CenterStage Clovis abruptly pulls ‘Matilda’ from season lineup

UPDATED POST (7 a.m. Sunday, May 12):

In the wee hours of Sunday, the board of CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre clarified its decision to cancel the musical “Matilda,” which had been scheduled to open June 20, saying that “we simply did not have the requisite men and most critically, boys, to properly cast the show.”

Auditions and callbacks had been held last week, and a final cast list had been expected on Saturday.

In originally announcing the cancellation, a Saturday evening Facebook post from the company stated, “We want to assure everyone that this has nothing to do with any of the talent at auditions or anyone’s characters in general. We simply had to pull the show for professional reasons.”

Here’s the top of board president Brandon Crane’s updated statement:

It’s with the deepest regret that we made the decision to cancel this production. The goal of expanding our summer season was never without risk, however in this particular case a combination of things indicate that the timing was not quite right. It’s a time of change at CenterStage. We assembled a creative team with fresh voices to deliver a show that was the perfect vehicle to launch this expanded season.

We simply did not have the requisite men and most critically, boys to properly cast the show. Perhaps we underestimated the amount of other summer options for Valley performers. Perhaps our efforts to market auditions were not enough. This situation, however it occurred and however unfortunate, only solidifies the necessity for CenterStage to make every effort to reach deep into the community, proactively make new connections and cultivate greater participation in and appreciation for the arts. We are wholly committed to that end.

After the cancellation, rumors about the reason swirled online. A prominent one was speculation that the tradition of having a man in drag perform Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress, wouldn’t fly in Clovis. (The fact that this sounds entirely plausible says something about Clovis, or, at least, our perceptions of it.)

Crane, in his statement, went on to say that as it pertains to casting, Music Theatre International (MTI), who holds the performance rights to Matilda, lists the character of “Agatha Trunchbull” as open to any gender.


“Modern storytelling demands taking risks and at times deviating from the expected in order to fill the role with the performer who can best tell the story,.” he wrote. “This is a busy theatre community — we cannot afford to overlook talent. With inclusion and diversity being more than just buzz-words but rather integral elements that make theatre such a powerful medium, it’s incumbent upon us as producers to present opportunity to anyone with the ability to excel.”

A local actor who was at auditions wrote to me overnight, saying: “I’ve seen multiple people mentioning that they may have been against casting a man for this role, but I believe that to be untrue as they seemed very genuine in their intent to cast a male as Ms. Trunchbull.”

Another reader pointed out that Theater Arts Alliance in Visalia put on “Matilda” earlier this year (which I had not been aware of). “The Trunchbull character was double-cast—we had one female and one male—and both were exceptional!” the reader wrote.

One closing thought from me: “Matilda” — one of my all-time favorite musicals — is an amazing show but an incredibly difficult title to produce. It requires superb child actors, superb adult actors and a sophisticated production design, and its complex storyline is tough to direct. People tend to think that all a company would need for success is a couple of top-notch girls to rotate as the title character. But the show demands a deep bench of child talent, both girls and boys, to make things work. Obviously, that didn’t happen here. I’m hoping to see the show locally in the near future.

CenterStage is still on track to open “Legally Blonde: The Musical” on July 25. Auditions are June 1.

ORIGINAL POST (11:45 p.m. Saturday, May 11):

Well, this is very, very strange. This Facebook post popped up Saturday night:


“Matilda,” which was scheduled to open June 20, was to be a central San Joaquin Valley premiere, and, as such, a big deal for CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre. Callbacks were held Monday, May 6, and a cast list had been expected. Rumors are already swirling. What happened? Was it for financial reasons, casting issues or content?

One thing I noticed while reading the Clovis audition call was that the pivotal leading role of Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress, called for the character to be played by “any gender.” Which could lead to a woman being cast in a role that is supposed to be played by a man in drag.

The “any gender” line raises a red flag for me. Then again, it could mean nothing. I’ll be trying to find out. One thing is for sure: The board owes the theater community an explanation beyond that the show had to be pulled for “professional reasons.”

Here’s the CenterStage audition notice:

And the professional “Matilda” tour notice:

(This post will be updated.)

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (3)

  • Liz

    Matilda’s a great show! Theater Arts Alliance in Visalia put it on earlier this year. The Trunchbull character was double-cast—we had one female and one male—and both were exceptional!

  • LIMUEL Forgey III

    Hi Donald, indeed I directed Matilda for Theater Arts Alliance this year. We experienced sold out shows and audiences were very receptive to both Truchbulls in our production (one an exceptional male actor, the other an exceptional female actor.) There was no push back from the community regarding this choice–even if there were, we would not have moved on our position to openly cast the part. The issue with this show, I might say, is indeed the required children with a series of adults (Escapologist, Russians, Parents) all with specific needs. We had to really go deep into our community to find these roles, but it was possible. I understand first hand how theater companies may need to pivot on a dime when casting is an issue. The show also has a series of special effects that are challenging to say the least (a chalkboard that writes by itself–a child swung by pigtails into the audience–a telekinetic cup drop) so I get personally where Center Stage is coming from! There when the challenges seemed impossible! But in the end, we were proud to be the first around to perform the work.

    Limuel Forgey
    Artist Director
    Theater Arts Alliance

  • Dom

    This is an unfortunate situation that I’m sad to see unfold, but I’m happy to read that the company is choosing to move forward and open itself up to more diverse casting choices and stories. As a long time audience member and fan, I welcome it.


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