ParkTalk Blog: Magical Starlight Theatre Proudly Presents “Matilda”

Friday, December 16, 2022

After two years without a January musical, due to the pandemic, the cast and production crew of Magical Starlight Theatre are excited to present "Matilda the Musical" with 8 performances in January 2023. Over the past two years, not only has Magical Starlight Theatre weathered COVID-19, but the company also said farewell to former director, Kris Visher, who had led the mostly volunteer theater company for 25 years, also serving as artistic director and costume designer.

In December 2021 Magical Starlight came together for a special outdoor performance of "A Shopper's Christmas Carol" at the Riverwalk amphitheater. With the pandemic easing somewhat and theaters opening once again in 2022, the company announced October auditions for the January 2023 show, to be held in its traditional venue--Naperville Central High School's auditorium.

Introducing Producer Emily Walker and Director Anna Ahonen

Emily Walker is the producer for Magical Starlight Theatre and Anna Ahonen is the director. Both are eager to carry on the beloved tradition of community theater in Naperville. Emily has been a producer for Magical Starlight Theatre since 2018 and has assumed some of Kris' responsibilities. Anna is an experienced director, with more than 260 shows as a director over her lifetime, and also has been involved with Magical Starlight both in the cast and behind the scenes.

The cast and crew are hard at work preparing for the January 13-22 performances. At a recent rehearsal, the cast had progressed to running through the show without scripts. There are two casts for the show, each with a different actress playing Matilda. Several of the lead roles have understudies, and both the leads and understudies have other roles in the alternate cast, keeping them busy the entire rehearsal. Director Anna planned rehearsals from the beginning to ensure that each cast gets equal time to rehearse.

Why "Matilda" for 2023?

Producer Emily Walker, a children's services librarian with the Lisle Library District, explained that "Matilda" was chosen as this year's musical because it's fun and meaningful for both kids and adults. "It's a story about learning, loving, and growing that still rings true today," said Emily. "It shows how one good teacher can make all the difference in a child's life."

Priesha Maheshwari as Matilda and Rowan Currie as her teacher, Miss Honey (understudy)

Based on the popular book by Roald Dahl, Emily noted that the musical has a whimsical magic element that will be delightful to bring to life onstage.

Kyle Halkerston and Allison Fosdick

Director Anna commented that Magical Starlight Theatre has never done a child driven show before. "Matilda is on stage more than any other character in the show. Her classmates are on quite a bit, too. That has brought a different dynamic to the production and experience for all the actors."

Dave Scriven-Young as Miss Trunchbull (understudy) and students

Meet the Two Matildas

The two girls who are cast as Matilda are fifth graders and new to Magical Starlight Theatre. Each one is thrilled to be part of the show and is gracefully and competently stepping into the large role. This is the first theater production for Priesha Maheshwari. Priesha said that she loves both acting and singing and is excited to be able to do both as Matilda. She has been singing with the Young Naperville Singers for two years. Naya James, also delighted to be playing Matilda, is from Downers Grove and has participated in three previous shows in other companies. She was Amaryllis in "The Music Man" in the Downers Grove High School performance and had roles in "Hello Dolly" and "The Descendants." This summer she will be in "School of Rock" at the Paramount Theater in Aurora.

Naya James as Matilda

Priesha Maheshwari as Matilda with Rowan Currie as Miss Honey (understudy)

A Family Atmosphere

Emma Cook, who plays the lead Miss Honey, also is debuting with Magical Starlight Theatre, and is enjoying being in a cast where children are featured. "The kids are phenomenal. They amaze me with their kindness and imagination. They inspire all of us and make everything come alive."

Emma works at Naper Settlement with the Settlement's distance learning programs. Originally from Hinsdale, she now lives in Naperville. Prior to the pandemic, she was a professional cast performer and chorus member at Walt Disney World, where she performed alongside Whoopi Goldberg and Neil Patrick Harris.

She learned of the Matilda auditions through the Naperville Park District's website. She greatly appreciates the friendly, family atmosphere at Magical Starlight Theatre. "They have welcomed me with open arms," she said.

Emma Cook (left) as Miss Honey (lead) - with students

Director Anna expressed a similar sentiment. "The family connections happen in all shows because of the close adult-to-child work on stage that goes on throughout the show. The support, acknowledgement, and appreciation of the different generations and experience that each brings to the table truly warm my heart. That is what community theater is all about."

Tickets Now on Sale

Tickets for "Matilda" may be purchased online, by phone at 630-848-5000 or in person at the Alfred Rubin Riverwalk Community Center or Fort Hill Activity Center during regular business hours. Advanced tickets are $14 and may be purchased until 4:00 p.m. on the Friday of the performance weekend. After that time, tickets are $17 at the door.

Performances are Friday, Saturday and Sunday January 13-15 and 20-22. For performance times and additional details, visit

Lynn Hodak as Mrs. Phelps (understudy)