Directing a pack of American teens and pre-teens is quite an education.
Wales-born and New York City-based playwright and director Mêlisa Annis is learning loads, including a tutorial on the YouTube phenomenon of “unboxing,” where children watch videos of other kids open boxes of computer games and other products.
This is the stuff of “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” rehearsals at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College. A preview of the show is Thursday. It opens Friday and runs through Jan. 6.
Of course, there’s much more to rehearsals than cultural exchanges, which can be plentiful due to the Tony Award-winning musical based on British writer Dahl’s 1988 children’s book. For instance, the word “knickers” is bandied about in the script, to which Annis’ 15-member cast of 10- to 15-year-olds turned up their noses.
“The kids thought that’s not funny,” said Annis. “They said that was in the 1930s, like bloomers. I said, ‘No, that’s what we wear under our skirts.’”
In the musical, which premiered in London in 2011 and on Broadway in 2013, 5-year-old Matilda lives with two miserably mean parents (FAC’s producing artistic director and director of performing arts Scott RC Levy and New York City-based Lauren Weinberg) and attends a school lorded over by the equally cruel Miss Trunchbull. She’s often played by a man, in this case Nathan Halvorson, FAC’s associate director of performing arts .
The book-loving Matilda (played by three actresses) also has telekinesis, the power to move objects or reshape them, which proves handy later in the show. In the wake of her uncaring family, Matilda finds the loving relationship she needs with her teacher, Miss Honey (Carmen Shedd), which also proves fortuitous to the young teacher.
“’Matilda the Musical’ is the most satisfying and subversive musical ever to come out of Britain,” wrote New York Times critic Ben Brantley in 2013. “Above all it’s an exhilarating tale of empowerment, as told from the perspective of the most powerless group of all. I mean little children... ‘Matilda’ captures the particular dread that runs like an icy rivulet through even the happiest childhoods.”
At the core of the show is a young person trying to find her voice in a world that often doesn’t want to hear her. Annis made it a point to come into rehearsals with her ears and heart open.
“I’m going to listen to these kids,” she said, “and what are the questions they’re asking. We can learn from them as well.
JENNIFER MULSON, THE GAZETTE, 636-0270, JEN.MULSON@GAZETTE.COM