A child expressing a fondness for books is surely music to any parent’s ears, but for Melville resident Karen Deaner it has particular resonance. Not only is the mom of two the librarian for Suffolk County’s Connetquot Central School District and her own community’s library, but her daughter, AnnaBelle, is one of two young actresses cast as the spirited titular bookworm in "Matilda the Musical" at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater.
“We both really like to read,” says AnnaBelle, 11, measuring herself up against the precocious, pint-size Matilda created by Roald Dahl. Annabelle alternates her performance as the little girl who prevails over her unscrupulous parents, a lonely upbringing and a tyrannical headmistress in the Long Island debut of “Matilda” with actress Elsa Dees, most recently seen in the national tour of “Les Miserables."
“We are so thrilled Annabelle has this chance to star in a show that glorifies reading and storytelling,” says Karen Deaner, noting that the much-desired opportunity was nearly lost to the talented preteen. “As soon as AnnaBelle was old enough to audition for the Broadway run, it was announced the musical was closing. We were only hoping that she would still be small enough for the role when it came to regional theater.”
After discovering the thrill of performing before a large audience in a school talent show, Annabelle landed a succession of children’s roles in local productions. Playing the littlest orphan Molly in the Engeman’s 2017 staging of “Annie,” says mom, really pushed her daughter to another level. “The choreography and the harmonies were much more challenging than anything she had done before — and it paid off.”
Now, as Matilda, the challenges keep coming. “I have a lot more lines,” says AnnaBelle, “and it’s hard to pronounce the Russian ones, but Google Translate definitely helps.” For the aspiring Broadway star (her wish is to one day play a lead in “Wicked” like fellow Long Islander Idina Menzel), the dream of being cast in one of few title roles that exist for little girls has been made even sweeter by getting to engage onstage in a lot of nasty fun.
“My favorite scene is the gym one,” says AnnaBelle, referring to the calisthenics workout Matilda performs with her classmates under the direction of wretched school principal Miss Trunchbull (Dane Agostinis) in “The Smell of Rebellion” number. “We roll on the floor and get to jump on a trampoline.”
AnnaBelle also likes singing “Naughty,” during which her characters adds bleach to her Dad’s hair tonic. “I like how Matilda stands up for herself. She doesn’t get mad, she gets even.”
“The show demonstrates that even if you’re little, you can do a lot,” adds mom Karen. To be sure, the petite actress delivers on that message, too.
WHAT “Matilda the Musical”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 29, John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport
INFO $75-$80; 631-261-2900, engemantheater.com