BWW Review: ROALD DAHL'S MATILDA THE MUSICAL - Joyously Magical
Roald Dahl's novel, MATILDA was published in 1988 to join his other popular children's books; among them, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, THE WITCHES and BFG. In 2010 The Royal Shakespeare Company commissioned a musical version and MATILDA THE MUSICAL was born in London's West End. ZACH's production includes two youth casts, I had the opportunity to see the 'Young Orange Cast'.
The musical's book by Dennis Kelly is cheeky and delightful, while music and lyrics by Tim Minchin are catchy and fun making the audience dance in their seats. The story follows Matilda Wormwood (Chloe Van De Graaf) a precocious child who has a voracious appetite for books. Unfortunately her parents (Sara Burke and Andrè Martin) are not the sort of people who tolerate learning in their household. Front and center is their television set and they cannot fathom why their five and a half year old daughter won't sit staring at the telly slack jawed like her brother. Matilda often makes her way to Mrs. Phelps' (Lara Wright) library where she finds a kindred spirit and begins to tell a fantastical story about an Escapologist (Tyler Jones) and his wife the Acrobat (Ebony Crichlow). Soon our little heroine begins school at the ominously named Crunchem Hall. As foreboding as that sounds it's there that she meets Miss Honey (Laura Lyman Payne) the teacher who recognizes Matilda's talent and helps to nurture her vast intelligence. Enter Miss Trunchbull (J. Robert "Jimmy" Moore) the ultimate villain headmistress of Crunchem Hall. She's mean, she's evil and she puts poor children in "Chokey", a closet filled with spikes and broken glass. Roald Dahl is famous for using hyperbole to fill his stories, tales where the bad guys always get their comeuppance and good guys always get rewarded. His novels are over the top with larger than life characters surrounding the good as gold hero. The ZACH production is the perfect setting for such a magical story.
I have to say first that I was so utterly charmed by this show, I find myself smiling every time I think of even a small detail of the play. Abe Reybold and Nat Miller's direction is superb, never pausing for breath in the fantastic whirlwind that sweeps us along from beginning to end. Michelle Ney's set design is cartoonish perfection, no detail has been overlooked. She adds surprises with every number and gives us a true feast for the eyes. Costumes by Susan Branch Towne are wonderful, I especially enjoyed the variation in school uniforms for each student. Matt Webb's lighting design is gorgeous with just the right touches to highlight and add color to the mostly black and white set. Jen Young Mahlstedt's choreography is bright and snappy, giving just the right amount of spark to each character and showcasing of the talents of an amazing cast from top to bottom. The cast as a whole moves and acts as one in ensemble scenes and through choreography but are so individually wonderful that I wish I had the space here to name each and every one as a standout, because they were indeed outstanding. I would be remiss if I failed to mention a few performances that I especially enjoyed. Laura Lyman Payne as Miss Honey is sweet without being saccharine and we fall in love with her at once. As Matilda's father, Mr Wormwood, André Martin, is amazingly smarmy; his physical comedy skills are off the charts. Sara Burke's Mrs Wormwood is hilariously shallow and deliciously outlandish. I adored every moment the couple was on stage. J Robert "Jimmy" Moore's Miss Trunchbull is a campy villain through and through. He skirts the edges of traditional British panto baddies and delivers a character we love to hate. But it's Chloe Van De Graaf who steals our hearts as the titular character. Carrying a show on her delicate shoulders seems like a lot to ask of this young woman but carry it she does, boldly and with a confidence that is enviable in one so young. Every note perfect and every line well delivered, Ms Van De Graaf has a blindingly bright future in theatre ahead of her. It was a pure pleasure to watch her every moment.
As is my habit when attending family theatre I try to bring along a member of the target audience (one of my grandchildren) to see how they enjoy the show. This time it was my 11 year old granddaughter's turn to accompany me. She's already a Dahl fan and when asked for a quote to include in this article, she said, "It was so, so, so amazing! The songs! The choreography! The set! Everyone needs to see this!" So, take my granddaughter's advice and go see Roald Dahl'S MATILDA THE MUSICAL, I promise you will be as delighted as we were.
Photo Credit: Kirk Tuck
Roald Dahl'S MATILDA THE MUSICAL
orchestrations and additional music by Chris Nightingale
Directed by Abe Reybold and Nat Miller
Music direction by Allen Robertson
The Topfer at ZACH Theatre, Austin
April 3 - May 12
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission
Tickets: $175.00 to $35.00, zachtheatre.org