CANADIAN ACTOR DAN CHAMEROY REVELS IN THE EDGY DARKNESS AND UNEXPECTED HUMOR OF ‘MATILDA’S’ HORRIBLE HEADMISTRESS
“Matilda the Musical” runs April 18-23 at the Fox Theatre. Details, tickets HERE or at 855.285.8499.
IMAGINE SPENDING an entire year getting paid to be “a raging lunatic.”
That’s what Dan Chameroy calls the character he plays in Matilda the Musical, and he’s relishing every moment.
Most nights a week, plus some matinees, Chameroy shimmies into a snug-fitting padded body suit with hefty drooping bosoms. He belts up a puke-brown militaristic dress and glues on hideous facial warts and a skintight wig from which sprouts a severe schoolmarm bun.
And voila! He’s now Miss Agatha Trunchbull, called “the Trunchbull” by her young charges at Crunchem Hall Primary School. Trunchbull, the frightening headmistress, is one of many dreadfully juicy characters from the twisted mind of children’s author Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG).
Matilda, published in 1988, follows a 5-year-old child prodigy with special powers who leads a school revolt against Trunchbull’s evil ways. There also was a 1996 movie version.
Matilda the Musical, created by the Royal Shakespeare Company and staged at Stratford-Upon-Avon in 2010 before playing London’s West End in 2011, premiered on Broadway in April 2013 and ran for nearly four years. It earned 13 Tony Award nominations including best musical, winning for Dennis Kelly’s book, featured actor Gabriel Ebert (as Mr. Wormwood, Matilda’s father), and its scenic and lighting designs.
New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley called the show “more glorious than we were promised … the most satisfying and subversive musical ever to come out of Britain.” The stage adaptation, he said, “works with astonishing slyness and grace to inculcate us with its radical point of view.” He called its melding of song, dance and story as classic as Oklahoma!
A decade ago, during a 12-year stint with the Ontario-based Stratford Festival, Chameroy earned praise playing the ornery, heroic Curly in Oklahoma! He’s done his fair share of Shakespeare, Sondheim and familiar musical theater roles. He won a Dora Award — Toronto’s version of the Tony — as Gaston in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
But when an actor reaches his 40s, he knows his leading-man days are limited. Chameroy looked around and set his sights on Trunchbull, played by a man in the musical. He aggressively pursued the role, and says he knew he really wanted to sink his teeth into it.
He likes that the show’s story is thick. He likes that it remains true to Dahl’s imaginative novel, full of fantasy and darkness.
What was it about playing a despised, overbearing bully (also England’s former hammer-throwing champion), that he found appealing?
“I think she’s a bit spun out,” he says. “And I think I can play that very well. I like that she’s impossible and humorous in such a weird way. I like to be risky — and it’s definitely a risky part because she’s so edgy and so dark.”
The Trunchbull role isn’t Chameroy’s first time onstage in a frock. In 2008, he played an ugly stepsister in an Ontario production of Cinderella: The Sillyicious Family Musical.
His daughter, Olivia, was a tot when he did Cinderella. Despite how terrifying he is in Matilda, she knows her dad is just acting. Now 10, she’s seen him as Trunchbull and has declared herself “proud.”
Chameroy says that regardless of his mood on any given day, Trunchbull is “so brilliantly written” that “I always just get sucked back into the piece and take the ride.”
Bryce Ryness, a recent Broadway Trunchbull, calls the part “one of the most interesting roles that exists in theater right now.” He loved walking the fence between frightening and hilarious. Trunchbull is rules-obsessed and impossibly intimidating, but “no one’s legitimately terrified that she’s like a serial killer or something like that.”
“She’s totally off-center,” says Chameroy, “always veering in a direction that one wouldn’t expect. She is a very specific individual, with no redeeming qualities. Nothing makes her lose track. I like her certainty of who she is and the fact that she doesn’t apologize for anything.”
Trunchbull’s humor, he says, comes from the relentless way she expresses herself and the words she uses. Children, for example, are “maggots.” You don’t laugh at any jokes she makes, Chameroy says. “You’re laughing at how ridiculous this person chooses to live her life and speak to people.”
Bottom line, she’s hardly funny in any normal sense of funny.
“For me, she’s dead serious.”