BWW Review: The Miracle of MATILDA THE MUSICAL at The Rose Theater
MATILDA, a musical flight of fantasy meets rock hard reality at the Rose Theater from June 7-30. Based on the remarkably successful children's book by Roald Dahl, the story was adapted for stage by Dennis Kelly (book) with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin (I LOVED him as Judas in the 2012 UK Arena Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar!), and orchestrations and additional music by Chris Nightingale. MATILDA THE MUSICAL opened on Broadway in 2013 and closed four years later managing to capture seven Olivier Awards and five Tony Awards.
MATILDA is a story within a story. Both highlight the miracle of birth. Mrs. Wormwood (Sarah Gibson) discovers that she is pregnant at nine months along and expresses her desire to "get rid of it." She has no room in her life for another child as she has her sights set on winning a dance competition. When Matilda (Maddie Smith) is born, the doctor (Ben Adams) declares that she is the most beautiful baby girl he's ever seen while the father (Zach Kloppenborg) searches for proof that Matilda is a boy. The Wormwoods already have a son, a clod of a fellow (Jonathan Algeroy) that they adore. As she grows older, both parents verbally abuse their brilliant daughter, berating her for reading books rather than watching TV. They send her to first grade with an advance warning to the headmistress Miss Trunchbull (Joey Galda) that Matilda is deficient. Her teacher Miss Honey (Melissa King) realizes that Matilda is to the contrary a genius and she gathers the courage to confront Miss Trunchbull.
Throughout the story, Matilda spins her own story to the librarian Mrs. Phelps (Brissa Lopez). Her story involves an acrobat (Kendra Ball) and an escapologist (Danny Enriquez) who desperately want a child. The plot line parallels that of the main story in a clever way leaving breadcrumb clues that make sense at the end.
There is so much to like about this production directed by Matt Gutschick! Scenic designer Tim McMath, lighting designer Craig S. Moxon, and projection designer Brittany Merenda have collaborated in the creation of a perfect setting for a girl who loves to read: a library. The stunning set built out of 3,000 books collected by props mistress Devon Denn-Young over the course of several weeks, includes movable sections which are rearranged with each scene. The lighting and projections switch from sweeping arcs of brilliant white light to varying hues to projected shadow images on the backdrop. The effects are extraordinary.
The cast, headed by an impressive Maddie Smith as Matilda, is a high octane group. Smith is clearly comfortable in the spotlight and is adept at acting, dancing, and singing. She is a delightful presence and well-cast. Supported by some outstanding classmates such as her self-proclaimed best friend Lavender (Eva Cohen) and the adorable cake-eating Bruce (Jonas Caruso), Smith projects leadership and the commitment to stand up for what's right despite opposition.
That opposition is often triggered by Joey Galda as the cruelly hilarious headmistress Miss Trunchbull. Galda's antics, whether waving ribbons or threatening the "revolting minions" with the Chokey are so ridiculously comical that you laugh until your bones hurt.
Also funny are Sarah Gibson and Zach Kloppenborg as the Wormwoods, Jonathan Algeroy as their son Michael, and Fran X. Adrianto as Gibson's dance partner Rudolpho. Gibson, who says that looks are more important than books, is quick (but not quick witted) with remarks such as, "dinner doesn't microwave itself," and "it's not normal for a girl to be all thinking." She and Adrianto are a stitch in their flamboyant competition outfits and overly dramatic dance moves. The vociferous Kloppenborg, as outlandish as his atrocious green plaid suit, is contrasted sharply with Algeroy, his blank-faced, awkward son who rarely utters a word. Whereas Kloppenborg elicits laughs by his broad, cartoonish movements, Algeroy makes rib-tickling small gestures you might miss if you aren't paying attention.
Not all of the characters are funny. Miss Honey (Melissa King) is a tragically beautiful soul. She nurses her sadness quietly, putting on a brave face and choosing to see the bright side. Her "My House" is quietly inspiring, but heartrending. King's sympathetic portrayal of the wounded teacher makes you want to be a better, kinder person looking out for the underdog. Her vocals, particularly lower register, are honey sweet.
Music director Jerry Brabec conducts a fine orchestra with some very nice moments by individual instrumentalists. Occasionally the musicians overpower the vocalists. It was preview night, so understandably there were some minor issues with microphones that made hearing the vocalists or understanding the lyrics difficult. The choral numbers are pleasing. Ben Adams and Joey Galda come across loud and clear with great voices.
Sue Gillespie Booton's choreography accentuates the music with energetic movement. Large group numbers are interesting. There is a lot going on to keep your attention! And there are some surprises in the show.
MATILDA is a special kind of show. It is entertaining, but it is also a message to adults everywhere. Children are miracles. Value them. Listen to their stories. Treasure their unique abilities.
Treasure also this musical, which is quite likely going to be a huge success for The Rose Theater.
Photo Credit: Alex Myhre