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Joey Galda, left, is the villainous Trunchbull, and Maddie Smith is Matilda.

The title character in “Matilda the Musical” loves to read.

The Rose Theater is paying homage to that passion in its production of the musical, which premieres Friday night.

Scenic designer Tim McMath used more than 3,000 books to create a set that fills the entire Rose stage, from the rafters to the floor.

The play, based on Roald Dahl’s 1988 children’s book, tells the story of a young girl whose parents, at best, have no time for her, or, at worst, are verbally abusive. Five-year-old Matilda (Maddie Smith) takes refuge in the local library, so the books also represent a safe space.

At the library, she creates a fanciful story about a world-famous acrobat and an escape artist who long to have a child. Though she loves all the books she finds, she doesn’t understand why their characters don’t try to escape tragic fates. That prompts her to decide that she will do whatever it takes to change her own story, even if it means she has to misbehave.

“ ‘Matilda’ definitely highlights the darker experiences of childhood,” said Rose artistic director Matthew Gutschick, who’s also the show’s director. “Matilda is faced with a world where adults behave in unjust ways. It’s not something we always acknowledge, but the truth is that this is something that kids face every day. ‘Matilda’ is a fun and satirical exploration of how young people interpret the injustices around them.”

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Joey Galda plays Miss Trunchbull in “Matilda the Musical” at the Rose Theater. The World-Herald's theater critic said she hated the character, the villain of the story, but loved Galda's portrayal of the character.  

Matilda doesn’t catch a break when she goes to school at Crunchem Hall. Miss Trunchbull (Joey Galda), the headmistress, hates children and loves to concoct punishments for those who don’t follow her arbitrary and arcane rules. But a sweet, caring teacher, Miss Honey (Melissa King) takes an interest in Matilda and makes her days at school more bearable.

The little girl finally feels loved and appreciated and, in turn, she has an effect over Miss Honey and her fellow students, who are amazed at her telekinetic powers and calm-yet-rebellious attitude.

In one scene, the student body takes a page from Matilda’s book and rallies to help a classmate who is being bullied by Trunchbull. That scene and others require Rose technical experts to create stage magic with lights, props and sound. Designer Craig S. Moxon said lighting will take on a rock concert quality during certain numbers.

And, Gutschick said, the play has a message, something Rose patrons have come to expect and appreciate for their children.

“Throughout the musical, there is a really wonderful sense of multiple characters psychologically breaking free from negative self-talk,” he said. “What better message to give to kids today?”

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Betsie covers a little bit of everything for The World-Herald's Living section, including theater, religion and anything else that might need attention. Phone: 402-444-1267.

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