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Photograph: Joan MarcusMatilda

Matilda on Broadway: Meet the four girls who play the title role

We chat with the young stars of Matilda on Broadway about everything from the musical's powerful message to their favorite Times Square restaurant.

Written by
Rory Halperin

It's been quite a year for children on Broadway—many of the season's shows, including the super successful British import Matilda, star actors under the age of 13. We sat down with the four girls who share the role of the telekinetic schoolgirl—Sophia Gennusa, 9; Bailey Ryon, 10; Oona Laurence, 10; and Milly Shapiro, 10—to talk about out how they found out the got the part of a lifetime, their favorite part of the musical and what it's like performing in a show that received 12 Tony nominations. (The guartet wasn't eligible for a Best Actress nom, but they will receive a special award—the Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre.)

How did you find out you got the part of Matilda?

Bailey: It was Halloween and I was helping my little brother trick-or-treat. My mom told me in the street and I gasped, but she told me I couldn’t tell anyone. It was still a secret!
Sophia: I found out on Halloween, too, which was canceled because all the trees and wires were down [because of the hurricane]. My mom burst in the door and told me and I screamed. Like Bailey said, my mom was like, “You can’t tell anybody!” I went to school the next day and was like, “Zip. The. Lip. Sophia.”
Oona: I was in a restaurant and just finished trick-or-treating with my friends. I had just gotten out of the bathroom to my dad in the hallway whispering, “Ona, Nora’s on the phone!” When I heard, I covered my mouth and couldn’t even say anything.
Milly: My sister and I had just finished a game and my mom stepped outside on the phone and when she came back, she said “Milly, you got Matilda” and I was like “Ahhhhh."
Were you all fans of Matilda beforehand?
M: I was more of a fan of the book. I’ve read it more times than I can count!
O: I’m a very big fan of the book too. I’ve watched the movie and I like both, but prefer the book because it has very thoughtful moments.
S: In the movie, she was more of a happy, jumpy person. She danced and smiled a lot, but in the book, she was more serious. She didn’t smile a lot. When she found out her powers in the movie, she was showing off a little bit. I really do suggest reading the book first. The book, movie and musical are all really different from each other.
What's your favorite part of the show?
B: The “Amanda Trhipp Throw.” It’s very fun to do, even though I’m not the one being swung by my pigtails. It’s fun to watch and you act like you’re going crazy on stage and watching her fly through the air.
S: I like the song "Naughty" a lot. It’s really fun because you feel Matilda’s confidence and it introduces the lesson of the whole musical. That’s actually my second favorite part. My first favorite part is the song “Quiet” because Matilda lets everything out that bothers her and you get to find out her real, deep down inside character–who she really is.
I can’t choose because I really like the whole entire play. If you could only hear one little part, it wouldn’t really complete the story for you. The whole story is like one, big puzzle. So if you put it together it wouldn’t really make sense.
I agree! I can’t choose because the whole musical is my favorite.

What message do you hope kids in the audience take away from the show?

O: Some lessons you learn, actually adults could learn to, is if something happens to you, whether being bullied or bossed around, you can’t just stand there and let them do it. You have to do something about it. In Matilda’s first song, she sings, “It doesn’t mean you have to grin and bear it…” That’s a really big message that comes across a lot through the show. Adults learn a lot of things too—like what it’s like from a kid's point-of-view. There’s a song “When I Grow Up” and it’s reminding them of their own childhood.

You're spending a lot of time in the city. What are your favorite things to do in the five boroughs?

O: My all-time favorite thing is Coney Island. I also like Madison Square Park and Times Square. Yeah, that’s it.
B: I like Times Square, but my favorite part of New York City is Central Park and Coney Island where there aren't a lot of lights. I haven’t done this, but I really want to go to Central Park and ride my scooter around and get some fresh air.
Any must-visit restaurants?
What other Broadway shows have you seen?
M: I’m a Wicked freak. I’ve seen it five times and I still want to see it more.
S: I really like Wicked too. we got to see it as a cast! It was the second time I saw it. Every time you get to see a musical, you like it better and better because you experience more of it and understand it better.
O: I also like The Addams Family because it had a lot of silly jokes in it.
B: I like Peter and the Starcatcher and I also liked Wonderland.

Matilda is, by far, one of the biggest stories of the season—the show is nominated for 12 Tonys, including best musical! How does it feel to be a part of this?

B:  It’s so fun. I was on stage the other day and then I was just like, “Wait a second, I’m on Broadway right now!” And I'm so excited that we got 12 Tony nominations because that means, we're at least going to win, like a couple.
S: Yeah, sometimes you just forget you're performing because you’re having so much fun.  It hits you at some interesting points. Like, we've all watched the Tonys, but seeing it and being in a show that actually gets the nominations is fascinating.
O: Throughout the show, I don’t really think about it, but during the curtain call, I look out and see two mezzanines and a really big front audience, and I’m like “Oh my gosh, I’m on Broadway. This is amazing” It’s a dream come true. You wouldn’t really think you’d ever get the chance to do something this big­–

Especially at such a young age!
O: Yeah, exactly! I thought I was going to get on Broadway when I was, like, 20!

Matilda plays at the Shubert Theatre.

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