and Ian Michael Stuart as the Doctor and Sergei. Child actors and actresses include: Austyn Johnson as Amanda, Evan Gray as Bruce, Cassidy Hagel as Alice, Jordan Hall as Tommy, Charlie Kersh as Lavender, Aristotle Rock as Eric, and Nathanael Clark as Nigel.

Besides director Matthew Warchus and choreographer Peter Darling, the creative team for the current National Tour includes associate director Thomas Caruso; associate choreographers Ellen Kane (worldwide) and Kate Dunn (U.S.); musical director Matthew Smedal; associate musical supervisor David Holcenberg; musical coordinator Howard Joines; voice director Andrew Wade; children’s music director Deborah Abramson; set and costume designer Rob Howell; lighting designer Hugh Vanstone; sound designer Simon Baker; illusions designer Paul Kieve; associate set designer Paul Weimer; associate costume designer Daryl A. Stone; associate lighting designer Joel Shier; associate sound designer Tony Smolenski IV; Royal Shakespeare Company commissioning dramaturg Jeanie O’Hare; production stage manager Victoria Navarro; and assistant stage managers Mitchell B. Hodges and Geoff Maus.

The show also features technical supervision by Aurora Productions and additional music and musical supervision by Chris Nightingale.

“The great thing about having three Matildas,” says Ora Jones, “is that each of them is as fresh and ready as possible [every performance], because they don’t get exhausted doing eight shows a week….”

She adds, “Each of them has a very different personality and their own way of doing the part…. Because they are children, they’re always exploring something, asking questions…. I never get bored.” And neither will DPAC patrons, who are already buying out performance after performance!

When Miss Trunchbull is away, the students school will play in <em>Matilda the Musical</em> (photo by Joan Marcus)

When Miss Trunchbull is away, the students school will play in Matilda the Musical (photo by Joan Marcus)

SECOND OPINION: Jan. 20th Raleigh, NC Raleigh review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan:; Jan. 20th Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: and Jan. 14th preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: (Note: You must subscribe to read these articles); Jan. 17th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks:; Jan. 20th Burlington, NC Times-News review by Rachel Teseneer for “Teens & Twenties”: and Jan. 13th preview by Rachel Teseneer for “Teens & Twenties”:; and Jan. 20th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter:

The Durham Performing Arts Center presents Roald Dahl’s MATILDA THE MUSICAL at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 21, 8 p.m. Jan. 22, 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 23, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.

TICKETS: $40-$155. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.


DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787),, or

Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587,, or

SHOW: and











NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23rd, and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24th, performances.


Matilda (1988 children’s book): (official web page) and (Wikipedia).

The Novel: (Google Books).

Study Guide: (Penguin’s Classroom Classics).

Roald Dahl (British writer and screenwriter, 1916-90): (official website), (tour bio), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

Matilda the Musical (2010 Stratford-upon-Avon, 2011 West End, and 2013 Broadway): (official website), (Tim Minchin’s web page), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

Study Guide: (Broadway in Chicago).

Tim Minchin (music and lyrics): (official website), (tour bio), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

Dennis Kelly (book): (tour bio), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).


Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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