Cora Stumpf and Isabel Iaturo, both sixth-graders from Sanford, are currently performing in Cape Fear Regional Theatre’s production of “Matilda The Musical,” which runs through Feb. 23 in Fayetteville. Photo courtesy of CFRT

Small, but fierce Sanford actresses have a passion for performing and have learned valuable life lessons during their “Matilda The Musical” experience

By Billy Liggett

The lessons in Roald Dahl’s classic, “Matilda,” are many. Just because you find that life’s not fair, it doesn’t mean you just have to grin and bear it. If you always take it on the chin and wear it, nothing will change. Even if you’re little, you can do a lot. You mustn’t let a little thing like “little” stop you.

A storm can begin with a flap of a wing. The tiniest mite packs the mightiest sting. Every day starts with a tick of a clock. All escapes start with the click of a lock.

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And sometimes, you have to be a little bit naughty.

There’s a lot of Matilda in Isabel Iaturo and Cora Stumpf, two young Sanford-born actresses who — like the main character in Roald Dahl’s classic book — have a love of reading and not an ounce of fear when it comes to doing big things like, oh, performing on a stage in front of hundreds of strangers. The two are in Cape Fear Regional Theatre’s current production of “Matilda: The Musical,” which began on Jan. 26 and will run through Feb. 19 on the stage in Fayetteville.

Iaturo is one of two young actresses in the lead role (they’re splitting the 22 total performances as Matilda herself), and Stumpf plays Alice Pumpernickle, Matilda’s friend and classmate at the Crunchem Hall Primary School, run by the feared kid-tossing former Olympian Ms.Trunchbull.

For Iaturo, a sixth-grader at West Lee Middle School, Matilda is a role model. She’s unloved, unwanted and not cared for, yet she continues to stand up for herself and fight for what she believes in.

“She doesn’t let people boss her around or bully her,” she says. “Her family doesn’t care enough about her to teach her anything, so she teaches herself to read, and she learns things from books like math and Russian. She doesn’t let all the bad people who gave her a hard time stop her.”

Stumpf, a sixth-grader at Central Carolina Academy in Sanford, was introduced to the music when she played the titular role in The Encore Center’s 2021 production in Southern Pines. She already loved the book, and the Encore experience made her fall in love with the musical, too.

“I appreciate that Matilda is about empowerment, especially for a little girl,” Stumpf says. “Being little doesn’t mean you aren’t strong. My favorite number [in the musical] is ‘Revolting Children,’ because this is the moment when the children stand up and take over. Plus, it’s a fun dance number.”

Both Iaturo and Stumpf have been on stage for about as long as they can remember. Both have performed in several Temple Theatre main stage and youth productions, and both have performed in regional theaters throughout the state. Iaturo says she loves the feeling of singing in front of audience and pretending to be someone she’s not.

“Like the time I played a spoiled brat, Veruca Salt [in Lee County High School’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory],’” she says. “I got to scream, stomp and yell at my cast mates. I’m not that kind of person, and I would never do that in real life, so it was really fun to be that person.”

Stumpf’s first big role was “Chip” in Temple’s Beauty and the Beast when she was just 6. She says the first time she was wheeled out on stage on the tea cart, she felt like “someone gave me a shot of espresso.”

“I loved the energy,” she says. “I felt like I was in the summer sunshine when the lights came up. I mean, who doesn’t love espresso and sunshine?”

She loves the whole process of theater — from auditions to rehearsals to the performances.

“Theater is a welcoming place where people of all types can work together,” Stumpf says. “I love the variety of the people I work with. I do get ‘show blues’ when the shows end. I usually tear up at closing curtain calls, because I don’t ever want it to end.” 

“Matilda The Musical” first appeared in London in 2011 and made its way to Broadway two years later, earning widespread critical acclaim and five Tony Awards that year. The film adaptation of the musical hit Netflix in December, also to the approval of critics. Songs “When I Grow Up” and “Revolting Children” have become crowd favorites, the latter the favorite of both Iaturo and Stumpf.

“It gets the cast pumped up, and it’s really a fun and exciting dance,” she says. “We have a lot of energy — we get to be those revolting children. Sometimes I even sing it in the shower.”

She says audiences in Fayetteville will love “everything about” the show. “They will love this cast of phenomenal singers and dancers. They’re amazing,” she says. “I also think they will love the energy, the craziness and how we get so pumped up about it. They’re just going to love it all.”

Adds Stumpf: “This production shows how children and grown actors can work closely together to make a story come to life.”

Want to go?

Cape Fear Regional Theatre in Fayetteville’s production of “Matilda The Musical” will run through Feb. 19 in Fayetteville. Learn more about the cast, showtimes and ticket information at