At first glance, the stage set with dappled letter building blocks often found in kindergarten classrooms, sets the mood for a silly, lighthearted escapist piece. And while Matilda the Musical is silly, it is by no means lighthearted--rather, it is full of dark twists, and strong social messages about the cruelty of society, and the imagination that suffers because of it.

The national tour of Matilda the Musical is based off of the classic children's novel by Roald Dahl, with book by Dennis Kelly and lyrics by Tim Minchin. The national tour rotates through three different actresses for the role of Matilda, with some of the other ensemble members are swapped as well.

Matilda is a five-year old child prodigy, whose gifted mind and knack for reading is heavily discouraged by her abusive parents. She lies to other adults about her parents' neglect, manufacturing a healthy home environment, and uses storytelling as a way to express her emotional trauma and unsatisfactory life. Her support system is in the form of Miss Honey, her teacher, and Mrs. Phelps, the librarian. Matilda, though the smallest of her class, is beyond the other students in maturity and wisdom.

Hannah Levinson plays the five-year old child prodigy Matilda, and is an absolute phenom. Levinson's diction is crisp, her words easily understood even consisting of "grown-up" vocabulary. She perfectly embodies Matilda's mischievousness, as well as her character's maturity and heartache. Levinson is a gem, and I look forward to see what heights she will ascend to in the next few years.

Dan Chameroy plays Miss Trunchbull, the terrifying and authoritarian caricature of a jaded, bitter English woman set out to destroy anyone who dares to defy her. Chameroy is a hoot, as he embodies the exaggeration so it seems completely natural. He plays up Miss Trunchbull's ridiculousness in ways both humorous and fearsome, twirling a ribbon in his character's introductory song, "The Hammer," and epitomizing a frightening fascist figure in "The Smell of Rebellion."

Chameroy's foil is in Jennifer Bowles's character Miss Honey, Matilda's sweet and good-natured schoolteacher. Bowles is not only a fantastic vocalist, but a brilliant actress, with her acting chops especially shining in her solo, "My House." A personal favorite moment is at the end of "When I Grow Up," when Bowles replaces the children on the swingset and reminds the audience that adults too, never quite feel like grown-ups.

Matilda's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood, played by Matt Harrington and Darcy Stewart respectively, are wonderful additions to the cast. Harrington and Stewart are hilarious, and portray Matilda's shallow and anti-intellectualist "guardians" with infinite amounts of charm--the audience almost feels empathy, if not definitely pity, for their characters.

The absolute standout of the piece is the choreography, created by Peter Darling. From using building blocks to spell out letters in "School Song," to salsa ballroom dancing in "Loud," the dancing is wildly imaginative and helps create and reinforce a surreal and bizarre narrative.

Matilda exceeds all expectations, and is not a typical "kid show." Rather, it is a strong analysis of a girl trapped in a cruel and unfair world, who rises above her circumstance with the help of supportive adults around her. It is a reminder that no one can make it alone--not even a child prodigy with supernatural abilities.

Matilda the Musical continues through Sunday, Feb. 12. at ASU Gammage, Tempe. Tickets are $20 and up, and can be purchased by calling 480-965-3434,

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

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From This Author Erin Kong

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