Actress Paula Brancati has been working in musicals since she was eight. Now 26, the Toronto native has joined the touring cast of "Matilda," as it makes its way to the east for a June 14-26 run at the Boston Opera House. In the musical, she plays Miss Honey, the soft-spoken, book-loving teach-turned-mentor to Matilda. She calls in from Pittsburgh to discuss the show, Miss Honey's legacy and her former co-star: Drake.
What’s it like joining a touring show mid-way through its run?
It’s nerve-wracking because the bar is set incredibly high. I think it’s amazing that the show’s been going for so long — the Broadway run is still happening and I saw the touring show just before I joined — but there’s no sense that it’s been running for too long. But I like when the pressure is high.
Your character has the most interaction out of any of the adults with a huge cast of kids. What’s that like?
I love working with kids in a big way because I started myself when I was so young. I loved being on set with the adults because you learn so, so much so fast. Now I’m realizing the opposite where I’m learning a lot from them. They’re so in the moment and their performances can change so quickly. It keeps me fresh and present. You can’t fall into that trap of being robotic. The kids carry a really heavy load in this show and do an incredible amount of dancing and singing. It’s awe-inspiring and impressive.
What’s your background with Miss Honey? She’s such a beloved character.
Miss Honey is such a fragile and fractured woman, but she finds a lot of light and joy and strength in Matilda and that’s wonderful to play. It’s not easy to play, but I get to start in a very small and timid place in this show and then look to whichever [of the three rotating actresses] playing Matilda to get my guts.
I loved the book so much, it was important to me growing up. But I didn’t realize [that because of the movie] that all my friends would be like “Miss Honey is such a babe!” Like I hope can I live up to this Miss Honey dream! The songs that Tim [Minchin] has written for her give the audiences such an eye into her heart. You get to know how deeply abused the home she comes from is, and she’s not an ingenue at all. She has so much texture and is the character that goes on the biggest arch emotionally. She comes out the other side, transformed by her relationship with Matilda.
There’s some serious Miss Honey idol worship among anyone who grew up with the movie.
Someone just sent me that Buzzfeed article about having a crush on her! Her spirit is so pure and I think the musical sheds a lot on how childlike she still is. She hasn’t had the opportunity to go through crucial adult milestones because she’s been under the thumb of an abusive aunt. I find it heartbreaking every night when I do it. I think the most beautiful thing about musicals is that when we can’t talk about it anymore, we sing about it. When a character gets to a point where they can’t express it further, they sing a song. She sings a song called “This Little Girl” where she talks about what Matilda might need, but she sings the line, “Instead she found me, pathetic little me.” You feel the weight in the audience that they want her to believe in herself.
AndI almost forgot that you were also on“Degrassi”!
I was on “Degrassi” for three seasons but it’s been going on for so long that it has a life of its own. I was just texting with my friend [and former “Degrassi” writer] Duana Taha about how we can’t believe that it’s still on and how we’re so thrilled that it still reaches so many people. There were so many characters and that made it a special show where kids could connect to individuals, or relationships because there was no specific lead.
So how often do you get asked if you know Drake?
All the time! I worked with him and now it’s weird because I’m a big Drake fan. A lot of my pre-show warmup is Drake and songs from “Hamilton.” Everyone knows, 20 minutes to show, that’s what’s playing.