BWW Review: DeMarcus, Chambers, Haines and Company Deliver Engaging, Entertaining MATILDA THE MUSICAL for AT Pro
Brilliant and perspicacious Matilda Wormwood and her arch-nemesis, the evil and imperious Agatha Trunchbull, are up to their old antics once again on a Tennessee stage - this time, in a beautifully designed, cleverly staged and directed and superbly acted production of the irreverent musical that bears her name and has become a favorite of audiences and theater companies the world over.
Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical - with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and book by Dennis Kelly - plays the historic Franklin Theatre through August 11, with a rollicking production helmed by Sondra Morton, featuring musical direction by Jamey Green and choreography by Everett Tarlton, who score yet another massive hit for the Franklin-based AT Pro (the professional theater arm of Act Too Players, the training program for younger actors that has proven time and again to be an important part of the Middle Tennessee theater community), featuring an all-star cast led by Thomas DeMarcus in the role of the manipulative former British hammer-throwing champion who has turned her attention to running a school for children, variously referred to as "naughty" and "revolting" by their headmistress.
The musical, which proved a hit on Broadway and the West End before becoming perhaps even more popular on regional and community stages around the world, is an uproarious and acerbic comedy about a five-year-old girl genius with loathsome parents, a diffident older brother and a penchant for storytelling and a love for reading. Matilda the Musical is such a delight and Minchin's score so positively entertaining that it should come as no surprise that audiences around the globe have taken it to their collective heart, making it one of the most popular titles in contemporary musical theater.
Morton, who founded Act Too Players to provide tutelage and inspiration to aspiring young actors, draws upon the wealth of talent among her student body - as well as among the professional ranks of actors in these parts - to deliver a production that's slick and polished, with a design aesthetic that ensures a visual feast for audiences, with confident performances from her cast to engage audiences eager for more from the innovative company.
Green's musical direction is strongly felt throughout the production, with the score performed beautifully by the cast, while Tarlton's spirited and energetic choreography keeps the action moving ever-forward under the watchful gaze of Morton's skilled direction.
DeMarcus delivers a startling performance as Miss Trunchbull, commanding the stage with a graceful ease even while breathing abundant life into the over-the-top villainess. Even after seeing other actors leave their individual imprints on the character of Miss Trunchbull, DeMarcus' portrayal seems somehow fresh and exciting, the actor bringing her to life with nuance and frightful abandon.
Playing Matilda (the wunderkind progeny of two parents ill-equipped to raise a daughter of some intellectual heft) at the performance reviewed was Reagan Schmicker who expertly traverses the stage with focus and commitment, going toe-to-toe with DeMarcus' Trunchbull and the other, more experienced, adults in the cast with a gleeful sense of who her character is - and, perhaps more importantly, who she is as an actor. Schmicker moves from one scene to the next with the confidence of an onstage pro, taking on the challenge of playing a musical theater lead with admirable charm. Schmicker alternates in the role with Reese Benton whom, we have no doubt after meeting her at intermission, approaches the role with just as much gravitas.
Morton gives her two leading "ladies" wonderful support with an ensemble that features some of Nashville's most beloved actors, including Megan Murphy Chambers as the larger-than-life-sized ballroom dancing Mrs. Wormwood, Erica Haines as the warmly solicitous Miss Honey and Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva as the inspiring librarian Mrs. Phelps. Likewise, the gentlemen in the cast are just as impressive (and boasting resumes as starry as the trio of women principals), including the impeccable Jeremy Maxwell as the dimwitted and telly-loving Mr. Wormwood, the versatile Mike Baum as Rudolpho (Mrs. Wormwood's dancing partner) and Nathan Burns as the equally daft Michael Wormwood. Zach Shockley and Corrie Maxwell complete the adult contingent as the escapologist and the acrobat, with Royce Risser making a return to the stage after two decades away (and, yes, I remember him as one of the princes from Circle Players' Into the Woods from back in the day).
Among the "big kids," Nathan Burns and Connor Richardson are joined by Chris Burns, Emilie Bruns, Caroline Mohr, Kaitlyn Sumner and Angelis Gonzalez in the "Revolting Cast."
But, as might be expected, it's the younger members of the cast who provide the theatrical fireworks with their tremendous performances as Matilda's "miraculous" classmates, including Joey Graffagnino as Bruce, Emmalyn Woodard as Lavender, Emma Singlton as Amanda, Alan Foeder as Nigel, Carter Miller as Eric, Layne Foeder as Alice, Kylie Sumner as Hortensia and Owen Sower as Tommy.
Anthony Popolo's gorgeous scenic design makes for a splendid playground for the cast members as they bring the story of Matilda to life, while Katie Delaney's costumes makes each cast member stand out in a fashionable way - kudos to Cat Arnold for her design of Miss Trunchbull's costume - and Stephen Moss' exquisite lighting design ensures everything is beautifully illuminated as he paints the space with color and light as if tying a lovely bow around the extraordinary physical trappings of the production.
Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical. Music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. Book by Dennis Kelly. Directed by Sondra Morton. Musical direction by Jamey Green. Choreography by Everett Tarlton. Presented by AT Pro at The Franklin Theatre, Franklin. Through August 11. For more information, go to www.acttooplayers.com or call (615) 538-2076 for tickets. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission).