BWW Review: MATILDA THE MUSICAL at Diamond Head Theatre
Rounding out Diamond Head Theatre's 104th season is the always anticipated, larger scale summer production, and this year, is it Matilda, based on the Roald Dahl's beloved children's story. What is destined to become a local crowd-pleaser, the show primarily boasts a fantastic cast but slightly falters in other minor aspects of its ambitious production.
The story follows a prodigious six-year old, the titular Matilda (played as alternates by Caris Leong and Rockell Kim), a highly intelligent but lonely girl, who lacks love and attention from her parents (Mathias Maas and Rache Sapla), always buried in a stack of books. At school, she finds solace in an underappreciated library, where she encounters Mrs. Phelps (Marguerite Mckenna), who encourages her to use her imagination and tell stories, as well as in the classroom, under the tutelage of Miss Honey (Malia Munley), who quickly takes both a personal and academic interest in the young prodigy. Standing in the way of Matilda's success is the tyrannical Miss Trunchbull (Chistopher Obenchain), who, on the surface, both perceives and verbalizes the school's pupils as worthless "maggots". What ensues is a charming story of a young girl simply trying to find her place in a world of greed and technology, desperately seeking some form of affection.
The cast is most certainly the production's strongest element. The stamina that Leong, who played the role on opening night, carries throughout the show, in which she is in almost every scene, is admirable and astonishing. Her stage presence matches some of the more established actors to the theatre, including Sapla, who embodies her role completely and without inhibition, in addition to Maas, who is featured in his---if I'm not mistaken---most prominent role to date, which is a delight to see. As Trunchbull, Obenchain, though male, clearly personifies the despotic nature of the school's headmistress, in a role that seems to have become his typecast, in more grandiose, ostentatious ones such as The Ghost of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol: The Musical and as Captain Hook in Peter Pan. If the audience were not to look at the playbill, they may even believe they are watching a female in the role. However, at the core of the cast lies the strongest performance: Munley as Miss Honey. As the heart of the plot, she provides such a warmth and tenderness that is quite enamoring to watch. The cast is most assuredly the production's strongest aspect.
While there are other notable aspects of the show such as the musical direction by Phil Hidalgo, choreography by Natalie Uehara, and the set design by Michelle Bisbee, the show falters in a couple of areas. At times in the first act, the tone of some scenes become confounding. Straight away, the audience learns of Matilda's lack of affection from her family and how they constantly denigrate and disregard her, so the essence of these scenes remain quite dark. However, these scenes also have elements of comedy imbued within them, so it becomes difficult to decide whether to laugh, become infuriated with her parents, or feel an overwhelming sense of sympathy toward Matilda. Thus, the tone of some scenes become slightly bewildering. Additionally, the show is updated to match the modern era with the rampant idea of technology and cell phones. At first, this was an interesting take to watch, but to witness the totalitarian and often tortuous nature of Trunchbull and her punishments---which would not be condoned in today's academic world---is a conflicting aspect. While the audience is surely expected to suspend disbelief, these two factors of production become a bit muddled. But, some audiences might not even notice and will instead be watching a fine production. Moreover, the show's second act is much stronger, and the pacing holds the audience's attention all the way up until the final number.
Overall, Diamond Head Theatre's production of Matilda The Musical is a fine one. While the show falters in some of the more minor areas, it is most definitely elevated by the overall strong performances of the cast. If you are looking for to laugh, smile, and have a good time at the theatre, then Matilda is the show for you!
For tickets, call 808-733-0274 or visit diamondheadtheatre.com.