Matilda the Musical touring Chicago’s Oriental Theatre

| April 2, 2016

Currently running at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre, Matilda the Musical is the story of an extraordinary girl who dreams of a better life.  Armed with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind, Matilda dares to take a stand and change her destiny. Matilda the Musical is based on the beloved novel by Roald Dahl, and Chicago actress Ora Jones plays Mrs. Phelps the librarian who helps Matilda achieve her ultimate potential.

Jones has appeared in many local theater offerings including Three Sisters (Olga), The Brother/Sister Plays (Moja/Oba), for Steppenwolf Theatre; My Kind of Town (Rita) for Timeline Theatre; Henry VIII (Queen Katherine), The Madness of George III (Queen Charlotte) for Chicago Shakespeare Theater; and Rasheeda Speaking (Jaclyn) for Rivendell Theatre.

She shared some insight on this character and others throughout her acting career. Jones has played maternal characters before but none like Mrs. Phelps. “This is the first time that I can remember, where my only scene partner is a child, and in terms of our onstage relationship, she is more of a contemporary, as opposed to a mother/child relationship,” Jones said.

As far as auditioning for the role, Jones said it was kind of a hurried situation. “I received a last-minute call from my agent while I was in rehearsal for a show, and I ran in the next day to meet some of them, and to be put on tape,” she said. “A week or so later I was asked to do another audition, including a private dance call, also on tape, in New York. Fortunately I was able to get the time; I flew in and out, and right back to work in Chicago. Some weeks after that I received an offer. I’m not a strong dancer by any stretch, so I was surprised to get it.”

As mentioned, Jones has many productions under her belt, but she didn’t set out to be an actress. “I am one of those actors who says I didn’t choose acting, it chose me. I just remember waking up one day when I was 6 and thinking, of course. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing. Acting.”

Jones’ reach is across the nation, in this play that has won wide critical acclaim. “My first professional role was at a theater in Vermont. I was paid $20 a week, plus room and board,” she said. “The room was tiny, with a small bed, and the board was usually bologna sandwiches.”

She spoke about this role and other diverse roles within the acting field. “In the beginning, I just auditioned wherever I could, and took whatever roles I was offered. But my career began at a time when live theater across the country was starting to redefine itself in terms of race, gender, age, physical abilities, and so forth,” Jones said. “So as my career was growing, so was the number of opportunities to do different things. I have joked that my entire career is based on ignorance and a dare, honestly, I just wanted to act.”

Jones was born in Ohio and received a Bachelor of Arts in theater from the University of Notre Dame. She grew up in a military household, so she was able to travel a good deal. But she appreciates starring in such a celebrated role. “While I knew some of Roald Dahl’s work, I was completely unfamiliar with Matilda. A tour is a huge undertaking. The response has been tremendous, and people have been very supportive. And all the children are great story tellers, dancers, and singers.”

Finally she spoke to the importance of arts in the schools. “The arts are vital to the well being of all. Any artistic endeavor–dance, music, painting, sculpture, acting, literature, poetry, and so forth–provides people with opportunities to express themselves in a positive and meaningful way. The arts also teach people about math, history, science, reading, and other subjects, some of which are lacking in our schools and communities.

Matilda the Musical is produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company and The Dodgers and runs through April 10 at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. For more information, including tour dates, cities and tickets, please visit or, @MatildaBroadway or



About the Author:

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago. She is the author of "Old School Adventures from Englewood--South Side of Chicago" and the proud parent of "the smart rapper"--chemist-turned-rapper, turned humanitarian...Psalm One!
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