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The Stissing Theatre Guild Presents “Matilda” March 8-10

By Published On: March 5th, 2024

The Stissing Theatre Guild is presenting “Matilda” at Stissing Mountain Jr/Sr High School on Friday, March 8, Saturday, March 9, and Sunday, March 10. 

The Stissing Theatre Guild (STG) is a volunteer-led school theater organization that is part of the Pine Plains Central School District and has been producing shows since 1989. 

This year’s musical is adapted from the 1988 novel written by Roald Dahl. 

Sixth-grader Coraline Dell’Amore is the star of the show as Matilda Wormwood. Her parents are played by senior Leandra Costa and junior Logan Cavey, while the terrible Miss Trunchbull is played by junior Max McBride and the lovable Miss Honey is played by senior Brianna Blackburn. 

Director Kevin Barnes talks to two cast members on stage

Kevin Barnes, who directed the STG production of “Mamma Mia!” last spring, has returned to direct “Matilda” this year. “It’s my second year here, and these guys are just great. It’s a small school, so they do everything and they’re involved in every part of the production,” Kevin said.

The decision to do Matilda as the production stemmed from the desire to appeal to the younger age group. “I think a lot of the upperclassmen wanted to do something with a more mature theme, but hadn’t read or understood the story,” he explained. “It’s an adult story, but told from a child’s perspective. It’s about bullying and redemption.”

In comparison to “Mamma Mia!” last spring, Kevin said that Matilda has more storytelling. “With ‘Mamma Mia!’, it would be one scene with inane dialogue to introduce a popular song followed by another scene with the same. There was relatively no real story to ‘Mamma Mia!’,” Kevin said. “Matilda has a lot more storytelling because there are stories within stories within stories. It’s not just Matilda’s story, but it’s also Miss Honey’s story. Matilda is a much different show. It’s a different feel and a different approach, and has a lot of dialogue that’s meaningful.” 

Matilda, unlike some of the more recent productions, requires a large amount of special effects. To start, the set itself is completely dynamic and made up of 17 different settings. 

“It’s a bit difficult when you don’t have much in the way of wings,” Kevin smiled. “We also have a lot of mechanics that are involved in the special effects here. The magic blackboard, the cake that disappears, and we even have a student that gets thrown by her pigtails. It should be a very impressive technical show.” 

Kevin notes that Gerard Lisella, a ninth-grade math teacher at Stissing, is the “technical genius” behind most of the special effects. “The production team as a whole is just incredible. Everyone is focused on what they need to do and they’re really good at it.” 

Because the age group of the cast of Matilda is younger – she’s five in the book and six in the movie – STG made the decision to cast fifth graders in the ensemble of the spring production. This has posed mild challenges, as play rehearsal typically starts after the high school dismisses, while the fifth graders don’t get bussed up to the auditorium until 3:30 p.m. 

While it was a bit of a transition at the start, Kevin said that the fifth graders know exactly where they’re supposed to be on stage and assimilate effortlessly when they arrive in the midst of practice. 

Similarly, that has also been the biggest challenge of the production. Getting everyone there on time and ready to go has not been easy. “That I even get two hours of their time is incredible. These kids are involved in so many clubs and activities. I don’t know how they balance it all,” Kevin said. 

L to R: Audrey Zengen, Abbey Mayes, Charlotte Smith, Sarah Griffin, and Bridgette Roach

The star of the show 

The star of the show is sixth-grader Coraline Dell’Amore. It’s also Coraline’s first time on stage. “I’ve always liked singing and arts in general. Singing makes me feel how Matilda feels when she’s creating her book. It makes me feel like I can get away from things,” she said. 

A twin, Coraline’s sister, Lily, is also in the play as a schoolboy. 

“My sister does a lot and I always feel like everyone’s always looking at her, so it’s been nice to have something where everyone is looking at me,” Coraline said. 

Coraline says that many of the high schoolers have served as mentors to her. “Sometimes I just talk with them before the scene. They make me feel like I’m really a part of stuff and they’ve been so much help.” 

This is Coraline’s first year performing with STG and she confided that when she found out that she got the role, she cried her eyes out because she was so excited. “I just really like singing and being with my crewmaters. I don’t like to do it by myself, like a one man show kind of thing. I like to be around people and hanging out with people makes me feel right. When I’m alone, it doesn’t feel right.” 

Coraline also notes that her parents have been her biggest champions and supporters since landing the lead role. “I really love that my parents have been here for me during this because it helps me through my troubles,” she said. “My brother always encourages me and cheers me on. And my sister is in the play, so she’s always supporting me and telling my parents what a good job I’m doing. I really like that everyone has been supportive of me. It feels nice for me to do this.” 

Cast members swing on stage while rehearsing

The dreaded Miss Trunchbull

This is Max McBride’s fifth production with STG. A junior, Max started performing with the guild as a freshman and plays Miss Trunchbull in this year’s performance. 

“The last couple of shows, I’ve either been the lead or the side boyfriend character,” he said. “For Matilda and for the performance I just did with the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck, I played villains back-to-back. It’s been a nice breath of fresh air.” 

For Max, one of the most interesting parts about playing the role of Trunchbull is the costume. “I’m not built like Trunchbull, so the costume has the suit with the boobs and the fat built in. It’s very intricate,” he said. “It limits the blocking a bit because I can’t move my limbs as much.”

He said that the suit is also incredibly hot. He wore it last week during practice and had to take it off halfway through because he got too warm. 

Overall though, Max is looking forward to performing this weekend. “This year, it feels like it came earlier,” he said. “Last year this time, ‘Mamma Mia!’ still felt like it was three weeks away. But this year, it’s come so fast. I don’t know if that’s a show thing or a life thing.” 

To purchase tickets to see Matilda: The Musical at Stissing Mountain High School, visit this link.