A Look at “Matilda”

Stephen Diaz (Rudolpho) and Darcy Stewart (Mrs. Wormwood) in “Matilda the Musical” Photo Credit: ©2016, Joan Marcus

Actor Stephen Diaz gives us some lessons about his work on “Matilda the Musical”

Arturo Hilario
El Observador

For some, memories of childhood are coming to the Broadway San Jose from March 8-12. But it might not be all fun and games.

Stephen Diaz recently explored the ins and outs of the upcoming production of “Matilda the Musical”. The actor, born in San Jose (happy coincidence), says that the production based on the Roald Dahl book which was famously adapted into a 1996 film starring a cast of cute kids and a brutish Danny DeVito (who also directed that one).

Diaz plays a few different roles as part of the ensemble, and has great insight on the musical, and its inner-workings. In the following interview we learn about Diaz, and his take on why the show is so applicable to anyone whose ever gone through childhood.

How is is that you got into the arts and theater?

The reason I got into it was I wanted to learn what this relationship between people is all about. I wanted to understand why. Why we do what we do. I was naturally drawn to music and dance. Kids have their interests and friend’s of mine where playing music and that drew me into playing piano and singing and being young, and being influenced by the things around me when I saw somebody dance I said ‘I want to do that!’ So from that point I continued to study, I spoke with many different teachers to try and understand why I enjoy moving. Why I enjoy singing, why I enjoy playing characters and text. When Shakespeare said ‘all the world is a stage’, he was correct. My fascination with the study of dance music and theater is intricately tied into my fascination with why people on the planet do what they do. Why they have their opinion and judgement and it’s all tied together to me. That’s how I got started and that’s what keeps me in it.

A lot of people I bring “Matilda” up in conversation to can relate to it because of their childhood somehow. Is it similar for you?

I think that’s why I think it’s such a special show for me. Because there’s so many things that parallel my life in the show.  The opportunities that taught me the most and grew from were ones I found outside of the school. [Matilda] she stands as this autonomous individual that sees the system for what it is and questions things. It’s this unending curiosity that leads you to pursue your life. It gets to be very psychological when I talk about it, but that’s how I understand it.

So what underlying lessons from the story do you feel are most important?

In the show Matilda is surrounded by all this materialism and all this loudness and it’s ridiculousness and she stands as someone who is purely, completely herself. She would represent the groundedness of the show, the groundedness of a person’s being that are in conflict with the world. That’s what makes this show special at this time. The show teaches the audience how to have compassion for people, it teaches me how to have compassion and understand the way that people work. I think this speaks to the power of the theater, we hold on to the stories of who we think we are and only by having relationships with other people and in real life that’s why live theater is important, because it’s real theater. It’s a place where you can learn to honor the differences in people, and that is super important.

As part of the ensemble and as the character of Rudolpho, can you describe your duties in these roles?

As the part of the adult ensemble we play the bigger kids at the school, Crunchem Hall, and we the older students have been there for a number of years so we know what the Trunchbull is like, the principal, who terrifies us to no end. We are in charge of when the kids come to school we have to warn them through our own fear and our own experience what is going to happen to them. Because the show is seen through the eyes of a child we are responsible for representing that kind of intimidation part of growing up and there are parts of joy in the show where you see even the adult kids acting like younger kids as we swing on the swings and are on the playground. We kinda represent that aspect of a child’s development. As far as Rudolpho goes, he is a ridiculous faux salsa dancer. He’s brought in as, the french term is divertissement, it’s just a small entertaining diversion away from the plot for the sake of entertainment; and Mrs. Wormwood, Matilda’s mother, they have this huge ridiculous dance number. The costumes are loud, the music is loud, the lights are loud, and he comes in to give the entertainment of the show.

Would you say the production of “Matilda” is closer to the source material or the film?

The show stays close to the plot of the book, it has the author Roald Dahl’s dark lens. It has more of a darker take on the whole experience however Roald Dahl was wonderful because he blends this darker aspect with humor, and so I think what audiences can expect, from any age, child to adult, people will be able to find something to relate to. Everybody along the gamut will be able to relate to situations you witness happening on stage, and everybody can relate to the experiences because we’ve all been through this process of growing up, even if we’re still in the process of growing up and I think it speaks to the darker side of it and to the lighter side of it. It speaks to the sorrow of it all, it speaks to the joy of it all. And I think that combination speaks to the content of “Matilda”.

“Matilda” seems like quite an experience. Please let us know why fans of the book/film or those new to the material check out the production?

In general I think people should come to the theater because the theater can offer the opportunity to learn what life is about. And especially with “Matilda”, yes it’s incredibly entertaining, and the music is catchy, and it’s a feast for the eyes and almost an ‘assault on the senses’ but when you can witness that world being created in front of you it gives you better perspective on your own life and that is the point of the theater. It allows you to recognize the joy in your own life. Understanding that life is an experience. It offers you the opportunity to connect with your own life. It’s different than watching TV, although movies are wonderful, but you’re witnessing real people at work expressing themselves and you can have compassion and honor them. I think it’s an enrichment for your life in all of the sense of the word. You have fun, but you also walk away with a deeper meaning about perhaps your own.

“Matilda the Musical”, presented by Broadway San Jose, will be at the Center for the Performing Arts from March 7-12, 2017. Info and tickets can be found at http://broadwaysanjose.com/matilda-the-musical/.

Arts & CultureFeatured