Wrigley Aims for Home Run as Music Guild Comes Up to Bat With “Matilda”
Two years after its Moline theatrical colleague staged it, “Matilda: The Musical” will take its first bow at Quad City Music Guild on Aug. 6-8 and 12-15, at Prospect Park Auditorium, 1584 34th Ave., Moline.
Inspired by the twisted genius of Roald Dahl (who penned the 1988 children’s book), the Tony Award-winning “Matilda: The Musical” (which debuted on Broadway in 2013) is the captivating masterpiece from the Royal Shakespeare Company that revels in the anarchy of childhood, the power of imagination and the inspiring story of a girl who dreams of a better life. With book by Dennis Kelly and original songs by Tim Minchin, Matilda has won 47 international awards and continues to thrill sold-out audiences of all ages around the world.
A year after the Spotlight Theatre (1800 7th Ave., Moline) produced the show, Music Guild was supposed to do it in August 2020. But Covid had other plans. Most of the original 32-member cast is back now, led by director Heather Beck, choreography by her sister, Hillary Erb, set design and assistant direction by their father, Kevin
Pieper, and music direction by Heather’s husband, Adam Beck.
In the plucky title role (a precocious 5-year-old girl with the gift of telekinesis, who loves reading) is Wrigley Mancha, who turned 13 on Monday (Aug. 2), and was fully vaccinated against Covid by the second day of rehearsal in June. She’s a rising 8th-grade student at Sudlow in Davenport.
“I wanted to do ‘Matilda’ ‘cause it’s cool to have so many kids in a cast, and it’s a really fun show,” Wrigley said Monday. “I saw it in Chicago and it’s so good. All the music and the dancing were great.”
“Doing this show was like, definitely the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “I was so excited – like the whole pandemic, I was hoping this was gonna happen. I’m so excited that it did, even though it’s in masks. I’m glad it’s happening.”
Wrigley said one of her friends in “Matilda” was in “Billy Elliot” with her at Spotlight (in fall 2019), which also co-starred Hillary Erb. The Guild kids have become very close, she said.
“They’re also so talented and awesome, and nice, too,” Wrigley said. When Beck had auditioned in 2020, over 150 kids came through.
“We had a very good turnout,” the director said, in an interview with Wrigley, Lauren VanSpeybroeck (Miss Honey) and Sara Nicole Wegener (Agatha Trunchbull). “It’s never an easy job. “Of course with these three ladies, it was a no-brainer. When they left the audition, we looked at each other and said, ‘We’re good?’ Especially with Wrigley, she was one of the first group we had come for auditions. That made it pretty nice. You always hope to have a vision happen, when you see people come through and audition.”
Beck said Wrigley stood out from the rest because of her sunny confidence.
“Matilda really does have to kind of control the flow and it’s up to her,” she said. “She is what makes the show flow, and Wrigley’s got such a presence for being so young. And she’s very professional for her age, so it’s a dream come true.”
As she was waiting for the show to happen in the past year, Wrigley said her voice changed and she had to get used to sounding different. And yes, her parents are huge Cubs fans, naming her after Wrigley Field. She’s been to a home game every year of her life, except 2020 and 2021.
The “Matilda” cast includes Tony Hiatt and Melissa Anderson-Clark as Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood, and Ali Knollenberg as Mrs. Phelps.
Wrigley is personally a big book reader – now she’s reading “Grapes of Wrath,” and other favorite classics are “Pride and Prejudice” and “Jane Eyre.”
Beck lost about five cast members from 2020 due to schedule conflicts, and the rest returned to the new one. “Most of our cast was on board right off the bat,” she said.
“It was difficult now knowing what was going to happen,” Wegener said of postponing from 2020. “A lot of my deciding to come back was, restrictions were starting to get lifted. Some of this right now is really hard.”
“I was just so excited this one made it,” VanSpeybroeck said. “Because of all the shows I had lined up for 2021, this was the only one that
made it – I was so happy.”
VanSpeybroeck’s last stage role was in Music Guild’s “The Secret Garden,” which ended up getting cancelled before it opened (twice) in spring 2020 and 2021. She also had been cast as Morticia in Spotlight’s “The Addams Family,” which was originally scheduled for fall 2020. Her last full production was playing Babette in Guild’s “Beauty and the Beast” in summer 2019.
“I’ve always loved Miss Honey,” VanSpeybroeck said of her “Matilda” role as the sweet teacher. “The movie was a favorite growing up. Miss Honey was always such a graceful role and when the musical came out, I thought, maybe someday. I’m a teacher in real life and LOVE my students. Yeah, it’s a role I hope to embody. I hope to be like Miss Honey every day.”
In the past year, Wegener (a hair stylist by profession) has worked on hair and makeup for Assumption’s “Shrek,” Davenport West’s “Addams Family,” Spotlight’s “Freaky Friday,” and “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at Spotlight. The last show she was on stage for was Spotlight’s “Wedding Singer” (February 2020). Wegener also did wigs for Spotlight’s “Matilda” (the Q-C area premiere) in early August 2019.
“I have loved Miss Trunchbull since I was a kid, since the book came out,” she said. “I just love characters that are evil and hilarious. I missed the auditions for Spotlight’s production, so when Guild decided to do it, there was no way I couldn’t. I love to play evil.”
“I just love playing evil. It’s everything I want to be, but am too nice to be,” Wegener said, noting Trunchbull doesn’t change her ways. “They
scare her and she just leaves. She’ll always be the way she is – it’s glorious. I just love the horrible things she says. There are days when I just want to be like that, and not apologize.”
Beck said Guild always tries to put a family-friendly show in its summer season, so it made sense to pick “Matilda.” “It was still a new one, that we thought it would be fun to go for it,” she said. A teacher at John Deere Middle School in Moline, Beck has also directed drama there.
“The cast is great; it’s been a lot of fun,” she said of “Matilda.” “The kids absorb so much, so it makes it a really entertaining challenge.”
The last show Beck directed was Music Guild’s “The Little Mermaid” (for which Erb played the lead) in June 2017. The older sister, Beck said she likes being in charge, but didn’t really boss Hillary around when they were growing up. “I think the nice thing is, since Hillary and I are so close, a lot of the process where we’re on the same wavelength, when I would have a question, she’d have the exact same question. That really helped with communication and the planning stages of things.”
Erb (who’s due to give birth to her first child Aug. 10) said there hasn’t been a huge difference between choreographing while pregnant versus not. “The only big difference has been that certain jumping moves I didn’t show, but I have been fortunate to have my mom Valeree be my assistant choreographer,” she said. “She helped with showing certain moves that I couldn’t accomplish on my own currently. It’s also been nice to have a second pair of eyes to watch during rehearsals. I have had a blast choreographing the show and it’s been fun knowing that our baby is already getting a Guild experience!
“Heather and I have worked together before, but not in this combo of her as director and me as choreography,” Erb said, noting she was assistant director when Hillary choreographed “Christmas Carol,” and they’ve worked on crew together on numerous shows.
“We’ve had fun bouncing ideas off of each other — this is a really energetic, movement heavy show, so we worked together a lot,” Hillary said of “Matilda.” “It’s always nice to work with family; they know what you’re trying to accomplish and how hard you’re working and do what they can to help make sure that vision comes to life.”
Music Guild is following recent CDC guidelines, and requiring both patrons and cast members to wear masks indoors during the show. Beck got several masks to match characters’ costumes.
In rehearsals, cast members didn’t have to wear masks if they could show they were fully vaccinated, Beck said. There are 32 in the cast, and the majority are under 18 years old. Only about 10 in the entire cast haven’t
been fully vaccinated, she noted.
“I deal with this, no worries, as long as it means we can do our production,” Beck said of masking. “It’s unfortunate.” Requiring audiences to wear masks in the theater may be tricky, she said, but they want to be consistent with the cast. “Just for the safety and health of everybody.”
“It’s better to wear a mask than have another one cancelled,” VanSpeybroeck said.
The cast and crew are looking forward to Erb giving birth, and Hillary feared going into labor during rehearsal. If she has the baby during the run, Beck said there is a baby crying in the middle of the first number, so her real baby could make her Guild debut. “Youngest Guilder on stage, right there,” Beck said.
The library backdrop with larger-than-life books was painted by Guild veteran Harold Truitt. “The Secret Garden” (a 1911 novel) is there, as well as other classics turned musicals – “Matilda,” “Little Women,” “Peter Pan,” “Les Miserables” and “Don Quixote.”