NEW YORK (AP) — The four girls who play the title role in the new Broadway musical "Matilda" have to always remember not to smile onstage. Backstage is entirely another matter.
Sophia Gennusa, Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon and Milly Shapiro are an exuberant bunch, barely able to sit still during a break in rehearsal as they giggle over their love of unicorns, marshmallows, pie, gummy bears and french fries.
"People think that this is work, but it is not work to me. I'm doing something that I love to do, and doing something that you love to do is not really work," says Sophia, 9, who will share the role of Matilda twice a week with the others. "It feels like it's just one gigantic playground in here or like falling into marshmallows."
The musical, a smash in England, is based on a Roald Dahl story about a telekinetic child who must navigate past her disinterested parents and a malicious school headmistress to realize her potential. It is much darker than "Annie," another Broadway show that features a large child cast.
The four Matildas — one from New York City, two from the surrounding region and one from Pennsylvania — hadn't met before they landed the part around Halloween. All are making their Broadway debuts, but they're clearly no divas: Each politely raises her hand when she has something to say.
They spend long hours at the Shubert Theatre, sometimes sharing dinners and lunches, and running up and down stairs from one task to the next with a dozen other child actors. Like Broadway veterans, they confess that technical rehearsal flew by. They've had an occasional night out together, like a recent outing to see "Wicked."
Two Matildas are required to be in the theater for every performance — that day's understudy and star — and all four are being privately tutored so they keep up with schoolwork. They've also had to learn to speak in an English accent.
"It's been a little harder than I expected, but still awesome," says Sophia. "You can't believe that you're actually performing in front of an audience."
The start-and-stop process of rehearsal has led to plenty of inside jokes, a special handshake and even an appropriately off-kilter original song that they are happy to sing for a visitor — in Broadway perfect tone, of course.
"I just got eaten by a pie/so I guess I'll be digested," they sing with gusto. "But I wish I weren't dead/'Cuz then I would have a head/I guess I'll just lie in bed/and wait to be digested."
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