Mom’s so in denial about having a baby, she’s nine months pregnant and still thinks she’s making it to her ballroom dancing competition in Spain. Shady used car salesman Dad’s hoping to “trade” the new baby in for a boy.
We’re only one song in, and we’re starting to get a pretty good window into what poor Matilda’s going to be up against. And we haven’t even met the real villain yet.
Roald Dahl’s classic, “Matilda,” is now the very cute and very clever Broadway musical, Matilda the Musical, and Olney Theatre Center’s production has charm and energy to spare. The decks are stacked against the precocious Matilda, whose parents poo poo her reading habits and shower her with cruelty and neglect. School eventually provides her some allies, whether it be the kind librarian (the fizzy Rayanne Gonzales) who listens to her spin stories, or the meek teacher Miss Honey (Felicia Curry, quietly powerful) who takes a special interest in her genius-level abilities. But there’s a pretty epic adversary to contend with, too — the legendary, former Olympian principal Mrs. Trunchbull (Tom Story; the role’s traditionally done in drag) who throws children around the playground and threatens them with other, more ominous tortures like a visit to the spike-filled chest called The Chokey.
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It all sounds quite bleak, but we’re never really worried that Matilda won’t get the best of her opponents. Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin’s musical adaptation celebrates the cleverness and sheer competency of little kids, treating them as individuals who have the power, as Matilda puts it in her defiant (if slightly over-choreographed) intro song, “Naughty,” to change their story. “Just because you find that life’s not fair it doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it; if you always take it on the chin and wear it, nothing will change” she tells the audience, wisely. And off she goes to take revenge on her parents with pranks and other forms of mini-rebellion.
The kids are really what make Matilda special, and Olney has assembled a roster of adorable ones. The precocious Emiko Dunn is more than up for the demands of the title role, and really gets to show off her vocal chops during “Quiet,” when Matilda prepares to reveal that her powers extend beyond reciting time tables and reading Charles Dickens. She’s surrounded by other charismatic kids like her best friend Lavender (Ainsley Deegan) and the affable cake thief Bruce (Jack St. Pierre on Thursday night), who rocks the company through the raucous anthem, “Revolting Children.” Adults playing older kids help round out the ensemble of schoolchildren.
Byron Easley’s choreography is having as much fun as its ensemble, whether it’s incorporating the alphabet in clever ways during the “School Song” or making the stage into a playground during the sweet, lullaby-like “When I Grow Up.” The colorful set’s animated touches help bring to life such scenes as a mysterious chalkboard sending spooky messages from the grave.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical closes July 21, 2019 at Olney Theatre Center
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Though kids trump adults in just about every way in Matilda, the comically horrible adults in Olney’s production sure get to have a ball. Tracy Lynn Olivera dramatically rumbas across the stage as Matilda’s mother; Story is as delightfully scene chewing as one would expect in the role of Trunchbull. Christopher Michael Richardson lights up the stage every time he’s on it as the oily, telly-obsessed Mr. Wormwood. In Matilda the Musical, the kids dream they’ll grow up and eat sweets each day, slay the creatures under their bed, and know all the answers to their questions. Maybe they should just focus on not turning into one of the terrible adult role models.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical. Book by Dennis Kelly. Music & Lyrics by Tim Minchin. Based on the book by Roald Dahl. Director: Peter Flynn. Choreographer: Byron Easley. Music Director: Christopher Youstra. Scenic Designer: Milagros Ponce de Leon. Costume Designer: Pei Lee. Lighting Designer: Nancy Schertler Sound Designer: Roc Lee. Cast: Nina Brothers, Michelle E. Carter, Ellie Coffey, Ella Coulson, Felicia Curry, Tiziano D’Affuso, Ainsley Deegan, Emiko Dunn, Patrick Ford, Jay Frisby, Sebastian Gervase, Rayanne Gonzales, Andre Hinds, Hailey Ibberson, Ashleigh King, Quynh-My Luu, Michael J. Mainwaring, Sawyer Makl, Calvin Malone, Kai Mansell, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Eliza Prymak, Connor James Reily, Christopher Michael Richardson, Camryn Shegogue, Tom Story, Jack St. Pierre, and Camiel Warren-Taylor. Produced by Olney Theatre Center. Review by Missy Frederick.