BWW Review: Roald Dahl's MATILDA at Axelrod Performing Arts Center is a Whimsical Book Adaptation Brought to the Stage
The Axelrod Performing Arts Center presents the first musical of its 2020 season, Roald Dahl's Matilda The Musical. Based on the 1988 book by Roald Dahl with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, Matilda opened on Broadway in 2013 and ran for four years, closing in January 2017. After closing, Matilda continued performances in various national and international productions. The show was nominated for multiple awards including Tony, Olivier, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle.
Matilda The Musical, directed and choreographed by Luis Salgado, tells the story of a five year-old girl named Matilda who is brilliant, wise beyond her years, and has a love of reading. Her parents could care less about her unbelievable intelligence, and she is unappreciated and ignored by them. At school, she and her classmates are facing a different challenge by wanting to get revenge on the evil principal of their school, Mrs. Trunchbull. Matilda's teacher, Miss Honey, is the only person who sees what a genius she is, and they lean on each other to find a way out of the chaos in their lives.
Elle Graper leads the cast in the title role of Matilda. At just ten years old, Graper has a natural presence on stage. From her first song, "Naughty," where Matilda plays a prank on her dad, to the Act II song "Quiet," where she discovers that she can move objects with her mind, you could tell that Graper is comfortable being on stage. It is amazing how she can lead such a large cast at such a young age and she definitely has great potential in this business.
Stephen Petrovich and Sarah Mae Banning star as Matilda's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood. Each of them adds a comedic element to the show in their own way. Banning embodies every aspect of Mrs. Wormwood, from her voice down to the leopard and fluorescent costume she wears. She starts the show by leading the song "Miracle," and has her own song-and-dance number "Loud," which showcases her vocal chops. As Mr. Wormwood, Petrovich adds his own uniqueness to this theatergoing experience. Before intermission ends, he goes into the audience and interacts with everyone, taking photos and answering questions about reading completely in character the whole time. Afterward, he goes onstage to sing the song "All I Know/Telly." This is a great way to make the audience feel like they were a part of the show.
Brian Charles Rooney plays the part of the evil, cold-hearted principal, Agatha Trunchbull. We first meet her in the musical number "Hammer," when Miss Honey tells Mrs. Trunchbull that Matilda is smarter than the other kids in her class. There is a standout song in Act II called "The Smell of Rebellion," which occurs when Mrs. Trunchbull punishes the kids by putting them in an intense Physical Education class. Rooney is so incredible in this scene, that his outstanding performance overshadows the fact that he is playing a terrible character like Mrs. Trunchbull.
Elizabeth Ritacco portrays the role of Miss Honey, Matilda's teacher. Every time she steps onstage, it is a breath of fresh air. She adds a sense of calmness to the musical with a lot of chaotic characters. Ritacco has three solos where she shines. "Pathetic" is Miss Honey's request to move Matilda to a higher-level class, "This Little Girl" explains how upset and helpless she felt for Matilda, and "My House" takes place when Miss Honey tells Matilda about her childhood. Ritacco sings each song beautifully, and embodies Miss Honey's soft, caring personality.
Matilda The Musical stands out from other musicals because it includes both a children's and adult ensemble who played Matilda's classmates and many other roles. Although the actors are different ages, they all work well together. They have several big numbers in the musical called "School Song," "When I Grow Up," and the highlight of the entire musical, "Revolting Children," which shows each person's passion. It is a great way to end the show.
The creative elements of Matilda The Musical bring it to life. The whimsical scenic design by Clifton Chadick looks like illustrations from a book and the set pieces are used for all types of items such as a desk, car, and television. The set is enhanced with a projection design by Lacey Erb, showing cartoon characters, letters of the alphabet, and glimpses of Matilda's magical powers. Additional credit goes to lighting designer Chris Annas Lee, sound designer Kimberly O'Loughlin, and Scaramouche Costumes in Chester, NJ for bringing this story from a novel to the stage. Fans of the book and movie will enjoy a new adaptation of this well-known tale.
Tickets for Roald Dahl's Matilda The Musical can be purchased by calling 732-531-9106 or by visiting the Axelrod Performing Arts Center website at https://www.axelrodartscenter.com. The show will be performed in the Vogel Auditorium through March 22. The theatre is located at 100 Grant Avenue in Deal Park, NJ. For more information on Axelrod Performing Arts Center, you can follow them on Twitter and Instagram @axelrodarts or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/axelrodarts/.