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HWMS student stars as Maleficent

PRESTONSBURG/PIKEVILLE – A Herald Whitaker Middle School student wowed crowds at the Mountain Arts Center last week, starring as Maleficent in the Mountain Arts Center and Appalachian Center for the Arts’ collaboration of “The Descendants.”

Erin Grace Rudd, almost 14 years old and an eight-grader at Herald Whitaker Middle School, wielded her staff as Mal’s mom and the villain originally known from Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” on Friday and Saturday at the Mountain Arts Center.

HWMS Assistant Principal Jessica Francis Prater told the Independent the school took students to the show on Thursday, then she returned to watch it, again, Friday night.

“She was absolutely amazing,” Prater said. “She was flawless. She was meant to play Maleficent.”

While playing Maleficent in “The Descendants,” based on the first movie in the Disney trilogy, Rudd is no stranger to the theater, with roles in local productions of “Annie,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Mary Poppins.”

Rudd said her voice teacher had heard about her most recent role in November and told her to audition for the musical.

“I wasn’t sure which role I wanted,” Rudd said. “I was Mal for Halloween one year and Maleficent is really fun in the movie, so I was undecided, but they had us read little parts for audition and I read for Maleficent. When I walked off the stage my mom said, ‘You’re Maleficent. That sounded great.’”

Rudd said she loved playing the role, noting she connected with the character.

“She’s evil, but in a fun way and that’s such a different way to portray evil,” Rudd said. “Everyone at my school, my classmates and my teachers, have told me that’s how I am normally – not the evil part, but just the personality.”

Rudd, who is also known locally for her singing abilities, said she enjoyed tackling the “Evil Like Me” song in the play.

“It’s the quintessential Broadway-style song, and I even had a kick line, kind of like the Rockettes, while I’m trying to convince Mal to take the wand so I can open the portal, but it’s so much fun. I love the costume and I have this huge staff and after that first song I’m just Maleficent.”

Rudd said she was not nervous about taking on the role, stating, “This is the biggest role I’ve ever had, and I was not nervous, but I was just thinking, ‘I hope I can pull this off.’”

She said she doesn’t mind the larger crowds, but the most challenging part was performing for people from her school.

“I don’t care to perform in front of people I don’t know because if they don’t like it, I never have to see them, again, but it’s harder if they know me,” Rudd said. “None of them were mean, but not knowing if they were going to like it or not was harder.”

Another challenge she had to take on with the role was playing an evil character.

“The hardest part is having to be mean,” Rudd said. “I’ve played good parts, but being evil is fun, but it’s hard to be perceived as evil. I keep asking, ‘Why do you have to be like this, Maleficent? Just stop.’”

While Rudd said she hopes to pursue music further, playing Maleficent was so much fun she wouldn’t rule out more acting roles in the future.

“The Descendants: The Musical” is set to run at the Appalachian Center for the Arts on March 18, 19, and 2, with tickets limited at

“I think the shows are all or nearly all sold out, but if anyone wants to see it, my mom has videos!” Rudd laughed, noting her mom’s support. “I don’t know how Mom does it. She drives me everywhere, works, has another kid, and never acts tired. One time through all of this she drove me to Pikeville nine days in a row. Driving from Salyersville to Pikeville is a lot. Thank you, Mom. I don’t know how you do it.”

Rudd said the drama club will be covering “Beauty and the Beast” at the elementary schools in the near future, with Rudd already playing Belle at Salyersville Grade School this week for Read Across America.

“If the show is not already sold out, come see it,” Rudd encouraged. “All of the kids are really talented. If you’re not able to catch this one, you can watch the Junior Pros in March and we will also have a summer show.”

Erin Grace Rudd is the daughter of Steve and Katrina Rudd.

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