BWW Review: MATILDA Steals Hearts at Landmark Community Theatre
Matilda moved more than just a cup and some chalk at the Thomastown Opera House. She also moved a lot of hearts and souls. Landmark Community Theatre's production of Matilda opened to a receptive crowd despite some early difficulties. As with every opening night, mics just have to go wrong. Mics weren't turning on in time to catch the beginnings of some lines, nor off when the character leaves the stage- although there was only one moment of an actor being heard off stage- but as the show went on, everything fell into place.
These difficulties, however, didn't faze the age-diverse cast of Matilda; not even the very young children playing Matilda's classmates. One very intriguing note regarding this production of Matilda, with direction by Ian Diedrich, music direction by Sean Lewis, and choreography by Emily Diedrich, that set it apart from other child-heavy shows I've seen- shows like Annie and Oliver Twist for example- is that Lewis and Emily Diedrich did not shy away from complexity given the age of the cast. Some of the children had more complex choreography than some adult choreography of late, and more importantly, the children delivered! One child in particular did exceptionally well: Lavender, played by Olivia Jansen. Jansen obviously has been performing, or at least dancing, for a long time already and if she hasn't been, then she should start. Her vocals, as well as the entire ensemble surprisingly, were spot on and his confidence in the choreography give the air of a professional. An air that only one other child truly embraced: that of Matilda herself, played by Meghan Pratt. While her dancing wasn't quite as powerful, her command over her difficult and complex dialogue was impressive. Her articulation, her flow, her posture, to be so young and to be so clear and concise is remarkable.
Beyond the children, however, there were also some adult who truly shone. Most of all, the audience kept getting drawn back to Mrs. Phelps, played by Cheyenne Walent. Walent, who also played the Doctor in scene 1- more on that in a second- was so bubbly and so invested in Matilda's story that one couldn't help but giggle along when she laughed or wipe a tear when she cried. As for her depth as the Doctor, for a character who is only in the opening scene, Walent made a lasting impression. With pipes like an organ, her voice cut through the band despite the issues they were having with mics and rang in everyone's ears. Probably being the best vocal performance of the show, although Matilda and Miss Honey certainly gave the Doctor a run for her money. Speaking of Miss Honey, in a musical as deceptively dark and aggressive as this one, Miss Honey was a beacon of light through the darkness. Her eyes as gentle as her voice, her heart on her sleeve, and her passion in her voice, you felt her pain as she tried her best to stand up to the heartless Ms. Trunchbull throughout the show. But how could one review Matilda without mentioning Ms. Trunchbull? Played uproariously serious by Jason Michael, Ms. Trunchbull was the paragon of scum and villainy and Michael made your skin crawl with every word. With a character as dark, abusive, and terrifying as Ms. Trunchbull is, Matilda needed the absurdity of having the actor cross dress, and Michael capitalized on it. He played the role as dark and brooding as he could and he let the costume, the writing, and absurdity handle the rest. Almost farcical, Ms. Trunchbull is the ultimate example of the power of child-like imagination: Like the cross between a Heffalump and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
As fantastical as the characters are, the set was equally fantastic. Sprawling across the length of the theater, the energy and grandeur of Matilda could not be contained to the stage. When children weren't running up and down the aisles, eyes were drawn left and right to the towering bedrooms that were built on platforms extending off the stage. The stage right platform housed Matilda's room, covered in storage and books like an attic, while the stage left platform didn't house a character until Act 2, when you learned that it was Miss Honey's shed. The rest of the stage was constantly shifting between the Wormwood house, the library, and the school. To help differentiate the three, the production made use of very clever, reversible walls. Set up like modern bookshelves that are more like lattice cubbies than an actually bookshelf, one side held books for the library while the other side had siding for walls. Another set of shelves remain unadorned and used like a fence for people to climb on or to lean house decorations against for the Wormwood house. While some transitions were a little long given the amount of moving parts, the creativity of the set was a spectacle in and of itself.
Landmark Community Theatre definitely has some gems in their cast of Matilda, but even with the talented cast and acrobatic children and teens, you could tell that everyone was having fun and that drew the audience in from moment one. A beautiful show in a beautiful venue, Matilda runs until July 28th with Fridays and Saturdays at 7pm and Sunday matinees at 2pm.