By Jill Harry
Do you know how to properly pronounce escapologist? Cranberry sixth-grader Ella Fleeger does. It was one of her first duties when taking on the title part in the Franklin production of “Matilda The Musical.”
The show tells the tale of smart and courageous Matilda Wormwood, a little girl with big dreams. It’s a tall order for the 4-foot, 11-inch Fleeger, who talks with a quiet voice when asked questions. But she says Matilda isn’t that different from herself.
“I like books and sometimes I stand up for people like she does,” Fleeger said of the qualities she shares with the fictional character. “I don’t really prank a lot,” she included about their differences.
The role requires learning four parts of a long story monologue, two large solos, and a slew of other lines and songs. So far, her rehearsals have focused on the stories Matilda tells throughout the show, most of which she has done at home with her mom and dad, Jennifer and Justin Fleeger.
“I’m way better than them,” she said with a bit of a smirk sneaking through her timid personality.
Justin said Ella was at first shy about going for the big part. Then she practiced with theatre friends, including Aoife Salusky and Hannah Faraone, and started to change. “Things really took off from there,” he said.
“We’re probably more nervous than she is, but we are very proud of her and all the hard work she has put in,” Justin said.
“She’s really embraced it,” Justin said. “It’s like she flips a switch and becomes a different person.”
He also credits Lander’s direction with helping Ella’s transformation into the intelligently imaginative and sometimes necessarily naughty Matilda. “Ella’s really taken to her (Lander) as far as instruction and everything.”
“Nice, it gets better every time,” Lander said Thursday after Ella finished one of the stories full of action, adventure and more than a mouthful of 25-cent words.
Up next in the schedule is to start learning the songs. Then a few weeks later, she gets to start meeting with the rest of the cast, which happens to include one of Ella’s friends. Makena Shaffer will be playing Lavender.
“I like how the audience reacts to things and to see their expressions,” she said. “I think they will react in a good way if I do a good job.