Amy Spanger Practices Her Broadway Bullying as Matilda's Newest Mrs. Wormwood

The sympathetic actress gets ready to tread the boards without her Act II tears.

Amy Spanger joins the Broadway cast of Matilda as Mrs. Wormwood.
Amy Spanger joins the Broadway cast of Matilda as Mrs. Wormwood.

"I'm really a nice person, I promise!" Amy Spanger assures TheaterMania before another day of Broadway rehearsals. Judging by her résumé, the actress doesn't typically need this disclaimer before taking on a new role, but beginning September 8, the actress becomes the first successor to Lesli Margherita as Matilda The Musical's despicable matriarch Mrs. Wormwood.

The unapologetically loathsome role brings new challenges to the actress, who has been on the Broadway scene since the mid-'90s. Even if damaged or misguided, her characters are always lovable: from Holly, the uninhibited best friend in The Wedding Singer, to endearing murderess Roxie Hart in Chicago, to Sherrie, the sweetheart-turned-wild-child of Rock of Ages. Spanger may not be winning the sympathies of her audiences this time around, but she's excited to tap into her inner petulant child and get "Loud" on Broadway.

How has the experience been learning the part of Mrs. Wormwood?
It's really intense — in a good way. I'm working like eight hours a day, which is kind of not typical of replacing on Broadway. They're very meticulous with their rehearsal process. Normally you'll go in for like three or four hours and you'll have the night to look everything over, but they take really good care of this beautiful musical. And I understand why, because the details are so intricate and the style of it is so specific. It lives in this world of very specific gesturing. Everything is really, really detailed.

Had you seen the show before?
I was late to the party. I saw it for the first time when I got the audition. There was this little girl talking and eating chips to my right and another little girl to my left who's singing every song and I was like, "Oh boy, this is gonna be crazy." But then I was just transported into this incredible world. I was completely blown away. It's really one of the best things I've seen in years on Broadway. I was like, "I want to be a part of this. I want to help tell this story." So I was thrilled to actually get the job!

Will your Mrs. Wormwood be different than Lesli Margherita's?
What's exciting for me in this is she and I are so different. At the heart of us, we're just like funny broads — so we're similar in that way. But we look very different, we sound very different, we're very different actresses. I find that really exciting that they chose me [instead of] somebody just very similar to her.

Spanger in the Broadway casts of Chicago, The Wedding Singer, and Rock of Ages.
Spanger in the Broadway casts of Chicago, The Wedding Singer, and Rock of Ages.
(© Jeremy Daniel/Joan Marcus)

Do you feel like this role fits your typical niche or is it a divergence from the roles you usually play?
It fits my niche in that she sings really loud and high. And she's funny and she dances. But the fact that she's this harpy is kind of new for me and really exciting. I've never played a bully. I play a lot of hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold kind of characters. I'm usually the person who will cry in the second act at some point. [Mrs. Wormwood] doesn't have that moment. She doesn't have that catharsis. She's just mean throughout and she doesn't really learn anything. I assist in Matilda's journey. Because I'm mean to her, she finds another way in life away from her parents, which is ultimately the best decision that she can make because they're the worst parents ever. When I saw the show I was like, "I don't want to be mean to Matilda! I want to help Matilda!" Other characters I've played have usually helped Matilda. But it's great. I get to stretch in that way, which is exciting as an actor.

How are you channeling your inner bullying mother?
My character isn't really based on any adults that I know. She's kind of based on a child who doesn't get her way. The Wormwoods are children who can't process emotion so they just start screaming. So basically [she's] based on very small, immature children. But not like the children working on Matilda, because all these kids are very sophisticated.

How have you enjoyed working with your four Matildas?
They're just so amazing. They're so lovely and talented and like little adults. And they're so supportive. They're all like, "We can't wait until you [come into the show]!" And I'm like, "Oh my god I can't wait either!" It's a nice reminder, too, to be around children who are just totally open. That's what I long to be onstage — that open and free like a child. It's really nice to be around that energy.

Has Lesli Margherita given you any valuable advice as her successor?
Well, she has this big pink foam roller in her room, so I think I need to order one of those for my thighs. [laughs] She's been so supportive. We had met a year or so ago doing this Reefer Madness concert and got along instantly. When I had gone in [for the part], she sent me a Facebook message saying, "I've been telling them you're the person who should replace me." I'll never forget that. I'll never forget another actress extending herself in that way. She's just a very down-to-earth super-talented lady. [She's] brilliant in the role [and] makes it look so easy — and it's really not. It's really a testament to her stamina.

The Wormwoods are all television addicts, so tell me, what's your personal TV addiction?
It's really embarrassing, but it's the Housewives. I think New York is my favorite. My husband cannot stand it. I have to turn it off when he comes in the room. It just turns my brain completely off. If I'm stressed about anything…Bravo! It's like meditating, except without any sort of thought process.

— amy spanger (@amyespanger) September 4, 2015

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Matilda The Musical

Closed: January 1, 2017