Based on the popular children’s novel by Roald Dahl, Matilda is making its Asian premiere this November 10-December 10 at the Meralco Theater!
The show tells the story of a highly intelligent 5-year old girl named Matilda who lives in a house with abusive and neglectful parents. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any better in school as headmistress Miss Trunchbull sees to it that she constantly bullies and terrorizes the children. Matilda finds comfort in her teacher Miss Honey, and they both end up changing each other forever.
Producing company Atlantis Theatricals have trained 19 children— two sets of eight for the ensemble, and three spirited young ladies alternating for the titular role! Esang De Torres, Uma Martin, and Felicity Kyle Napuli alternate as Matilda. We had a chance to speak with them and the rest of the cast.
How do you feel about landing the role?
Uma Martin: Matilda was my dream role from the very beginning and now I’m very happy to be here as Matilda.
Esang De Torres: Masaya po ako na naging isa po ako sa mga Matilda kasi dream role ko rin po siya kasi po nabasa ko rin po iyung story ni Matilda sa book at saka po paborito ko rin po iyung movie na iyun nung 1996.
Felicity Kyle Napuli: When I first saw the auditions for Matilda, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I need to audition or else!’ And then I auditioned and when they announced that we got in I was really happy because when I read the Matilda book I completely fell in love with it.
What do you think can kids take away from this show?
Uma: Never give up on what you love doing. Always give your 100%. Just have fun and do your best.
Esang: Katulad po sa lyrics ng kanta, “Even if you’re little, you can do a lot. You mustn’t let a little thing like little stop you.”
Felicity: If you want something you can do it as long as you think it’s right. Just continue it and don’t give up.
Watch them perform the song “Naughty” from the show below!
The talented children cast members are accompanied by some of our country’s most accomplished thespians. Joaquin Valdes and Carla Laforteza-Guevara play Matilda’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood; Emeline Celis-Guinid plays the librarian Mrs. Phelps; Cris Villonco plays Miss Honey; and Jamie Wilson plays Miss Trunchbull. All of them couldn’t stop singing their praises for the children.
How has it been like working with the kids?
Carla Guevara-Laforteza: They say that the kids are learning from us veterans but it’s actually us learning a lot from them. The whole cast of children are crazy talented […] They’re gonna blow you guys away like the way they did to us during rehearsals.
It’s quite overwhelming to see so many children in one room and they all have different personalities, all this energy and the good thing there is you absorb that energy and you learn so much from them. And you just remember to have fun when you’re with them. It’s a wonderful experience.
Emeline Celis-Guinid: You will be amazed by these children. Even if it’s their first time to perform, you wouldn’t think that it’s their first time. It’s like they’ve been doing this for so many years already.
Jamie Wilson: It’s nice because it’s like relationships with professional actors. I forget they’re 8! I forget they’re 10 years old. They know my lines! It’s so unfair! They have more brain cells!
Cris Villonco: Kids nowadays are so different from the way we were. I started at 9 like Esang in Les Miserables. I was Little Cosette. I was just a little girl who wanted to sing. I wasn’t like these kids who are just, THEY WANT TO BE IN THE BUSINESS. They WANT to be performers. […] They are so set on it. And sometimes, I would question myself when I watch them because what happens is the adults ensemble will learn the choreography first and then we’ll teach it to the kids. So sometimes we’re like, “Are these kids going to get this choreography? Because this is quite intense!” And there are a lot of intense numbers like “Revolting Children”, “Bruce”, “Miracle”, all this dancing and all this singing and all of them have to do it at the same time. And they have to be gung-ho about it. And you know what? They know it. They love to do it and they do it again and again and again. They’re something else! I don’t want to say they’re mutants. I don’t know if it’s something in the food [laughs], but they’re really quite exceptional and they’re really amazing. I mean if I auditioned now at that age, I would be nowhere near these kids. Their voices are something else.
Joaquin Valdes: All the 19 kids are amazing. Sometimes nakakainsecure kasi, are they seriously just kids? Really? Cris and I literally just look at each other, because we kind of started at the same age in the industry. We would look at each other and go, “What were we doing when we were their age? Who are these kids?” […] I learn from them, each of the three, and they’re so different. Esang comes with such a pure tone, and just such an earnestness. Kyle is so emotional. When we were rehearsing the other day, she looked at me, and she just… waterfalls. And we were crying on the floor. Uma is so wise. I call her lola. She’s like a 50-year old stuck in an 8-year old body. It’s so amazing. Different Matilda’s. And then you have two completely different sets of kids so it’s always new for us adults.
How is this generation of kids different from the kids from your generation?
Cris: I think we all kind of knew that we could sing and dance and move a little bit better than most. But we didn’t think that it would be the be all and end all of our careers. And I also think maybe it’s the parents who also think you have to have something. Like my parents always said that you have to have something to fall back on. You cannot just rely on performing. But nowadays, performing is becoming, “THIS IS IT.” This can be your bread and butter if you make it. […] I think it’s also because of all the shows that are coming around. “The Voice”, social media, YouTube, and all these talents that are coming from all over the world, and people are beginning to see that there are some who are really good. […] And these children, they go to school. And then we see them for four hours. They have to learn their choreography and their songs in four hours, and then that’s all they have in the day. We have eight [hours].
Joaquin: Maybe it’s also the information that’s available to them. I forget that I’m talking to kids when I’m hanging out with the Matilda’s and the other cast mates. And it’s great because Bobby [Garcia] creates this environment where we don’t talk down to the children just because they’re children. And we don’t impose our seniority just because we’re adults. […] We’re all the same level. We respect each other as human beings regardless of age and gender. […] I would need to go to CD Warehouse in Greenhills and order my original Broadway cast recording CD’s weeks in advance when I was a kid just so I could listen to whatever was currently playing on Broadway. By the time it got to me it was no longer current. Now it’s instant.
Jamie: Now all the resources are there. There are more schools and opportunities opening up. So you can take lessons online. There are more classes available now to nurture your talents. Whereas before if you wanted to take dance, there were only 2-3 schools. So the kids now, the generation now, is coming in pre-loaded with having developed their talent. Which is great. Even before they join us.
How is your role in Matilda different from the other roles you’ve done in the past?
Carla: This is by far the craziest in choreography that I’ve done because I’m required to dance crazily. [laughs] You’ll see it but I think that’s the most challenging part of this show from all the previous shows that I’ve done that required me to dance.
Cris: I’m really nervous about this one. Ms. Honey is number one, very, very nice, patient, kind, respectful, caring, which are very different from the roles that I’ve done in the past so this actually is a challenging role for me [laughs]. She goes through a lot and she’s pushed around a lot in this show when you see it. […] Coming from Fun Home [where she played Alison Bechdel], coming from other roles that are more vocally demanding, this one is in another vocal range as well, which challenges me.
Jamie: It’s been crazy preparing for this role. I had two months off from Kinky Boots. First I had to get into shape because I had to be manhandling and throwing children around. And I have to do it safely. They have to survive for the next show. Or else I’d get arrested. Then we’d have to get more children. [laughs] But to find her voice was I think the biggest challenge because the placement of the voice should be easy. But to maintain it? There’s Trunchbull’s voice and there’s Jamie’s voice, and if I fully commit to Trunchbull’s voice, I might destroy my voice. So it was a couple of months of exploration and learning how to scream. Our vocal coach helped me a lot because he could hear the strain in my voice. He would just tweak me but he basically allowed me to discover it myself, and what works for me.
Joaquin: It’s so different from all the roles that I’ve played before. He’s slimy, he’s older, he’s nasty, he’s cockney; a really, really vile character, so different, so far-removed from everything that I’ve played before. […] But then when the director tells you to jump, you ask how high. But so far it’s been the most challenging but really the most fulfilling thing. Now I really feel like an actor.
I did animal work, I did voice work, just to discover who is this guy and when you guys see the show, hopefully I kind of disappear. He has a different walk, stance, accent, tone. It’s tough.
In forming my character, I studied Rowan Atkinson, Johnny Depp, Dustin Hoffman in Hook, Mr. Fagin in Oliver Twist, Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka, all of these images that helped me form the image of who Harry Wormwood was.
What can people take away from the show?
Carla: It’s very rare that we showcase the children. That’s why I think also that Resorts World is putting together “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, and 9 Works is putting together “A Christmas Carol”, I think this is a good thing for the theater industry to showcase the future of Philippine theater and how as early as now we’re able to train them, we’re able to work with them and teach them the ropes. So eventually when they become leading ladies of theater, then another generation can be taught.
From my particular character, I don’t think parents should follow how I am and how my husband is as parents because we’re neglectful parents. And the bullying actually started from us because in the first scene when I’m still pregnant with Matilda, I’m already like, “I don’t want her.” It starts there. So the lesson is don’t be like the Wormwoods because it’s the foundation at home that makes the child.
Emeline: That’s what I tell my children. Bullying will not stop unless you put a stop to it.
Cris: Many women can relate to this character [Miss Honey] and who knew that one little girl could maybe give her a little bit of a push to be able to stand up for herself.
Jamie: If there’s anything that you can take away from this story, it’s that even if you’re little, even if you’re big, there are a lot of forms of bullying and you don’t have to take it. You can change your own story. You can change your own circumstances. Everybody should be given a chance to be themselves, to pursue their dreams, to be given a chance to dream, without anybody telling them that they can’t do it.
Joaquin: The children should be empowered definitely. I think, this is just my take, this is not the company’s take or the director’s take, but I think it’s also great that Matilda’s a girl and then the most powerful image of bullying and harassment is played by a man in, of course, a woman’s suit. But it says a lot. There’s a lot of poetry there. And I think it’s empowering the child. It’s empowering the woman to really stand up and to silence all of the noise around them. So I think people should just see the show and get empowered.
You can buy tickets HERE.