BWW Review: Orpheus' Production of MATILDA THE MUSICAL at Meridian Theatres @ Centrepointe
Matilda The Musical is based on the book written by Roald Dahl of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame. It tells the story of Matilda Wormwood (Shelby Shannon-Caines, in a role that is alternated nightly with Sophia Pierce), a young girl with extraordinary intelligence and imagination. Her talents are dismissed by her parents, a used car salesman (Graeme Parke) and a beauty-obsessed mother (Hilary Peck). Matilda vows to "change her story" by ensuring that she is not beaten down by their constant ridicule. She finds refuge in books and making visits to the local library where she captivates the librarian, Mrs. Phelps (Shondra Mings), with elaborate, imaginative stories. This is frowned upon by Matilda's parents, who decide to reign their daughter in by sending her to Crunchem Hall, a school with the motto Bambinatum est Magitum, translated to "Children are Maggots". Crunchem's headmistress, Miss Trunchbull (Jason Swan), despises children, rules with an iron fist, and terrorizes disobedient students by putting them in "The Chokey", a torture chamber for kids.
However, at Crunchem, Matilda also makes some friends, notably Lavender (Angela Cachero) and Bruce (Cooper Dunn). She is taught by Miss Honey (Melinda Hudson), a timid professor who, upon recognizing Matilda's potential, decides to take her under her wing. Eventually, Matilda and the other students decide to band together and revolt against Miss Trunchbull's bullying.
Having seen the original production of Matilda on Broadway, I was not sure what to expect going into the theatre. However, it was immediately clear that a lot of effort went into this production, with Jenn Donnelly designing some of the finest sets I have seen from Orpheus. Donnelly was also responsible for stage direction, which is undoubtedly challenging when dealing with a large cast comprised mostly of children.
The cast was impressive. Shannon-Caines put on an extraordinary performance, considering that, based on the production notes, Matilda is her first role outside of school performances. Cachero brought more of her incredible energy that we saw in last year's production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to the stage. Parke and Peck were both convincing as Matilda's self-absorbed, rather dimwitted, parents. It was sometimes difficult to make out the lyrics sung by Swan, but he nailed Miss Trunchbull's despicable personality and provided the audience with several comedic moments. Mings was sweet in her motherly, sympathetic role.
The songs are catchy and, together with the main cast, the ensemble and pit singers were wonderful. The music director, Sophie Rochat, ensured that every big musical number featuring the children also had older "students" to keep the harmony and pitch throughout the song and this strategy worked perfectly.
The standout performance came from Hudson, who was simply divine. She has an incredible vocal range and is able to hold a note for an extraordinarily long time - demonstrated during the reprise of "When I Grow Up" in the second act. Hudson's remarkable performance comes after a five-year hiatus from the theatre. I certainly hope it won't be another five years before we see her on the stage again.
This production was highly enjoyable from beginning to end and is heartily recommended for patrons of all ages. Matilda The Musical is at Meridian Theatres @ Centrepointe through December 1, 2019. For more information and for tickets, go to https://www.orpheus-theatre.ca/matilda.