By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor
Just kidding! Revolting is a word often used in this dark work by Roald Dahl, master of grotesquerie and gore and the writer of the book “Matilda” on which this musical is based, and this production is fun! Dahl believed children need darkness and the sense of being trusted with “the real story” and he gave it to them! This adaptation of Matilda the Musical, first performed in 2010 with book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, is a hoot! But make no mistake, parents, it’s a very dark, uncomfortable, and sometimes scary story and may not be suitable for young children.
From the opening line when all the other children in the classroom sing, “My mommy says I’m a miracle” and other similar positive messages, Matilda sings of the family’s message to her, “My mommy says I’m a lousy little worm; my daddy says I’m a boy”, it’s clear that Matilda is not in a warm and cuddly place. The audience quickly comes to realize that this is a special kind of little girl. One with gifts and special powers. In case you don’t know the story of Matilda, it is based on Roald Dahl’s 1988 classic book and tells the story of Matilda Wormwood, a young girl with a sharp wit and love for books. With her special brand of ingenuity, she stands up against the horrible adults who want to crush her imagination.
There are two rotating casts of children, “revolting” and “naughty”. Says it all! The Matilda we saw, Jane Keifer, from the “naughty” cast, sang and acted brilliantly! She WAS Matilda! I did, however, have a little trouble hearing some of her narrative, but overall she gave a masterful performance, as did the other children in the cast. These are very special children, indeed! A few of the children, though, stood out in the cast, Bryson Begg as Bruce had to eat his weight in cake and did it hilariously with a masterful and unprecedented belch, Jahlil Greene as Nigel sang beautifully and danced his heart out and into ours, and Eva Jaber as Lavender embodies the mischievous child who knows it all and is out to show you with a great big speaking and true singing voice.
The adults in the cast were all amazing and had to be big triple threats, singing, dancing, overacting–in the best possible way, of course! And speaking of chewing the scenery, let’s talk about Miss Trunchbull, played by Brett Cassidy. Traditionally, this role has been played by a man and this production is no exception. Oh, my! He/she is excruciatingly frightening! She has the biggest voice and presence of anyone I could ever imagine playing that dreadful and delicious role. I literally cringed in my seat when she yelled nasty epithets at the children. I was thrilled, however, when the children, led by Matilda, began to get control of the situation.
But for me, Miss Honey (Meredith Eib) won the day. She is the only teacher we meet in this dreadful formerly English, now American, school overseen by Miss Trunchbull. Miss Honey believes in her students and dutifully and lovingly teaches them, with disregard for the daily soul crushing berating she receives from Miss Trunchbull. Miss Honey also realizes that Matilda is an extremely bright little girl and helps her in every way she possibly can to realize her potential. Her songs are gorgeous and her singing magnificent! They help to soften the earsplitting but great sound design (kudos to sound designer Kevin Alexander). Children and adults in the audience seemed to love it. Me, not so much…but that’s just me.
However, at the other end of the scale, Matilda’s parents, the Wormwoods, whose mother (Shayla Lowe) didn’t want to have her and whose father calls her a little boy (that’s what says he wanted and it makes him appear even more evil). Both parents are over the top in their outrageous behavior with help from the fabulous costume director Paris Francesca, and the incredibly talented choreographer, Nicole Marie Maneffa. Mom (Mrs. Wormwood) is a wannabe Latin dancer and shows off her amazingly adept and hilarious “moves” with her partner, the handsome and extremely smarmy Rudolpho (Andres Alejandro). Mom is also a marvelous singer and actor and steals the show whenever she’s onstage! The orchestra led by music director, Elisa Rosman, was terrific, though sometimes overpowering the younger members of the cast. Also, I must mention the set, which serves the story beautifully, transforming from home to schoolroom to library ingeniously in a limited black box space! Brava to scenic designer, Emily Lotz.
I’m running out of space, sadly, to describe the rest of the uber-talented cast, who gave each delightful song and specialty number (of which there were many!) a special twist, making each one forever memorable! Although I was mentally and aurally exhausted by the curtain, I was exceedingly happy at the outcome. You will be, too!
Performance and Ticket Information:
Matilda the Musical, now playing at NextStop Theatre Company in Herndon, Virginia runs through December 22, 2019. It’s approximately two hours long with one intermission. For tickets and performance information, visit nextstoptheatre.org or call the box office at 866-811-4111.