BWW Review: Much-Anticipated MATILDA THE MUSICAL Brings Sold-out Audience To Its Feet
Arguably one of the most anticipated shows of 2018, MATILDA THE MUSICAL brings its spectacle from Johannesburg to delight audiences with its grand explosion of talent and technicalities in Cape Town. Its minute stars and phenomenal staging has far exceeded expectations; making it the holiday musical for audiences of all ages to revel in.
Adapted from Roald Dahl's children's novel, MATILDA THE MUSICAL follows extraordinarily clever and cunning Matilda as she begins school at the less-than-appealing Crunchem Hall. Supported by a doting teacher and classmates who aren't afraid of being "just a little bit naughty", Matilda's girl power comes to a head when she takes on headmistress Miss Trunchball and proves she is nothing short of a miracle.
The wonderment MATILDA THE MUSICAL has created is better than anything my brain could have conceived twenty years ago. The stage is framed by an ingenious arch of alphabet blocks that makes one feel like they're tumbling down the rabbit hole of Matilda's imagination right from the opening number. This colorful and detailed framing is echoed onstage not only literally in costuming and props, but in choreography and acting as well. While the story might sail between extravagant imaginings, slapstick school antics and - at times - more mellow and gloomy realizations, the score stays exuberant, masterful and memorable; coming alive with a smooth 8-piece orchestra.
Well deserving of the standing ovation from a mid-week audience, the cast of MATILDA THE MUSICAL offers a fantastic array of local and international talent. Kitty Harris - in her professional debut as Matilda - is no doubt a pint-sized prodigy that easily has all ages of the audience fall in love with her. Harris is believable as a precocious schoolgirl and holds her own throughout being on stage for the majority of the two and a half hour production. A particular highlight of her performance is "Quiet", where the young talent gives a goosebump-inducing rendition of a delicate solo.
Opposite Harris as mom and dad are Claire Taylor and Stephen Jubber. As is with most of the production, their characters are totally over-the-top and you can't decide whether to cheer on their performance, or jeer at their antics as cruel parents. In contrast, Bethany Dickson is once again the darling, heart-warming blonde of a musical and steps into the role of Miss Honey with ease. Her mezzo-soprano is unmatched and creates a great contrast against the vivacious vocal stylings of more lively musical numbers.
It's hard to believe that with one of the shorter theatre credits in the program, Ryan de Villiers has not had extensive training and big-shot musicals to his name. In the formidable role of Miss Trunchball, the young baritone is an incredible standout who somehow holds a straight face against his ludicrous character, and portrays her with one of the classiest pantomime performances I have seen in a long time. He has proved himself a true quadruple threat in this production (one extra threat for comedic skill), and has solidified his name on the map of rising talent to watch.
The supporting cast is equally as delightful to watch throughout this production with the small mixture of young and more experienced ensemble coming together smoothly. Thanks to fantastic choreography and direction, cast members glide past each other and through their surroundings effortlessly that must make MATILDA THE MUSICAL one of the best rehearsed pieces of theatre Cape Town has seen this year. Even in terms of illusion and technicalities, nothing is foregone in ensuring this production is a true spectacle and feat for the Artscape stage. The charming set design is supported by astonishing lighting design and both transport you into Matilda's world.
While it pains to fault a production that is clearly at the peak of professionalism, diction was sometimes a struggle during performances. Dahl is by nature a "wordsy" storyteller - and the book for MATILDA THE MUSICAL is likewise - but sometimes dialogue and lyrics were lost. Creating a slight disengagement for audience members, the rest of the colorful action on stage luckily made up for any small losses of plotline or song meaning. It would have still been nice, however, for South African audiences to get the whole picture of a production that has won multiple international "Best Musical" awards.
From the opening number, it's hard not to be captivated by the spectacle of MATILDA THE MUSICAL. The story is equal parts long and winding as it is intricate and energetic, but (to no fault of the cast and crew of this production) there's a feeling that the book itself derails in the second act. Action becomes slightly rushed and the act is treated as if it's one long climax with multiple plot points coming to a
head. MATILDA THE MUSICAL also does that interesting choice of flouting the unspoken musical theater understanding that big musicals end with big musical numbers. A whole scene follows a lively cast number that literally had children out of their seats, and steers towards ending on a heart-warming - rather than a heart-pumping - note. This does, however, serve as a somewhat refreshing take on the expected, and the finale will still have you grinning while leaving the theater.
Everything about this latest Pieter Toerien offering unfolds as if you stepped into the novel and escaped into a child's imagination. Steeped in sheer delight, MATILDA THE MUSICAL is gleefully witty for adults and euphorically fun for children; the ultimate family entertainment this season.
Photo credit: Pat Bromilow-Downing / Manuel Harlan
MATILDA THE MUSICAL will be performed at the Artscape Opera Hose from Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm with a matinee performance on Saturdays at 3pm, as well as Sunday performances at 2.00pm and 6.30pm. Tickets ranging from R100 to R520 can be booked online at online.computicket.com and www.artscape.co.za or by calling the Artscape Box Office on (021) 410 9838.