Players’ ‘Matilda, The Musical’ opens Friday Nov. 1

What is a bright, curious and determined little girl to do when her parents are so obsessed with other interests, they have neither the time nor energy for their daughter?

Despite a horrible home life and disengaged parents, Matilda Wormwood manages to adult allies and blossoms into a creative, strong young woman with a vivid imagination and a fierce devotion to truth and justice.

How so? Salisbury Community Players explain it all in its performance of “Matilda, The Musical,” Friday through Sunday, Nov. 1-3, at the Wicomico High School Auditorium.

After more than three months in rehearsals, costume and set design and more, the cast of “Matilda” is polishing its production in preparation for opening night. Ken Johnson is both director and performer. He will shave his beard and mustache a couple of weeks ahead of his debut as Miss Agatha Trunchbull, the tyrannical and cruel headmistress of Matilda’s school.

“I don’t want the kids to laugh at me and spoil the show,” said Johnson, who also plans to begin wearing some female attire to rehearsals as well, in hopes the cast will get used to seeing him that way well before opening night.

The cast of 26 includes nine younger children and an ensemble of 11 who play a variety of roles, in addition to those with major roles: Isabel Cockey plays the lead as Matilda; her brother Elijah plays Bruce Bogtrotter and her sister, Amanda Thripp.

“All three of the siblings earned their role, no question,” said Johnson, “but still, it’s touch to omit a sibling when a family of kids auditions.”

Jenny Tusing, who plays Mrs. Zinnia Wormwood, Matilda’s oblivious mother, agrees, especially about Isabel’s talent.

“Isabel is awesome,” said Tusing. “She’s a very talented young lady, always in good spirits, a real trooper. She is always cooperative and always knows her lines. All three Cockey siblings are amazingly talented.”

Tusing is a veteran of local theater, including Community Players, where she landed her first role in “The King and I” as a dancer in the dramatization of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a story within a story in the production. She went on to perform with the James M. Bennett High School drama department and a few additional community theater groups before completing her freshman year in college as a theater major. She spent a year studying in France through the Rotary Exchange program, then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in education. She teaches French in Wicomico County Public Schools.

This is Tusing’s first performance with the Players since 2008.

Tusing’s mother, Lynne Bratten, is designing and creating costumes for the production.

“Playing Mrs. Wormwood is a real change for Jenny,” said Johnson. “In fact, this is about the most un-Jenny-like role I could imagine for her.”

Tusing acknowledges it’s not her typical role, but said she purposely sought it out.

“I wanted the challenge of a completely new role,” said Tusing. “I wanted to use talents I hadn’t used in a long time. Always playing the same basic role gets boring – and I didn’t want to be typecast as only able to perform as a demure, quiet, nice person.”

Tusing said she had always been cast as that character when she was younger, and Johnson agrees.

“Jenny always played the nice girl,” he said.

“It was this role, or I was going back to doing costumes,” said Tusing.

The really cool thing about playing Mrs. Wormwood, Tusing said, was that she gets to wear high heels. Really, really high heels.

“Three-and-a-half-inch heels,” she said, grinning. “I purchased a pair of iridescent faux snakeskin shoes with three-and-a-half-inch heels. You have to walk differently in heels like that, and this character, Mrs. Wormwood, would definitely wear these shoes.”

You wouldn’t know this from reading the book or watching the movie, but Zinnia Wormwood loves ballroom dancing. It’s her obsession in this musical adaptation, not bingo. So of course she has a ballroom dancing partner. If you’ve read the book or watched the movie (or both), you may be a bit confused at this point.

All will become clear as you watch the performance.

“Mrs. Wormwood is just stupid,” said Tusing. “She doesn’t appreciate intelligence. She’s loud – in fact, my song is ‘Loud.’ She tries to teach Miss Honey (Matilda’s teacher and adult ally) to be loud. Mrs. wormwood is entirely bold and over the top.”

The Wormwood family is not exactly well-to-do, you might call them “faux noveau rich,” Tusing said. Mrs. Wormwood knows how to spend money and as a result, her husband is less-than-honest in his dealings as a used car salesman as he attempts to keep up with his wife’s spending.

“Mrs. Wormwood doesn’t read, doesn’t like books,” said Tusing. “She likes TV. But Matilda loves to read, and this makes her a black sheep in the family.”

“The musical is closer to the book than the movie was,” said Johnson.

“But it’s really nothing like either,” said Tusing, who said she even began reading the book to learn more about her character – until she realized how very different her role was from Roald Dahl’s Matilda character.

There is so much more to be revealed during the performance itself. Learn what happened to Miss Honey’s parents, and look for a bit of intrigue that surrounds the involvement of other characters from the cast.

This is the Salisbury Community Players’ 82nd season.

“We are among the top four oldest community theater groups on the East Coast,” said Johnson.

Since the Players first performance in 1937, the musical “Oliver!” has been performed three times, “The Wizard of Oz” three times, and ‘The Sound of Music” four times.

“We try to incorporate newer plays with the classics,” said Johnson. “’Matilda’ was just released last year, for example, and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” (also directed by Johnson) is also a newer play.

Performances of “Matilda, The Musical” take place Thursday and Friday, Nov. 1-2, with curtain at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 3, at 2 p.m., all at the Wicomico High School Auditorium.

Visit sbyplayers.com for more information about “Matilda” and about the Salisbury Community Players. 

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