HOLLYWOOD—5-Star Theatricals is offering the first regional production of Matilda the Musical, based on Roald Dahl’s colorful novel. Matilda was originally performed in the UK in 2010, and then opened to great success on Broadway in 2013.
The show opens with the birth of Matilda (played with spot-on spirit and spunk by Lucy Bollier on opening night, to be alternated with Olivia Marcum through the run). She was an unwanted surprise and ultimate insult to her mother and father. Mrs. Wormwood (the effectively self-absorbed Janna Cardia) describes Matilda’s birth as “the worst day of my life,” and Mr. Wormwood (the lanky and perfectly cartoonish James Larsen) says, “All I know, I learnt from the telly…watch more TV.” The Mrs. is busy pursuing her dance career, peroxided blonde bouffant and a cigarette, while Mr. is taking pride in his latest get-rich-quick scheme, selling tainted used cars to Russians. Their favored firstborn, Michael (the delightfully doltish Nick McKenna), sits numbly in front of the telly. Despite the less-than intellectual, non-supportive household, Matilda teaches herself to read, working up to not only Russian novels, but the Russian language, as well. Her family looks at her with disdain. They don’t get her intelligence, nor do they like it.
Matilda finally gets to go to school, Crunchem Hall, where Miss Trunchbull, the principal reigns. Trunchbull (played with fierce conviction and condescension by Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper) bellows the school motto: “Children are maggots,” and says, “To teach the child, first you must break the child.” Nobility has left the building. She puts the kids through the wringer, her “chokey,” swings them by their pigtails and flings them out windows. While Trunchbull tries to crunch `em, the teacher, Miss Honey (compassionately and passionately portrayed by Katie DeShan), facing her own demons, tries to uplift. She is aided by the town librarian, Mrs. Phelps (the lilting–I could listen to her say “Matilda” all day long–and warmly animated Deanna Anthony).
Ultimately, the good prevail. The elder students, at first seeming freakishly tall and bullying, come around. Through the tutelage of Matilda and a brush with telekinesis, and with the resilience of Miss Honey, they all resist Trunchbull. They discover that you “must be brave enough to fight the creatures,” proving you can break the victim mold and overcome the negativity you face.
The younger and older students bind forces, and interestingly, by the end of the show, they somehow all seem to even out more in height. This is yet another feat by this masterful ensemble, led by Lavender (played with precise movement and keen comedic timing by Olivia Zenetzis) and Bruce (pitiful, yet inspirational, Marcello Silva). Bringing the cast and the storyline full circle are The Escape Artist/Doctor (the strong presence of Ben Carroll), and The Acrobat (the lovely Monica Ricketts), and a bunch of Russians.
All the alphabet blocks line up. It’s all absurd fun that floats over a deeper story of the despair and frustration of the meek Miss Honey’s past, and Matilda’s dismal future. The sweet convergence of the two lifts them, and consequently, the audience, into a better life.
All I knew about Matilda for years was that in the original UK production, and on Broadway, swings descended from the ceiling and the kids swung from the heavens. This staging is by rights apparently limited now to Broadway, but at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, with Direction by Lewis Wilkenfeld, Choreography by Heather Castillo, and Scenic Design by Stephen Gifford, nothing is lost. It’s replaced by old-fashioned playground rides (now basically banned from playgrounds). This is just as freeing and memory-evoking as swings. The kids kick up their legs and fly a bit on the bounce of a seesaw, take a liberating spin on the “merry-go-round” disc and plunge the freefall of the metal slide, sharing sheer abandon and empowerment. But Matilda is much more than swings, or playground rides.
Castillo’s choreography is energetic and vibrant, then countered by making the most of a simple en masse lean of the ensemble, or of wistful, still poses in “Don’t Cry”; she finds every nuance of comedy in the ballroom dance attempts of Rudolpho (John Paul Batista), the smoldering Italian stud of a ballroom dance coach, and Mrs. Wormwood, and Michael and Mr. Wormwood’s brilliantly funny “All I Know” dance. Though much of the book by Dennis Kelly, and the music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, is excitingly rebellious, there are moments like “Quiet,” where Matilda sings of the peace she finds, “like the sound when you lie upside down in your bed, just the sound of your heart in your head.” You’re first taken aback by the abusiveness, then taken back to a sweet time.
This is a dark, gritty, surreal, somewhat supernatural story, giving Matilda the edge that makes it simultaneously an adult musical for children, and a children’s musical for adults, all that Roald Dahl could have imagined, and more. There is an adult depth to Matilda. At its most uncomfortable moments, Matilda calls upon the audience to witness abuse, but then, it magically brings you back to the purity of childhood, as only Roald Dahl can do, served with a cherry confection on top, which makes it over-the-top palatable.
Don’t take long to decide to go; the run, like Matilda herself, is short and feisty.
Roald Dahl’s “Matilda”
Adapted by Dennis Kelly
Music & Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Musical Direction by Jennifer Lin
Choreography by Heather Castillo
Directed by Lewis Wilkenfeld
Matilda through Sunday, March 31, 2019
Kavli Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza
2100 Thousand Oaks Boulevard
Thousand Oaks, CA 91362
Performances are Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets: Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Box Office, www.5startheatricals.com, or by phone at (800) 745-3000. For tickets, please call (800) 745-3000.
Ticket prices range from $35 – $83. For ticket and theatre information, call (805) 449-ARTS (2787). Student, Senior and Group discounts are available.
For groups of 10 or more, please call Group Sales, 5-STAR THEATRICALS at (805) 497-8613 ext 1.