Longtime Wagon Wheel actor Andy Robinson (standing), plays Miss Trunchbull in ‘Matilda.’
Photo by Gary Nieter
Longtime Wagon Wheel actor Andy Robinson (standing), plays Miss Trunchbull in ‘Matilda.’ Photo by Gary Nieter
One of the main draws to the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts’ production of the musical “Matilda” is its young actors.

Longtime Wagon Wheel actor Andy Robinson, who plays Miss Trunchbull in “Matilda,” said the young crew of nine actors in the show – between the ages of 10 to 13 – is just phenomenal.

“Many of whom have been involved in the Wagon Wheel Jr. program here or have been in professional shows here before. Coming from as far as Fort Wayne, South Bend. It is an amazing crew of young actors,” he said.

The nine young actors have been rehearsing longer than the professional company, which has only been in Warsaw for about two weeks, he said. Some of the young actors have already been rehearsing for a month for “Matilda.”

The musical is based on the children’s book by Roald Dahl. “Matilda" is at the theater through June 15. Tickets can be purchased at the Wagon Wheel box office at 2515 E. Center St., Warsaw, or by phone at 574-267-8041.

Starring in the title role is 11-year-old Nicole Scimeca, of Chicago.

“She’s this really independent, strong, confident individual that just knows what she wants and she gets it. She just knows what she wants so she goes for that. She’s real determined,” Scimeca said in describing Matilda.

“And all the grown-ups in her life are really terrible for the most part, except for a few allies,” said Robinson.

Trunchbull is the principal of the school that Matilda attends.

“This play was developed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2010. And in British theater, there’s a huge tradition of sort of cross-gender casting. And because Matilda’s nemesis, Miss Trunchbull, is so sort of big and looming, I think they felt that casting a really tall man was sort of a good way to communicate that physically,” Robinson explained.

He said the character is completely female and he’s never played a female character on the Wagon Wheel stage.

Scimeca said having Robinson play her nemesis in the musical was “crazy.”

“It’s so crazy because he’s so nice just as we’re talking. But then he has to play this really mean character and sometimes I just laugh because it’s not normal for him,” she said.

Robinson said Scimeca might laugh because it’s funny, “but on stage we have a really fierce standoff in act two where I say really terrible things to her, and it’s wonderful to have a scene partner with a commitment to real emotional presence. It makes for a really good story.”

Along with “Matilda” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Dahl wrote “James and the Giant Peach,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “The BFG” among other children’s and adult works. They have darkly comic moods, often with villainous adult enemies of the children in the books.

Robinson said, “Usually the adult characters in Roald Dahl’s books are terrible people. So Roald Dahl, I think, wrote for smart readers about the age of the cast of our young company, kind of exposing the fact that most of the grownups in their lives are really fallible, at times nasty people. So I think it’s easy for people to come see the show and remember what it was like to feel so frustrated by that adult world.”

Scimeca didn’t discover the book until she auditioned for the Wagon Wheel production.

“I actually auditioned for it in New York, so then when I was auditioning it I was reading the book. I read the book on the plane, actually, going there. I just fell in love with it when I read the book. And I saw the Broadway one a couple of times, too. It was just so interesting to me, too, how all the stories connected and the plot was so mature but yet a young audience member could still have fun watching it,” she said.

In most productions of “Matilda,” the title role is often shared by three or four girls so one young actress doesn’t have to play the large role every night. For the 10-day run at the Wagon Wheel, it’s Scimeca every night.

“There’s a lot of pressure but it’s good pressure so that it encourages you to work harder,” she said. “So you’re working really hard to portray this really hard character that four girls on Broadway are portraying, and you’re just one person. So there’s a lot of good pressure and it’s really fun.”

Robinson said this month was the beginning of regional productions of the musical across the country.

“We’re one of the only ones that I know that are sort of having one actor do it, which says a lot about (Artistic Director) Scott Michael’s confidence in Nicole. Truly what she brings to the role is phenomenal,” he said.

Scimeca said what she loves about the process of putting the show together is watching everything come together, from the costumes and staging to the performances.

She said she usually doesn’t get to play really emotional characters because she is just a kid, but Matilda “goes on an emotional roller coaster, so it’s really fun to get to play that part of a character.”

There’s a scene where Miss Trunchbull is yelling at Matilda and during that big confrontation, Matilda disappears into a world of her own.

“She has this beautiful song while I’m sort of frozen mid-frenzy. It’s really cool,” Robinson said.

He said the show’s score is really interesting. It’s poppy in its style. “The lyrics are really playful and quirky. There’s actually a lot of tongue twister lyrics in it. So I think that’s something that’s interesting,” he said.

The two break-away hit songs from the original Broadway production were “Revolting Children” and “When I Grow Up.” Robinson said the first was the “11 o’clock number where the kids finally – spoil alert! – rebel and send me packing.” The song 'When I Grow Up' is the opener for act two and “the kids express how they hope it will be easier when they are older.”

The Wagon Wheel production also has some adult company members playing older kids in the show.

“But that ‘When I Grow Up’ act two opener is kind of the most lovely moment in the show. There’s no conflict,” Robinson said.

Speaking of conflict, when Matilda is pressed, she discovers some surprising power to fight the injustice of her teacher and family.

“The place that Matilda’s power comes from is reading, which I think is one of the cooler things about it. She’s technically meant to be 5 years old in the play, and she’s already read Charles Dickens and all of these great works of literature and her family doesn’t understand her. It kind of really highlights the power that reading, especially for a young mind, can inspire their imagination,” Robinson said.

Scimeca said reading is a good thing and “determination can go a long way.”