Interview with Matilda star Bryce Ryness
Having originated the role of Agatha Trunchbull in the National Tour of Matilda the Musical, Drama Desk nominee Bryce Ryness recently assumed the role in the Broadway production, which is playing at the Shubert Theatre until 1 January 2017.
Previously he has appeared on the Great White Way in Hair, Legally Blonde, Leap of Faith and First Date.
We caught up with Bryce to discuss the joys of playing the dreaded Miss Trunchbull...
Thomas Hayden Millward: In your opinion, what made Roald Dahl’s novel so perfect for a musical adaptation in the first place?
BR: I think the world of musical theatre is a sensational world. The way that Roald Dahl writes is also sensational. There is magic and there are comedic and also terrifying characters. There is a lot of imagination and a lot of fantasy. That lends itself really well to musical theatre because the very nature of musical theatre is fantastic. It’s not verité. It’s not like ‘A View from the Bridge’ or ‘The Crucible.’ In the world of musical theatre, people break out into song and there is underscoring. It’s just a fantastical world and Roald Dahl’s books really embrace that fantastical world. It translates so well to the stage.
THM: For you personally, what is the most rewarding part of playing Agatha Trunchbull?
BR: I love the challenge of straddling both worlds – walking the fence, if you will – between being terrifying and being hilarious. Because the show is a musical comedy, if I’m just terrifying, that’s actually not very satisfying for the audience because the jokes are so good and so well-written. It would almost be a disservice to the audience, not allowing them to laugh. And then if I focus too much on the comedy of the character, then there’s no real obstacle for Matilda to overcome. I’m very much a fan of the theatre idea that the villain defines the hero. The best I can do as a villain hopefully makes it a more satisfying experience for the audience.
THM: You were the first actor to play Agatha Trunchbull on the National Tour of Matilda and now you’re here on Broadway with the same role. What are the main differences for you, as an actor, between being on tour and being on Broadway?
Bryce Ryness: The number one advantage is that I get to eat breakfast in my own kitchen. That’s worth the price of admission! And then, of course, I have my wife and I have three small children and our whole community is here. Our network is here. Being out on tour, we were kind of removed from that community and that was hard. Being in New York and being in one location for weeks and months at a time, plays very heavily to our favour.
THM: And what would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of assuming a role, as opposed to originating one, on Broadway?
BR: Well, an advantage of replacing is that all the stress and anxiety of “Is this the right way to do it? Is this the right way to tell this story? Is this translating to the audience?” you don’t have to worry about. The show is already set. The lighting cues are already drawn up. The costumes are already made. You don’t have to invest in any of that risk or question marks that go into mounting a production. The disadvantage of replacing is that for an artist you don’t get that sense of creative autonomy. You don’t get that sense of ownership, when you take those risks, win or lose. For where I am in my life and my career, I like doing new stuff because I personally like to take big risks. Replacing in a show, the quantity of risks you can take is narrower. But this is an incredible role and night to night, I can still take some risks and I can push here and there or wait fractions of a second longer just to kind of keep everyone on their toes!
THM: In summary, what could our readers expect from a trip to Matilda the Musical?
BR: First of all, I know the tag line of the show from a marketing perspective is “For kids aged 5 to 95.” That sounds really campy and quaint, but it’s completely true. My daughter saw it on her 5th Birthday and loved it. I think it is legitimately the only show on Broadway that the kids and the adults and the grandparents can have an equally good time. The book is so intelligent, without being patronising. The kids are laughing for one reason, the adults are laughing for another reason and the grandparents are laughing for yet another reason, and it’s all from the same line. Out of all the Broadway shows geared towards families, I think Matilda is head and shoulders the best experience on Broadway inter-generationally!