Sean McBride, center, plays Agatha Truncbull and Natalie Padron, left, and Bella Loden share the role of Matilda is Port Arthur Little Theatre’s “Matilda the Musical.”. The production opens Jan. 20.

The wonderful thing about Roald Dahl’s children’s stories is that they are much fun for the adults as they are for children. Add music by an Australian comedian and a cast of 50 local children (with a few adults thrown in) and you have the perfect recipe for a fun, family show.

Port Arthur Little Theater’s “Matilda the Musical,” which opens Jan. 20, is a rollicking story of finding one’s true family. The story follows the adventures of the precociously bright Matilda Wormwood as she struggles with a less-than satisfactory home life with her narcissistic parents and TV-obsessed brother.

When she is finally sent off to school, she falls foul of domineering headmistress Agatha Trunchbull. Matilda, aided by her special power, leads the “revolting children” to rise up.

Director Courtney Austin said the story brings her back to her childhood.

“It’s got that magic and that spar,” she said. And also, my daughter is in it so I’m bringing some of my childhood into her.”

The children’s parts are double cast so more of them have prominent parts.

“We had a lot of talent show up during auditions and if we have the talent, why not showcase it and give everybody an opportunity to be on the stage,” Austin said. It’s amazing. The kids have really stepped up their game.

“I’m gonna be honest, at the beginning I was worried because kids, four weeks, music, choreography, memorization of lines. But when you sit in the audience and just watch them do one choreography number, they just suck you in. They love it and it shows.”

The cast rehearse a scene from Port Arthur Little Theatre’s “Matilda the Musical,” Jan. 16, 2023. The production opens Jan. 20. Photo by Andy Coughlan

The role of Matilda is split between 13-year-old Bella Loden and 11-year-old Natalie Padron. Both the girls said they wanted to try out for a big part.

Loden said she identifies with Matilda.

“I think it’s like her pettiness with people,” she said. “I feel like I’m a lot like her in some ways, because she’s really like smart about everything. She’s just really out there but also stays in, and she knows a lot about everything. And I feel like in math I am a lot like her. And I know a lot.”

Padron said she tried out get out of her comfort zone.

“I’ve always been in love with being in the spotlight,” she said. “I also wanted to know how it felt to be a main character.”

The two girls said they find different parts of the rehearsal process challenging. For Padron, it’s the singing.

“There’s one song, ‘Quiet,’ and it’s very fast,” she said. “I feel like you have to know when to start and when to stop in that song.”

Loden said the dancing was her biggest challenge.

“For me, it’s the complete opposite,” she said. “Because my family is not really the very dancing type. We can sing really good, but we’ve never been really able to dance a whole lot. And whenever we do, it’s not really good.”

Needless to say, both girls stepped up to the challenge.

Sean McBride, right, plays Agatha Truncbull and Natalie Padron, left, and Bella Loden share the role of Matilda is Port Arthur Little Theatre’s “Matilda the Musical.”. The production opens Jan. 20. Photo by Andy Coughlan

Sean McBride plays Agatha Trunchbull, the former Olympic shot putter who hates children. It is a dream role, McBride said, adding that he has seen the Broadway show eight times with various nieces and nephews.

“I mean, people love Roald Dahl stories, they know his stories,” McBride said. “I like that he has a bit of an edge to it. He is not all sugar and spice in his work. And there’s some little off-kilter jokes for mom and dad as well. But at its heart it’s still a feel-good family-friendly message.”

W.C Fields coined the old adage that one should never work with children or animals, but McBride said he is having a good time with the cast.

“It’s just fun to work with, like, 50 adorable little kids,” he said. “And my role in the show is to chase them around them and beat them up. Come on, that’s fun. You should always play the villain if you can, and especially if the villain is over-the-top. So much fun.”

Composer Tim Minchin’s musical numbers include “Miracle,” “When I Grow Up,” “Naughty” and “Revolting Children.” Austin said audiences will leave whistling the tunes and will tell everyone about the show.

“If this is their first time, because I know ‘Matilda’ is a big name, (I hope they will) want to see other musicals,” she said.

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m., Jan. 20, 21, 27, 28, Feb. 3, 4, and 2:30 p.m., Jan. 22, 29 and Feb. 5. PALT is located at 4701 Jimmy Johnson Blvd. in Port Arthur.

For more, visit palt.org.

This story first ran in the Jan. 20, 2023 Art of Living section of the Beaumont Enterprise.

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