Broadway Series South and the North Carolina Theatre‘s joint presentation of Matilda the Musical, playing tonight through Sunday evening in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, was originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Based on British author Roald Dahl’s popular 1988 children’s book, which Dennis Kelly adapted for the stage, Matilda features rousing music and witty lyrics by Tim Minchin. The musical premiered in 2010 in Stratford-upon-Avon. Then in 2011, it moved to London’s West End, where it won a record-breaking seven Olivier Awards and continues to play to sold-out houses.
The inevitable Broadway production, which closed this January, was nominated for 12 2013 Tony® Awards — including Best Musical — and took home four: Book, Scenic Design, Lighting, and Featured Actor in a Musical.
Directed by Matthew Warchus, who staged the 2001 Broadway Revival of Follies, Matilda recently entered the second year of its national tour. It has parked in Raleigh from May 23-28.
Our protagonist, Matilda Wormwood, a precocious five-year-old English girl, seeks escape from her abusive home life. Her abnormal intelligence and demands for justice make her a target of ridicule at her school, encouraged by tyrannical headmistress Agatha Trunchbull. A local librarian, Ms. Phelps, and an appropriately named teacher, Miss Honey, make it their business to nurture and safeguard Matilda.
The current production is an exercise in extremes, with inflated characters, exaggerated visuals, and grandiose language — all hallmarks of Roald Dahl’s work, as can be attested by fans of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, and The BFG (each with its own stage adaptation).
Set and costume designer Rob Howell’s ABC block-inspired proscenium, floor, and backdrops reflect Matilda’s complex intellect; and his costumes are appropriately heightened, particularly Trunchbull’s iconic, bulging silhouette. All of these elements capture and amplify the spirit of longtime Dahl illustrator Quentin Blake. Director Warchus uses swings, slides, and scooters for added variety.
While a dipping spotlight left some actors faceless, and some programmed elements were misaligned, lighting designer Hugh Vanstone delivers some of the most inventive and exciting uses of stage lighting that I have ever seen. Microphone effects by sound designer Simon Baker are mixed live — and quite well — and the vocal-orchestra balance made vocalists easy to hear.
However, Warchus could not save the actors from poor diction. There were dozens of occasions, including the majority of the opening number, “Miracle,” during which I could not understand a single word sung. Inexcusably, several actors were unable to maintain an English accent throughout the show.
A trio of young actresses tackle the title role on this tour: Gabby Gutierrez, Jaime MacLean, and Jenna Weir, with the awe-inspiring MacLean taking over the stage on Wednesday night. Her performance was well-timed, expertly sung and exceptionally promising — a true leading lady.
Jennifer Bowles emotionally grounds the show with her subtle and beautifully sung Miss Honey, while Dan Chameroy gives a contrastingly grand performance as the evil headmistress Ms. Trunchbull. Chameroy, in severe drag, is outstanding in the role; but this was a missed opportunity to cast one of the many disregarded female performers in the business.
Matt Harrington manages to squeeze some humor out of an irritating Mr. Wormwood, while Darcy Stewart performs Mrs. Wormwood with electricity, though she is written unevenly.
I was most delighted during the classroom scenes, made exciting by a troupe of gifted young performers. Buoyed by Bill Congdon’s musical direction and Peter Darling’s distinctive and well-executed choreography, these young artists make “Bruce,” “When I Grow Up,” and “Revolting Children” the show’s finest moments, in addition to an unforgettable curtain call.
Gabby Beredo who portrays the spunky Lavender, and Soren Miller, who plays the portly, confident Bruce, are two of the production’s finest performers. Bill Congdon’s band is lush and powerful; the four players sound like 15.
Nearly an hour of the show is expendable, through no fault of the skilled company. The plot veers off the novel’s straightforward track with extraneous subplots. Matilda visits librarian Mrs. Phelps repeatedly, weaving a drawn-out and irrelevant fairy tale. Mrs. Wormwood’s big number, “Loud,” with dance instructor Rudolpho (a limber Stephen Diaz) comes out of left field and upstages the legitimate plot.
A lack of a clear thru-line softens the play’s emotional punch. The musical would be twice as cathartic at half its length.
Exceptional design, lively performances, and some deliciously dark songs make Matilda good fun. But a meandering script and unbalanced character relationships keep it from being great fun.
SECOND OPINION: May 25th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8503; and May 6th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article148659479.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the May 20th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/05/2013-tony-award-winner-matilda-the-musical-dramatizes-roald-dahls-1988-childrens-book/.)
Broadway Series South and the North Carolina Theatre present MATILDA THE MUSICAL at 7:30 p.m. May 25 and 26 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. May 27 and 28 in in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $25.15-$104.15, except $20 tickets for college students with ID.
Duke Energy Center Box Office (information only): 919-996-8700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/1601714.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-996-8707, email@example.com, or http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/broadway-series-south/group-sales.
SHOW: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/matilda-7186, http://nctheatre.com/shows/matilda%20, and https://www.facebook.com/events/1067166763370526/.
THE TOUR: http://us.matildathemusical.com/tour/, http://www.ibdb.com/Production/View/500688, https://www.facebook.com/MatildaOnBroadway, https://twitter.com/MatildaBroadway, and http://www.youtube.com/user/MatildaBroadway.
TOUR CAST: http://us.matildathemusical.com/tour/cast-creative/cast/.
TOUR CREATIVE TEAM: http://us.matildathemusical.com/tour/cast-creative/creative/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfKvdZuzpN0, http://us.matildathemusical.com/tour/media/video/, http://us.matildathemusical.com/video/, and http://www.youtube.com/user/MatildaBroadway.
AUDIO PREVIEWS: http://us.matildathemusical.com/tour/media/audio/.
Broadway Series South: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/broadway-series-south, https://www.facebook.com/broadwayseriessouthraleigh, and https://twitter.com/BroadwaySouth.
2017-18 BSS SEASON: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/broadway-series-south.
North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre, https://twitter.com/nctheatre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/nctheatre.
2016-17 NCT SEASON: http://nctheatre.com/show-season/201516-season.
NCT BLOG (Stage Notes): http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Saturday, May 27th, performance.
Matilda (1988 children’s book): http://www.roalddahl.com/roald-dahl/stories/1980s/matilda (official web page) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matilda_%28novel%29 (Wikipedia).
The Novel (excerpt): http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.tonyawards.com/pdf/Matilda_LessonPlans_lo.pdf (Penguin’s Classroom Classics).
Roald Dahl (British writer and screenwriter, 1916-90): https://www.roalddahl.com/ (official website), http://us.matildathemusical.com/creative/roald-dahl/ (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/8343 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001094/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roald_Dahl (Wikipedia).
Matilda the Musical (2010 Stratford-upon-Avon, 2011 West End, and 2013 Broadway): http://www.matildathemusical.com/ (official website), http://us.matildathemusical.com/tour/ (U.S. your website), http://uk.matildathemusical.com/ (West End website), http://www.timminchin.com/matilda/ (Tim Minchin’s web page), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/matilda-the-musical-493193 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001094/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matilda_the_Musical (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: http://matildaschoolresources.com/cdn/pdfs/Matilda-Education-Production-Pack.pdf?019271238 (West End production).
Tim Minchin (music and lyrics): http://www.timminchin.com/ (official website), http://us.matildathemusical.com/creative/tim-minchin/ (tour bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/tim-minchin-493197 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2423358/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Minchin (Wikipedia).
Dennis Kelly (book): http://us.matildathemusical.com/creative/dennis-kelly/ (tour bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/dennis-kelly-73661 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2393111/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Kelly (Wikipedia).
Dustin K. Britt, a Triangle native, is an actor, director, and member of the board of directors of Arts Access, Inc., which makes the arts accessible to people with disabilities. He holds an M.A.Ed. in Special Education from East Carolina University and teaches locally. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment. You can find him on Facebook as Dustin K. Britt and via his movie blog Hold the Popcorn.