Newport Students Have Lead Roles in Arts & Learning Conservatory Production of ‘Matilda’

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Growing up in Huntington Beach, I attended Edison High School and played violin in the school’s orchestra. I got pretty good, and was appointed concertmaster my senior year.

I was also exposed to theater—my parents met while they were acting in a play, and my dad sang and acted in numerous musical theater productions (including at Laguna Playhouse and Newport Theatre Arts Center).

I also played drums in a rock band in the 80s, as well as electric violin in another band. Despite all this, I never pursued the arts full time, but I did end up working as a publicist for Pacific Symphony and Laguna Playhouse, among other arts organizations.

For me, the arts instilled a love of music and theater, including opera, dance, and almost anything artistic. It also gave me other skills I never realized I was acquiring: discipline, practice, working as a group, being creative, staying positive—myriad attributes I have carried with me throughout life.

Those are the same skills and attributes that Arts & Learning Conservatory in Costa Mesa aims to give the hundreds of students that come through their doors.

Arts & Learning Conservatory is a nonprofit organization providing all youth with access to quality arts programs based on the values of accessibility, acceptance, confidence, and creativity.

Samantha Maerov is Matilda / photo credit Morgan Holcomb

Two Arts & Learning students – Samantha Maerov and Dylan Panetta – are Newport Beach residents that have prime rolls in the Arts & Learning Conservatory’s production of the musical “Matilda” that runs Nov. 11-14 at the Lake Forest Civic Center.

“Matilda” is based on the 1988 children’s novel of the same name by Roald Dahl.

Packed with high-energy dance numbers and catchy songs, Matilda is the story of an extraordinary girl with a big imagination who dares to take a stand and change her own destiny. Matilda has astonishing wit, intelligence and psychokinetic powers. She’s unloved by her cruel parents but impresses her schoolteacher, the highly lovable Miss Honey. Over the course of her first term at school, Matilda and Miss Honey have a profound effect on each other’s lives, as Miss Honey begins not only to recognize but also appreciate Matilda’s extraordinary personality.

This production of Matilda highlights the imaginative power of children and their ability to bring about change in their environments to make the world a better place. This is particularly relevant in the current climate where youth head most activism initiatives and are navigating a COVID world.

Matilda is played by Samantha Maerov (11) in Cast A, while Miss Honey is played by Dylan Panetta (14) in Cast A.

Dylan Panetta is Miss Honey / photo credit Morgan Holcomb

Samantha likes singing, reading, writing, and swimming. Her future goals include NYU and Broadway. She has been a part of “Aladdin,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Frozen,” “The Addams Family,” and others.

Dylan enjoys horseback riding, drawing, and hanging out with her friends. After high school, she hopes to study film in college. Her past performances include “Annie,” and “Mary Poppins.”

We asked Samantha a few questions about being in “Matilda.”

Q: What is it like playing Matilda.

A: Playing Matilda is a dream come true! It means stepping into her character, learning new songs and dance numbers, and working on advertising and promotions for the show. It is a lot fun, as well as hard work and responsibility. I am so excited to be part of such an amazing cast and to work with such amazing directors. I cannot wait for opening night to share what we’ve created for the world.

Q: What inspired you to start performing?

A: When I was 6, I did a camp at the Attic Community Theater with some friends and I really enjoyed it. After that I did my first performance at the Attic in “Aladdin” where I played Raja. Over the years, musical theater has become more than just an after-school activity, but something that gives me meaning and purpose. My dream is to one day make a career out of performing on Broadway. I am grateful to be in as many shows as I have, and I am so excited to be the lead for the first time in my 9th overall production, and first with Arts and Learning.

Q: What is your dream role?

A: In addition to Matilda, I have a few other dream roles. One would be Elphaba from “Wicked.” I love “Wicked” so much and my favorite Broadway song ever is “Defying Gravity.” My next is Regina George from “Mean Girls” because I love the song “World Burn.” And finally, I would love to play Angelica or Eliza Schuyler from “Hamilton” because I love the songs “Helpless,” “Burn” and “Satisfied.”

Q: What is your favorite part of the show, and what are you most excited for?

A: I am most excited to perform “Quiet” in front of an audience where I get to sing my heart out on stage! I also am thrilled to get the rush of dancing in numbers like “Revolting Children” and “Bruce.” But most of all I am excited to be on a stage again post-Covid and perform all of my favorite dances, songs and scenes.

Q: What is your favorite book, either now or when you were little?

A: My favorite books are “The Land of Stories” series and “The Tale of Magic” series by Chris Colfer. They really give me perspective on things by creating worlds of magic, fun, and humor. If you’re looking for a brand new fantasy adventure and drama book series to enjoy, I highly recommend them.

Samantha Maerov and Dylan Panetta star in “Matilda” / photo credit Morgan Holcomb

We asked Dylan similar questions.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about playing Miss Honey?

A: I am so happy to be playing this wonderful role. Miss Honey is one of the deeper characters in the show. She represents happiness for Matilda because a lot of the adults in her world are evil. I like playing her because there is more to her than what meets the eye.

Q: How is this different from other roles you’ve played in the past?

A: Miss Honey is a complex character with a deep back story. So the opportunity to find my inner Miss Honey was a challenge I really enjoy.

Q: What is your favorite part of the show, or what are you most excited for?

A: My favorite part of the show is “Revolting Children.” The power from that number is from the kids and that makes it even more incredible.

Q: What is your dream role?

A: Wednesday Adams from “The Adams Family.”

Q: What is your favorite book? Either now or when you were little?

A: My favorite book when I was younger was the Ivy and Bean series. I was obsessed.

For tickets to “Matilda,” visit


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