Wise Beyond Their Years: Two actresses bring enthusiasm, heart to ‘Matilda’

Wise Beyond Their Years: Two actresses bring enthusiasm, heart to ‘Matilda’

“Matilda The Musical” is a show that is chock full of larger-than-life characters — but there’s little doubt that the youngest character, the 5-year-old genius Matilda Wormwood, is the beating heart of the whole venture. Casting the part must be a nightmare: Hire a child actor too precocious and aware, and the youthful naiveté of Matilda is lost; hire an actor too green, and the sharp edge necessary to propel the story to its end will be lacking. Those are pitfalls TheatreSquared seems to have avoided. By double-casting Leanne Parks and Piper Wallace in the role, T2 has managed to find two actors who are wise beyond their 13 years but still childlike in their genuine, infectious enthusiasm for both the show and performing in general.

Leanne Parks

The New Jersey-based Parks was 9 when she had her very first audition. It was for the national tour of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

“I have to say, I did awful for that,” she says with a bright smile. “I wasn’t prepared. But it was a good learning experience.”

It must have been: Parks’ second audition was for the national tour of “School of Rock” — and she nailed it. Her bass playing got her a callback, and, after some coaching on her singing — the casting director, Parks says, told her to “just go for it” — she got the part.

“The tour was amazing, every bit of it,” she says.

She was back home, ready to audition again, when all theatrical tours ground to a halt because of covid-19. When opportunities slowly started opening back up, the notice for “Matilda” auditions in Fayetteville caught her eye; her “School of Rock” tour had come through Fayetteville, and she and her mom had really liked the city.

“We were like, ‘Fayetteville for the summer? Yes, please!’” she says.

Piper Wallace

Parks says she had never really devoted much time to acting before that first audition — maybe a few smaller-scale school plays — but the experience opened up a strong love of performing in her. When she’s not involved in a production, she says, she’s working on a “one-girl show.”

“I also play guitar, and I wanted to do a little acoustic set with me and my guitar,” she explains. “I’ve been learning a lot of songs on the guitar. I don’t have a show planned or anything, but I just wanted to have it in case anyone ever asked, ‘Do you want to do an open mic?’ I want to be like, ‘Yeah, sure, I have a guitar, and I can sing. Let’s go!’ It’s a nice project for me. It mostly started [because of downtime during] covid.”

In a melding of two of Northwest Arkansas’ favorite institutions, “Matilda the Musical” will be produced in the new Fayetteville Public Library’s event space. Producing “Matilda” at the library doubles the company’s potential seating and allows a seamless transition between “My Father’s War” and “American Mariachi” back at their home theater, says T2’s Marketing Director Joanna Sheehan Bell, who adds that the library and the University of Arkansas theater have both contributed to help transform the equipment and capacity of the new space to work with the unique technical requirements of the show. (Courtesy Photo/Wesley Hitt for T2)

Piper Wallace is a local talent: She lives in Conway and has performed in multiple central Arkansas productions, including shows with Murry’s Dinner Playhouse and Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre. She was around 9 years old when she started theater, too, and found plays when she was looking for something that would draw her a little more out of her shell.

“I tried soccer for a year,” she explains. “I didn’t really have a lot of friends. I was homeschooled, and I was really shy. I did a little show, [‘Elf the Musical Jr.’], and it was a lot of fun. I made some friends there. That was at [Conway children’s theater] Red Curtain Theatre, and I just kind of stuck there because that’s where most of my friends were. And when I started getting older, I kind of knew, ‘This is what I like to do.’ My mom didn’t act, my dad didn’t act, and my brothers and sisters don’t act — this was something I liked to do, and they all have their own things.”

Not only did Wallace enjoy performing, but it had a side effect, as well — the more she performed, the more she started feeling a little bit more comfortable in her own skin.

“I definitely did become less shy when I acted,” she says. “It makes you feel less, I don’t know, maybe less embarrassed? I was more comfortable being around people, talking. I did for sure make some friends, and it made me more comfortable being around people and being exposed to more people, for sure.”


‘Matilda: The Musical’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 2 & 7:3o p.m. Saturday; and 6 p.m. Sunday, through July 18

WHERE — In the auditorium at the Fayetteville Public Library

COST — $34-$54

INFO — 777-7477, theatre2.org

Categories: Cover Story