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BWW Interviews: Debut of the Month - The Four Young Stars of MATILDA THE MUSICAL

Sophia Gennusa, Bailey Ryon, Oona Laurence and Milly Shapiro are making their Broadway debuts in the new hit show MATILDA THE MUSICAL, sharing the role of the telekinetic young, heroine.

Based on the beloved novel by best-selling author Roald Dahl, MATILDA is the story of an extraordinary girl who dreams of a better life. Armed with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind, she dares to take a stand and change her destiny. Directed by Tony winner Matthew Warchus, with a book by playwright Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, MATILDA recently received 12 Tony Award nominations including one for Best Musical.

The four talented young stars spoke with BWW about their first Broadway experience portraying the "brave, strong and magical" character, Matilda.

Milly Shapiro, Age 10, New York City(Regional credits include Annie,Young Cossette and Baby June.)

It was after a performance of the musical Cats several years ago that Milly Shapiro turned to her mom and said, "I want to do that!" The 10-year-old, who is "very excited" to be making her Broadway debut, had read Dahl's children's tale several times prior to her audition. "The audition process was a lot of fun," she shares. "The girls and I played games, sang, learned songs and sides during the auditions."

Recalling the night she learned she had been cast in the lead role she explains, "It was Halloween when we found out. I was playing a game with my sister, then my mom came in and said, "YOU GOT THE ROLE!!!" and I jumped up and down and screamed with my sister."

The most challenging aspect of playing Matilda for the actress is "staying in character the whole show and not smiling - because I love smiling!" Milly also admires her fictional counterpart for "being strong and not letting anyone bully her." As far as similarities they may share she contemplates, "We both love reading. But I would like to have telekinetic powers like her."

To the young star, the most important message of the show is, "if something is wrong with your life, you should do something about it, not just wait for it to get better, because it won't change anything."

Bailey Ryon, Age, 11, Pennsylvania (Played 'Cindy Lou' in the National tour of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Regional credits include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Fulton Opera House.)

It was at the tender age of 6, while participating in her first school play that Bailey Ryon realized she wanted to be an actress. Heading into the audition process for the show, she had read other stories by author Roald Dahl but was not familiar with 'Matilda.' She recalls, "I went to the very first open call and after somewhere around 11 or 12 callbacks, I found out I was going to be cast!" She adds, "I was very excited but had to act calm because I was around other people."

Ryon, who describes her character as "magical", believes that they share similar traits. "I think the one thing that I have in common with her is that I don't let things bother me." And like the titular character, the 11-year-old fully believes that "anyone can change the world!"

Oona Laurence, Age 10, New York City(Appeared onstage in Woody Guthrie Dreams, Seussical, Scout in Mockingbird, audience award for Cosmic Fruit Bowl. Film and TV credits include Penny Dreadful, Days Dance, Esther, Louie, A Little Game.)

10-year-old Oona Laurence explains that it was not one particular event which sparked her interest in theater. "I started when my dad did this first documentary experimental film because he was experimenting with film making and he made me the main role for that film," she recalls. "And basically, my dad was an actor when he was a teenager, so I kinda picked it up from that."

The actress was an avid fan of Dahl's book, even before being cast as Matilda. "When I was in second grade I had read the book and basically, I had loved all of Roald Dahl's books from then on," she explains. "So when I heard I had an audition for Matilda the Musical, I was very excited!"

"The audition process was very long, with lots of callbacks, and second rounds, so the directing team got to know us a little bit," she continues. "So eventually it came down to a few people and they chose from there."

Oona vividly remembers the moment she found out she was cast in the role. "I was at a restaurant at Halloween and I came out of the bathroom, and my dad told me I had a phone call. And when I picked up the phone, I heard Nora Breenan tell me that I had the part," she gushed. "I was so excited but I definitely couldn't tell anybody, and since I was with my friend I was jumpy for the rest of the evening!"

Choosing a favorite part in the production she calls "a magnificent experience" is a challenging task for the actress. "My favorite scene or song is the whole entire musical!" she confesses. She also admires Matilda for the way she is "brave and sticks up to her parents and her evil headmistress," And she strongly believes the most important message audiences should take from the show is, "to not let people bring you down when they are being mean to you. Always be strong in any situation." She wisely adds, "and this could help both parents and children."

On making her Broadway debut, she exclaims, "It was amazing! I'm so grateful that I can be a part of such an amazing musical."

Sophia Gennusa, Age 9, Westchester,NY (Appeared in the last six productions of the Nutcracker at Purchase College, Conservatory of Dance.)

"As soon as I saw The Little Mermaid on Broadway at age 5, I was amazed how they could put a mind blowing show together," recalls 9-year-old Gennusa of the moment she knew she wanted to be an actress. "I thought, 'I wanted to do that too!' "

The actress, who was familiar with Dahl's books from school, remembers the auditioning process fondly. "I auditioned last June for the first time and I only sang and read for the role of Matilda. It was a fun process. I met incredible people along the way."

Recalling the night she learned she was cast Sophia recounts, "It was Halloween, which was canceled because of the hurricane, and my Dad and I were sitting on the couch when my Mom came inside to tell me I got the part. I screamed and we were laughing and crying at the same time which was pretty weird. It was a happy time!"

The intuitive star sees Matilda as a sad young girl who can be difficult to understand. "She's a very hard person to get into," she explains, "so you have to work hard to realize who she is deep down inside." Yet she believes she has much in common with the character she describes as, 'brave, strong and resilient.' "I read a lot and have an active imagination," she reveals. "I've also been bullied a lot since kindergarten for being so small."

On making her Broadway debut, the talented actress declares, "It was electrifying! The audience was amazing! I could not have been more grateful for the experience. I am living my dream!"

Tickets for MATILDA THE MUSICAL are available at:

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

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