Before Harry Potter rocked the world with his lightning-bolt scar, there was Roald Dahl’s Matilda, a put-upon child with an uncanny intellect—and the power of telekinesis. Matilda the Musical, which features songs by comedian Tim Minchin and a tour-de-force performance by actor Bertie Carvel, was more than a hit when it opened on London’s West End. The production won seven Olivier Awards (the British equivalent of the Tony), the most for any single show ever. This month, Matilda the Musical will start previews on Broadway, with Harrison native Sophia Gennusa starring as one of the four girls picked to play the title role. Helping bring the musical across the pond are husband-and-wife co-producers Jed and Bronna Canaan, who live in Armonk and work in White Plains. We caught up with Jed to ask about their first producing venture.
How did you become involved with the show? I read the book many years ago, and it’s one of my favorite children’s books, and one of my wife’s favorite children’s books. When I saw that Matilda was opening in London, I immediately wrote to the producers at the Royal Shakespeare Company and told them that if they ever brought it to New York, we wanted to help produce it.
So this was before you knew the show got a great reception in London? It was totally on faith. We knew the pull of the book would make it play to a big audience in New York. But I got in touch with the Royal Shakespeare Company before I heard the music, before I read any reviews, and before it won any awards.
What, exactly, does a theatrical producer do? We’re not the lead producers—that’s the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, and they’ve teamed up with Dodger Theatricals, which is already very established in New York. They secured the rights to the book, got people to write it, found a director. My wife and I are part of a group of people who find investors to raise money to put on the show.
What other children’s book do you think would make a good musical? I’d go with another one by the same author: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I know for a fact that it’ll be coming to London, too.
If your kids had superpowers like Matilda, how would they use them against you? They’d give us time-outs. They’d make us sit in their rooms, shut the doors, and do all their chores. But my kids are also very altruistic, so, if they had superpowers, they’d try to figure out a way to solve all the world’s problems—and try to make it so that SpongeBob would help.
Previews for Matilda the Musical begin on March 4, and the show officially opens on April 11.