Based on the beloved Roald Dahl book, Matilda the Musical, which opened Sunday at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles is an entertaining evening for all ages. While it can be a little dark, the basic story offers an uplifting, empowerment message about improving one’s lot in life (and the value of learning!).
The Matilda plot is about an unhappy, lonely little girl whose shallow, self-centered parents are dismayed that their offspring likes to read (“looks not books” dear) and send her to a school run by a sadistic headmistress. Using her pluck, smarts and vivid imagination, Matilda stands up for what is right at home, school and for her teacher, thereby change all of their lives. As she sings in Naughty, “Nobody else is gonna put it right for me. Nobody but me is gonna change my story. Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.”
As Matilda sings more than once in the show, “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.”
The Tony and Olivier Award- winning Matilda musical, which was produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Dodgers, is starting its national with the Centre Theatre Group’s Ahmanson engagement. Three young girls share the title role, Matilda Wormwood: Mia Sinclair Jenness (who winningly and enthusiastically played the role opening night), Gabby Gutierrez, and Mabel Tyler. The cast also features Bryce Ryness as the evil headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, who calls her charges Maggots; Jennifer Blood as the teacher who cares about Matilda, Miss Honey and Quinn Mattfeld and Cassie Silva as her scheming, telly-loving parents. Besides Jenness, other children who stood out were Kaci Walfall as Matilda’s school friend Lavender and Evan Gray as the tormented and teased Bruce.
While the story was written by Dahl (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), the Tony Award-winning book is by Dennis Kelly with a score by Tim Minchin. The kid-packed musical is directed by Matthew Warchus (God of Carnage, The Norman Conquests, Ghost).
The lyrics and script are witty and contemporary with references to Harry Potter and a Tardis woven in with Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. The idea of books as an escape and means to grow is driven home throughout, except when Matilda’s dad and brother rhapsodize about the Telly: “Endless content, endless channels…; all you need to fill your muffin, without having to really think or nothing!”
The set design and choreography were delightful. Alphabet letter tiles are creatively used in the logo, library signs, jungle gym and other places. The kid-friendly props include gymnastics equipment, school desks as well as swings and scooters in the number When I Grow Up and its reprise.
A great show for school-age children and those who remember childhood or recognize the need to change one’s lot in life, Matilda the Musical will be entertaining Ahmanson theatergoers in L.A. through July 12. The national tour moves next to San Francisco, with shows through mid-August. Dates are scheduled through next summer, including stops in Seattle, Wash.; Denver, Colo.; Dallas and Houston, Texas, and holiday time shows in Washington D.C.
By Dyanne Weiss
Performance Sunday, June 7, 2015
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Photos by Joan Marcus/courtesy of Center Theatre Group