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In the end, it was a show that was a decade and a half in the making. And from Feb. 8-10, the all-school Grades 3-12 cast of Matilda didn't just deliver... they soared. 

“I chose Matilda because 15 years ago when we saw it on Broadway, I thought it was an excellent show and we needed to do it someday,” said Friends Academy Director of Arts Andrew Geha who directed this year’s winter musical. “When I looked at the Upper School cast from last year’s production of SpongeBob and the Middle School cast of Shattered Alice, I knew the time was now,” he added. 


With over 20 years in the Friends Academy Theater Department, this was Mr. Geha’s debut as the primary director for an all-school musical, and the energy he and the entire Arts department brought equaled the enthusiasm and work ethic of the 80+ student cast and crew they taught and coached. 


“This cast continually brought the best of themselves to every moment,” praised Mr. Geha. “They were so smart on stage and made creative and active choices that were both imaginative and looked at the big picture.”


Matilda, a Broadway adaptation of the best-selling Roald Dahl book tells the story of a young girl, who grows up in the shadow of an extremely mismatched family; and still manages to find the wherewithal and courage to take on the biggest of bullies, Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress of her primary school. 


Watch musical scenes from our All-School Production of Matilda

From acrobatic silks to numerous special effects including the consuming of an entire chocolate cake, stretching a child’s ears out 5 inches and magically tipping a cup, to staging a pupil being thrown out of a window and falling back down, the production called upon a magnified degree of professionalism from students and adults alike. “This show featured some of the hardest choreography we’ve ever put up on stage,” revealed Mr. Geha. “From the countless costumes with a first-time costume “reveal” to silly and ridiculous comedy followed by beautiful heartfelt moments,” he added.




The first all-school musical since the pandemic, the production sold out for all four of its performances and brought a newfound energy back to the Helen A. Dolan Center Theater. “I want our shows to be excellent but our process to create them has to come first,” stated Mr. Geha. And the process led the way for student-generated problem-solving. “During one of our special effects moments, the kids had to figure out how to cover up “Ethel,” our dummy who falls from the theater rafters. We presented the challenge and they figured out how to do it with very little direction.”


Both philosophical and pedagogical, the idea of treating every cast and crew member, regardless of age, as an equal permeated the weeks-long rehearsals. “The Lower and Middle schoolers weren’t treated as a secondary group,” said Mr. Geha. “Not only were they in full-ensemble numbers, but I also treated them like regular cast members and held them to the same expectations. And for that, they worked just as hard.”



The cast and crew produced the full version of Matilda with show-stopping numbers like “The Smell of Rebellion,” “Revolting Children,” and the crowd-favorite “Bruce.” Friends Academy Music Convenor Laura Backley, Dance teacher Yoaldri Messina, Costume Designer Pia Fleischmann, Theater Teacher Eddie Yankow, Technical Director Tye Burris, and professional lighting designer David Shocket were among the many who contributed time and talent. The Pit Band also featured two returning alumni, Sam Towse ‘16 who conducted, and his younger brother Spencer ‘23 on drums. Senior Jakob Rechtweg joined professional musicians and represented a host of student leaders among the crew, including stage manager and light board operator.


“It didn’t matter if you had the most lines in the show or you were someone who picked up programs after the show,” emphasized Mr. Geha. “We needed everyone and it was a huge team effort. It was important to make the cast of third through twelfth graders conscientious of that and each other.”


Matilda, played by fifth-grader Riley Clarke, joined a cast of talented Upper Schoolers – including sophomore Charli Zahtila (Miss Honey), junior Taylor Fernandez (Miss Trunchbull), senior Clementine Constantino (Mrs. Wormwood), junior Eric Ding (Mr. Wormwood), sophomore Andie Herman (Mrs. Phelps), and many others who Mr. Geha credits to energizing their younger cast mates. “Our Upper School students performed on stage and backstage with full hearts and a full work ethic and helped generate and channel a huge amount of enthusiasm and engagement from all of the students. No one went through the motions and they earned every moment of success that they – and everyone – had on stage.”



A dedicated parent volunteer group that Mr. Geha likens to “The Parent Brigade” fueled the cast, crew, and adults with non-stop food. “The parents just kept showing up and did so much,” he said.



Embracing the mission of a Quaker school, Mr. Geha knows that it is the process, rather than the product that makes the difference in the end. “The show can’t come at the expense of the people involved,” he urged. “Everyone should have a joyful experience and if they are loving what they are doing with each other, the audience will feel that too.”


Photos by Amanda Fisk; video by Sarah Camhi; video editing by Alvin Caal/Friends Academy

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