BWW Review: MATILDA at Growing Stage: The Children's Theatre of New Jersey
Editor's Note: We welcome this guest review by Jack Wooldridge. Jack is a writer, musician, and freelance web developer from Liberty, NJ. He does work for clients in various fields, from gaming podcasts and libraries to international corporations. When not reviewing musicals or coding websites, he can invariably be found attempting to master Beethoven or curled up with a good book. To learn more about Jack Wooldridge, visit his Upwork profile: https://www.upwork.com/o/profiles/users/_~01f2b65fc760597ce6/.
Matilda: The Musical, based on the 1988 children's book by Roald Dahl, first premiered in November 2010 at the Courtyard theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Winning audience praise and critical acclaim, it quickly expanded to the West End and, in 2013, to Broadway. Now you can see this charming and off-the-wall musical at the Growing Stage Theater in Netcong NJ, brought to life by a talented cast of equity and community performers.
Originally adapted by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin, the story of Matilda: The Musical hews fairly close to Dahl's famous book. Matilda Wormwood (Violet Caruso) a small child whose precocious intellect is suppressed by her father, (Dennis S. Connors), a crooked car-salesman, and her mother (Nikole Rizzo), a looks-obsessed dancer. While schoolteacher Miss Honey (Meowset Abbett) recognizes her genius, the fearsome and child-hating headmistress, Agatha Trunchbull (Sean Quigley), is determined to ruin Matilda and her classmates' lives. Will Matilda's intellect and courage be enough to stop the Trunchbull's reign of terror?
Quentin Blake's strange and slightly macabre illustrations played a major role in the original book, and artist-in-residence Perry Kroeger has adapted these into a subdued yet fantastical set. Giant alphabet blocks litter the stage, serving as seats or podiums as needed, and backdrops seem to be falling apart, paintings askew. The lighting plays a big role in bringing Matilda's off-kilter world to life, especially in a memorable slow-motion scene in the second act, which features judicious use of both strobe and spot lights.
The music, thankfully, pulls its weight as well throughout the show. There's a frantic, frenetic beat to a lot of the songs, and a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan in some of the fast-paced wordplay. "The Hammer," a standout song from the first act, is not only a hilariously twisted number but pulls double duty in introducing the Trunchbull as the primary antagonist. "Loud" is a wonderfully over-the-top piece where Mrs. Wormwood and her dance instructor Rudolpho (Davis Cameron Lemley) introduce Miss Honey to their shallow worldview. I definitely can't avoid mentioning "Bruce," a side-splitting motivational anthem about a boy eating a cake. In the second act, "My House," Miss Honey's solo number, gives the audience a break from the bombast, and "Revolting Children," the rebellious final song, gets them clapping their hands along with the performers.
The whole cast is incredibly strong, from the equity actors down to Matilda and her classmates. Sean Quigley is excellent as Agatha Trunchbull, really selling the obnoxious and hilariously nasty persona of the musical's villain. Violet Carusa did a remarkable job as Matilda, bringing a lot of personality and an excellent singing voice to the role. Meowset Abbett, a newcomer to the Growing Stage, brings an understated insecurity and warmth to the character of Miss Honey. As always, there's not enough space to really highlight everyone, but I wish I could- there's not a weak performance among them.
Matilda: The Musical will be performed at Growing Stage: The Children's Theatre of New Jersey from October 4th through the 20th. It shows three times a week: Fridays at 7:30PM, and Saturdays and Sundays at 4:00pm. The house opens 30 minutes before the start of the show. Saturday and Sunday prices are $28 for Adults, $18 for Children, and $22 for senior citizens. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.growingstage.com/, by calling 973.347.4949 or at the Box Office at 7 Ledgewood Avenue, Netcong NJ.
Photo Credit: Jerry Dalia