BWW Review: An Evening with Revolting Children at MATILDA
We all have that childhood story we remember. I remember reading the classic Roald Dahl book in third grade and being completely enamored with the thought of moving things with my mind. Some will remember when the 1996 movie came out starring a young Mara Wilson and Danny DeVito. Whichever version you recall, MATILDA is a great story with great characters, so it only makes sense that a musical would be its next iteration. Though the show closed on Broadway on January 1, 2017, the national tour still goes strong and now appears at the Dr. Philips Center.
Matilda lives with her neglectful parents who are verbally abusive. Not to be put down by her circumstances, she teaches herself by reading everything in sight. To get her away from them, her parents send her to school where she immediately stands out as a genius. Despite being in a learning institution, the evil headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, rules the school with an iron fist. It is Matilda's kind teacher, Miss Honey, who recognizes her talent. Miss Honey encourages and challenges Matilda unlike any other adult she's interacted with. Matilda always stands up for what is right and what is fair. Her bravery inspires others even in the face of madness.
Fortunately, since the production closed on Broadway, several show veterans are now on tour. The other half of the cast are professional performing children, most of whom have more Broadway credits than you and I will ever have in our lives.
Three young ladies share the leading role of Matilda. On Wednesday night, Gabby Gutierrez donned the unkempt Matilda wig. This young lady can hold a show. She's a magnificent story teller with a voice that would make anyone jealous. At times, I felt Gutierrez was bogged down in the role with long verbal strings meant to overemphasize that Matilda is smarter than most. Rather than childlike genius, it comes off more robotic. Overall, Gutierrez knows how to perform and does well interacting with the others on stage.
For me, the most surprising thing about the production were the English accents. It only threw me off momentarily, but there are some moments where it is difficult to understand what the performers were saying. Either the sound balance was off or the quick tempo plus the accents made it impossible. I thought, "I like the sounds I'm hearing. I just have no idea what they're talking about."
Jennifer Bowles plays the lovely Miss Honey who saves Matilda from her life. Bowles voice is as sweet as her character's name. Her ballad "My House" sent me into a teary-eyed goosebump mode. Bowles plays Miss Honey so optimistically youthful that it is impossible not to love her.
Completely opposite and giving shivers down the spine is Dan Chameroy as the evil Miss Trunchbull. Chameroy is seriously funny as he stomps around stage scaring the children. Though at times he takes on more of a wicked witch persona, Chameroy's Trunchbull is the glue that ties the story together. In fact, Trunchbull scenes are all the classic scenes that people remember most from the book and movie: throwing Amanda by her pigtails, forcing Bruce to eat chocolate cake, and of course, Matilda's final revenge. It is satisfying to see these iconic moments on stage.
I really enjoyed Peter Darling's choreography. Darling also choreographed BILLY ELLIOT and has a talent for finding movements that work for both the kids and adults. The choreography with the sharp music and lyrics of Tim Minchin combine for a nice piece that skews true to the novel. The magic came later in the show than I expected. The plot is so rich and Matilda, as a character, is so big, that the magic can and does become an afterthought.
The kids in the ensemble are simply amazing. They do everything: sing, dance, tumble, act through a range of emotions. I'm sure maintaining their energy throughout the show is not a problem and their overall performance was enjoyable to watch. Outstanding star goes out to Soren Thayne Miller as Matilda's friend Bruce. This kid has stage personality for days and the vocal chops to match.
It was a shame that ensemble numbers like "Loud," "When I Grow Up" and "Revolting Children" were difficult to audibly understand. Luckily, the choreography, lighting, and set design fills those gaps and made the ensemble numbers enjoyable. "Miracle" and "School Song" were my favorite ensemble numbers solely because I liked what I saw on stage. I highly recommend listening to the soundtrack at least once through to help with understanding.
MATILDA is a story that revolves around education. This production has partnered with local charity, A Gift For Teaching, to help local low-income students and teachers by providing basic school and classroom supplies. During the show's run a school supply drive will take place. Donations can be dropped off at the Box Office window during regular business hours and in the lobby prior to each performance. As a thank you, supply donors can free gift from the show (while supplies last). Supplies requested include: 12-pack of #2 pencils; loose-leaf paper packs, 24-count crayons, 12-count colored pencils; 8-count markers, or glue sticks. These school supplies go directly to help students in the Central Florida area. A Gift for Teaching is also one of my favorite organizations to volunteer with. For more information about A Gift for Teaching visit AGiftForTeaching.org.
Matilda is a really great role model for all ages. Adults and kids alike will enjoy this musical, but it is definitely a show that requires a little background research. MATILDA runs at the Dr. Phillips Center now through Sunday, May 14. For tickets and more information visit DrPhillipsCenter.org.
Header - Jenna Weir (Matilda) in MATILDA THE MUSICAL ©2016, Cylla von Tiedemann; Body - Dan Chameroy (Miss Trunchbull) in MATILDA THE MUSICAL ©2016, Joan Marcus; "Bruce"- The company of MATILDA THE MUSICAL ©2016, Joan Marcus