The last time Bryce Ryness made a Philly stop as part of a touring Broadway production, it was 2006 and he was starring in “Rent” as Roger. After the show he, of course, got a cheesesteak.
“Geno, from Geno’s, came by the theater and said, “I love ‘Rent.’ I’m a big fan of the show. Do you want to come have some cheesesteaks?” Ryness says with a laugh. “So the crew went down and had some cheesesteaks. And it was wonderful.”
He’ll get another chance to weigh provolone versus Whiz when the Tony Award-winning “Matilda” comes to the Academy of Music, November 17 to 29, as part of its first national tour. Ryness plays the over-the-top evil headmistress Miss Trunchbull in Roald Dahl’s tale of young Matilda Wormwood, a precocious girl — with some handy telekinetic powers — battling Trunchbull and her comically inept parents.
We talked to Ryness about working with kids and getting to play a villain.
Does being in a show with kids change the process at all?
It does. It puts everyone on their best behavior. You’ve got kids around so you can’t be using foul language or other shenanigans. But I like it. My wife and I have three little kids; having kids around is wonderful.
When you’re on a tour, do you get back home often to see your kids?
We have a rule in our family that we never go three weeks without seeing each other. So I’ll fly back and forth.
For people who haven’t read the book, tell us what this show is about.
It’s about a little girl named Matilda, who with her extraordinary intelligence changes her destiny. She has really nasty parents and the headmistress of her school is really, really nasty, and she uses her wits — and her special powers — to overcome her adversaries. One of the messages in the story is how her love of reading expands her mind and allows her to know what’s possible in the world.
Is the show similar to the 1996 film, with Mara Wilson and Danny DeVito?
The film isn’t as closely related to the book as the stage show is. People have a preconceived notion about what the crux of the story is, having only seen the film. But I think people will be surprised by how unique and interesting this story is.
Does that affect your performance, knowing people might already have a picture of your character in their minds?
Everyone’s got a frame of reference for everything — if I tell you I’m playing the bad guy in a spaghetti Western, you’re going to have a preconceived notion of what that’s about. Audiences have seen a lot of different interpretations of what a villain does, what a hero does. You use those preconceived notions to your advantage, to spin them on their head and do something a little bit unexpected.