With a smart, magical young heroine, UMW Theatre’s production of Matilda the Musical is a family-friendly spectacle. It’s fast-paced, funny and just defiant enough to satisfy anyone who’s ever faced a bully.
The production runs through Nov. 19. Shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with 2 p.m. matinees on Sundays and on one Saturday. All shows are in Klein Theatre in duPont Hall.
For its matinee on Saturday, Nov. 18, the production aims to open live theatre to an even wider audience – children, teenagers and adults who, for whatever reason, aren’t comfortable sitting quietly, close together, in a darkened space for two-plus hours.
It’s UMW Theatre’s first-ever sensory-friendly performance, reflecting a movement in recent years to make live theatre enjoyable and accessible for those with sensory sensitivities.
Audience members at the Nov. 18 matinee can feel free to talk or leave their seats while enjoying the show. Startling moments onstage will be signaled in advance, lighting levels will be adjusted, and a brief strobe effect used in other performances will be omitted. Only about one-third of Klein Theatre’s 233 seats will be sold, to keep theatregoers from feeling crowded.
Printed materials about attending a production at Klein Theatre are available in advance to familiarize new theatregoers with the entire experience, from entering the lobby to exiting the building after the performance. There’s also a printed summary of the story being shown onstage – an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1988 children’s book Matilda.
The sensory-friendly show is an academic project and a labor of love for Mary Robinson ’25, a Stafford County resident and nontraditional transfer student majoring in theatre with a double minor in arts administration and musical theatre.
It wasn’t until last spring that the second eldest of Robinson’s four sons, 21-year-old Joshua, was able to attend his first live theatre event. Encouraged by UMW Theatre faculty member Brandon Prendergast ’95, who is resident production stage manager at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, mother and son attended Ford’s sensory-friendly version of Shout Sister Shout!
“He was so enraptured with the performance and left the theatre so excited from the ‘stage movie,’ as he now calls live theatre,” Mary Robinson said of Joshua, who has autism and sensory sensitivities. “After that, I was able to take him to other sensory-friendly events at the Smithsonian and even to see The Lion King at the Kennedy Center.”
At all performances, audiences may find themselves pulling for the 5-year-old heroine of Matilda the Musical, played by Emmy Beach ’27. Matilda’s love of books, math and storytelling makes her a family misfit, picked on by her parents and ignored by her screen-addicted big brother. But she finds kindness from her schoolteacher, Miss Honey (Maddie Baylor ’24), and she befriends classmates as they face cruel headmistress Miss Trunchbull (Matthew Monaghan ’24).
Director Gregg Stull ’82, who chairs UMW’s Department of Theatre & Dance, hopes audiences will appreciate the musical’s main messages. One: “Smartness, kindness and friendship can overcome evil,” he said. And two: When someone’s family of origin doesn’t act like family, “there’s a lovely notion that you can find that on your own.”
Tickets for the Nov. 18 sensory-friendly matinee are available either in person at the Klein Theatre box office or by calling (540) 654-1111. Tickets to all other performances are available either or those ways or online at FredTix.com.
Matilda the Musical is the second of four UMW Theatre productions for 2023-24. The season began with a sold-out run of Murder on the Orient Express. Upcoming productions are Sam Shepard’s True West, Feb. 14-25, 2024, and William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, April 11-21, 2024.