Matilda, weird and wonderful

The Muni showcases delightful children and some "deliciously despicable" adults

click to enlarge Matilda, weird and wonderful
Photo by Leon Linder
Annie Fulgenzi, left, as Miss Honey and Tiffany Williams as Miss Trunchbull.

The weird and wonderful Matilda closes out the Muni Opera season and is sure leave you inspired as well as entertained. A witty and heartfelt book by Dennis Kelly, melodious score by Tim Minchin, along with a talented cast and staff combine to present this unique story based on the classic 1988 novel and characters created by Roald Dahl (Charlie and he Chocolate Factory). It's magical, moving, disturbing, rowdy – and a showcase for some seriously talented young actors. 

The story of Matilda is that of a gifted girl born in a small village in the UK, unwanted and unloved, to cruel, self-involved parents who have no capacity to appreciate her special talents. By the time she is five, Matilda has read several advanced books, can do fractions, and later learns she has powers of telekinesis. She soon enters school and forms a bond with a shy but supportive teacher, Jennifer Honey, who is astounded by Matilda's abilities. Miss Honey tries in vain to get the tyrannical headmistress, the comically wicked Miss Trunchbull, to allow Matilda to advance in school. But Trunchbull only seems interested in terrorizing children, and doing so in some creative and bizarre ways. Matilda is a master storyteller, avid reader and, at times, a little bit naughty, but she always stands up for what's right. The novel was made into a film in 1996, which basically Americanized the story and, while not a huge box office success, it received positive reviews. The current Matilda, the Musical first opened at the Cambridge Theatre in 2011 and then went on to Broadway in 2013 to rave reviews. It won seven Olivier awards at the time, including Best Musical, and subsequently five Tony Awards, including Best Book of a Musical. 

The audience is first met by a wondrous set designed by Michelle Lily, which lays out a backdrop across the entire stage and proscenium of what could be the contents of Matilda's mind. Pages from books and illustrations from stories artfully convey the magic of storytelling. The opening number, "Miracle," kicks off this imaginative romp of a show as the children of the town sing about their parents' oft expressed opinion that their children are all perfect little miracles. But we soon meet a true miracle in Matilda Wormwood, who is expertly played by Cam Lecocq. Matilda is not an easy role. She is complex, confident, emotionally abused and longing to be loved. She is also onstage for almost the entire time and in lesser hands, the show would falter. Lecocq, in their first but surely not last leading role, brings the right mix of curiosity and determination to Matilda and delivers it via a well executed accent, a powerful voice and instinctively good acting. All of the children in Matilda are quite good and each has moments that stand out for their hilarity or depth. It's easy to see how much fun they're having and their energy is infectious. 

Meanwhile, some of the adults are deliciously despicable. As Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood, Scott Lecocq and Carly Shank amuse yet revile us as the uncaring, unscrupulous and unintelligent parents. He, obsessed with the "tele" and insisting on calling Matilda a boy, she, distracted with winning ballroom dancing competitions, these two aren't winning any Parents of the Year awards. Tiffany Williams as Miss Trunchbull, the terrifying headmaster with a penchant for throwing kids in "the chokey," is an intimidating presence and great to watch as she sinks her teeth into this notoriously despicable character. One can't help being shocked at the depths of her cruelty and wonder when she might receive her comeuppance. 

To contrast much of the ugliness, Annie Fulgenzi as Miss Honey brings tremendous heart and a sweet voice to the role as she aches to stand up for herself, finding strength in her newfound connection with Matilda. A smattering of other adults (her doctor, her librarian, even a Russian mobster) are all enthralled by the light Matilda brings and become deeply affected by it. As are we.

Director Laurie Barnes and her team, including vocals by Steve Rotello, choreography by Ronda Brinkman, sound design by Bill Schnake and lighting by Barnes and Craig Williams II, create several striking moments that punctuate the story and grab the audience's attention. We are often whisked away on memories of childhood bliss with numbers like "When I Grow Up" and reminded of our sense of youthful anarchy with "Revolting Children." The show runs the gamut from playfulness to irreverence and is one I will see again, whenever I'm given the chance. 

Matilda continues Thursday, Aug. 4, through Sunday, Aug. 7. Tickets can be purchased here https://www.metrotix.com/events/detail/smo-matilda or at the box office the night of the show.

Mary Young was born and raised in Springfield has been performing in, producing and directing live theater for decades. She she's done film and voice-over work and performs regularly with the improv troupe The Portuguese Rodeo Clown Company. Their podcast is Radio 680: The Voice of Syracuse.

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