MANSFIELD – The magic of "Matilda" can be found in more than just special effects when the musical hits the Renaissance stage this weekend.
Inspired by the classic Roald Dahl tale, the real power of "Matilda" comes from her strength to take a stand and change her own destiny. The show debuts on July 27 and 28 with repeat performances on Aug. 3 and 4.
"It's about a little girl who finds a way to find her own voice," said director Michael Thomas. "She has a very awful home life and decides very early on she's going to find her own way, choose her own path and fight her own battles."
The Tony Award-winning musical tells the story of Matilda, the daughter of abusive parents who finds refuge in library books. Things are no better at school, where Matilda must also face a tyrannical and cruel headmistress, but she finds an understanding ear in her teacher, Miss Honey.
Playing the title character is Corlyn Stauffer, a 12-year-old student at Saint Albert the Great Catholic School in North Royalton. The role was totally worth the commute.
"Matilda is a very smart little girl," Stauffer said. "I would say she's very strong because her parents call her mean names and she doesn't cry about it. She does feel sad about it, but she doesn't show it as much. She loves to read books, and she can move things with her eyes."
Stauffer added the show is "kind of a love story," but not in the traditional sense. Rather, it follows the special relationships that can form between students and their teachers.
Meanwhile, the villain in the story is Miss Trunchbull, brought to life by Stephen Joshua Thompson. Thompson last appeared on the Renaissance stage as Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol."
Not only is Miss Trunchbull the twisted headmistress of the school, she's also the aunt to Miss Honey, played by Matti-Lynn Chrisman.
"They counterbalance each other," Thompson said of the two educators. "(Miss Honey) is teaching by the nice, sweet, kindness way, and I think children are maggots and everything they do is wrong. I believe in rules and following them to the T, and children don't do that, so I get stressed out quite easily, and all hilarity ensues."
Rounding out the "Matilda" cast is Ryan Shreve, Kara Hancock, Carter Underwood, ESaelynn Cameron, Aaron Sharp, Katie Harrigan, Bob Gardner, Justice Gardner, Kristen Sharp, Katie Baughn, Abby Bechstein, Darius Darmody, Nykera Gardner, Molly Given, Madalyn Huvler, Madison Kearney, Georgia Knowlton, Lily Kime, Lily McCready, Ross Preuttmiller, Rowan Pruettmiller, Zak Ramos, Payne Schwartz, McKenna Stoffer and Cassandra Kurek.
The role of Miss Trunchbull was a dream for Thompson, who returned to Mansfield specifically to take the part. Coming from out of town proved to be an advantage when playing the villain in a cast of unfamiliar faces - especially for Thompson, who admits his own stature isn't the most frightening.
"They were genuinely afraid of me at first," Thompson said. "I had to think about how I could intimidate all these little kids by not necessarily be screaming at them, but make them scared of me. I think she's so big that it's hilarious if she's light on her feet, almost like a vulture in the way she preys on people, but not heavy like a bull as her name would suggest."
Such a unique show demands a fantastical environment surrounding its actors. The purposeful set of "Matilda," co-designed by Jason Kaufman, plays a huge part in how the story is portrayed on stage.
"I wanted it to look like a crazy version of library stacks, walls going askew and books throughout, balconies where people overlook the action going on that mirror the craziness of the entire plot," Thomas said.
Even Stauffer noted the show might not be everyone's cup of tea, but combined with the set, actors and music, it's a spectacular feat.
"Overall, it's incredible," she said. "It's something you do not want to miss."
Tickets for "Matilda" start at $15 and are on sale now online at RenTickets.org, at the Renaissance Box Office or via phone at (419) 522-2726.