Opening an original: “Matchstick Girl”

An all-new musical, “Matchstick Girl,” is coming to Weber State University, premiering on Feb. 24 and 25 at 7:30 p.m. in the Browning Center. The musical will have more showings starting on March 1-4.

“Matchstick Girl” was written by Jennifer Kokai, the director of the School of Theatre and Dance at the University of South Florida, and directed by Andrew Barratt Lewis, a WSU assistant professor of musical theater. The music was composed by Kenneth Plain, a visiting assistant professor in the WSU theater department, and the choreography was constructed by WSU choreographer Alicia Trump.

“Matchstick Girl” is adapted from a short Danish story by Hans Christen Andersen titled “The Little Match Girl.” The new musical follows Sofia on New Year’s Eve in Denmark during the 19th century. Sofia sells matchsticks to passersby on the street, but because it is so cold, she uses the matchsticks for herself. As she lights the matchsticks, she begins to have magical fantasies of parties, friends and her grandmother.

The musical was first brought to light by Plain.

“I read this when I was a young kid, and it always just fascinated me,” Plain said. “It just stayed with me. I had always just kind of wanted to write a musical about it.”

Plain brought this idea to Kokai, and from there, they began to work together on the new musical, with Plain making the music and Kokai adapting the short story. Kokai worked to expand upon the story and turn it into a 90-minute musical with new characters and more backstory.

The duo examined parts that were not explored in the short story, such as Sofia’s grandmother, who plays a critical role in the musical.

Plain wrote the first piece of music in December 2021, but the duo started to prioritize the project in June 2022.

From there, Plain and Kokai had a workshop with theater alumni for the new play in August 2022. Casting started during the fall 2022 semester, and rehearsals started at the beginning of 2023.

Plain has written original stories before but has never adapted a short story before.

“It was daunting, but any creative process is when you first start because there is basically nothing there,” Plain said. “Jenny and I talked through things, and we had an outline for the story. We just started filling in the blanks for the story.”

Kokai and Plain had to do extensive research on Denmark, where the story takes place, to expand on what the short story already had to offer.

Plain said the music has some influence from folk music originating from Denmark as well as influences from classical theater music.

“The music gives you the emotion that you might not feel from reading it on the page or hearing the words,” Lewis said. “It helps you to understand more of the inner workings of the characters. Honestly, it makes the magical moments of the story that much more magical.”

Barrett decided to put the musical on for this season after seeing what Plain and Kokai had crafted. Barrett said this play is unique from other productions due to it being adapted from a short story, but also because it is a New Year’s story.

“There are a lot of Christmas stories out there, but this is interesting because it is a New Year’s story,” Barrett said. “What do we do with the days we have ahead of us? We are six weeks past the New Year, so it might remind us to think about what we want to do this year.”

Plain encouraged students and the community to attend this latest production from the theater department.

“We have some really wonderful students that are doing an amazing job at creating these characters,” Plain said. “I think it is always exciting to come and see art that is being created for the first time … I think it is really interesting to see new work, and especially within our campus community.”


Editor’s note: 

This story has been updated to reflect Jennifer Kokai’s current job title as the director of the School of Theatre and Dance at the University of South Florida.