Plenty of books get turned into movies, but you know the story is really something special when it goes one further and also becomes a play.
Opening this weekend at Ovation Theatre, "Matilda" is based on the novel of the same name by Roald Dahl. Now through Sept. 15, audiences can see what the director said is likely the theater's largest and most expensive production yet.
"I really think this show is going to wow people," said Adam Cline, who is directing the play with his wife, Terri.
As in the book and 1996 movie, Matilda is a smart girl with a love for reading and a particular talent for moving things with her mind. But Matilda (played by Kaya Layendecker and Addison Cline in alternating shows) doesn't have the best home life: her parents (Tara Haner and David Allen) dislike and mock the bookworm.
At school, she has to deal with the mean headmistress, Miss Trunchbull (Dominic Demay), who is out to get all the students. But Matilda forms a special bond with her teacher, the sweet Miss Honey (Nancee Steiger), who gives the girl the kindness and encouragement she deserves.
Cline explained the choice to double-cast the lead role, saying with several pages-long monologues, it was a lot to ask one kid to do for 12 shows. Plus, each of the two young actresses cast as Matilda brings something different to the role: Layendecker is the older of the two and is a firmer, more mature Matilda, while Addison Cline (the directors' daughter) is a younger and sweeter Matilda.
"They're doing a great job keeping on track and being vibrant and alive," Cline said of the two leads. "They help each other out. They totally get along."
Another casting choice that could do with a little explaining is a man for the role of the mean headmistress/former hammer-thrower champion, Miss Trunchbull. The character has typically been played by a man in the stage version of the story, and the local production will keep that tradition.
"It's actually very hysterical," Cline said. "Dominic Demay does a great job. He's having a lot of fun with it."
As the story is filled with magic and imagination, the production has required a lot of technical genius. From a scene where Miss Trunchbull spins and throws a girl by her pigtails to all Matilda's telekinetic displays, there's a lot going on.
"It's kind of been a big taking-on for our theater because it's very tech-oriented," Cline said. "It's definitely been an undertaking to do this but it's been fun."
One technical element is the 87 scenic projections that will be used to set each scene. When Matilda tells a story of an acrobat and escapologist, it is animated behind her on the screen.
"We have a new animated projector device that lets us go from scene to scene," Cline said. "We're the first theater to take it on and try that."
But that doesn't mean the whole set is just the projector. It will also be adorned with what looks like Scrabble pieces exploding around the stage, a design created by Jason McClain.
To take the production to the next level musically, "Matilda" will feature a live orchestra, something that was encouraged by the production's musical director, Jeff Ingle.
"It's a very eclectic group of different songs," Cline said. "It's one of those shows where you really can't get it out of your head."
One song Cline mentioned is "When I Grow Up," which will have the actors playing on swings installed on the stage. Terri Cline has spent upward of 100 hours choreographing the numbers, Cline said.
"Matilda" has music and lyrics written by Tim Minchin and book by Dennis Kelly. It debuted in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2010 before heading to London's West End the next year and Broadway shortly after that. It has won several awards, including five Tony Awards.
Cline is excited to bring the hit musical to Bakersfield, where many audience members likely haven't seen it before. He also pointed out that "Matilda" is perfect for theater fans of all ages.
"I think kids will really enjoy seeing 'Matilda' come to life on the stage," he said. "It's definitely a fun, family show."