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Matilda, the Musical
Book by Dennis Kelly, Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Choreographed by Peter Darling
The Fox Theatre
October 22, 2015

Mabel Tyler, Jennifer Blood Photo by Joan Marcus Matilda National Tour

Mabel Tyler, Jennifer Blood
Photo by Joan Marcus
Matilda National Tour

I love Matilda the Musical. I was immediately impressed with this remarkable, cleverly staged and incredibly well-written show when I saw it in London three years ago. I was looking forward to getting to see the National Tour at the Fox, and I’m glad I got to see it again. I’m pleased to say that the show is as wonderful, mysterious, and magical as ever.

Based on Roald Dahl’s popular book, Matilda tells the story of an unusual young girl who grows up neglected by parents who are too self-absorbed to appreciate her. Young Matilda Wormwood (Mabel Tyler) can already read novels before she starts school, but her parents are embarrassed by her as her mother (Cassie Silva) is preoccupied with preparing for ballroom dance contests and her father (Quinn Mattfeld) is making questionable business deals and watching television with his near-catatonic son, Michael (Danny Tieger). Matilda is left to spend the days at the library, telling stories to the appreciative and supportive librarian, Mrs. Phelps (Ora Jones). Soon, however, Matilda has to go to school, where she makes some new friends and meets a sympathetic but socially awkward teacher, Miss Honey (Jennifer Blood), and all the students live in fear of the domineering, gleefully menacing headmistress, Miss Trunchbull (Bryce Ryness). As Matilda’s stories begin to oddly echo reality, and as her world becomes more complex and challenging, Matilda is eventually compelled to take action and discover talents she didn’t even know she had.

As a show, I can’t say enough good things about Matilda. I already gushed enthusiastically in my review of the London production, and although the tour does make some necessary technical changes, the show is still as wondrous, compelling, clever, suspenseful, and magical as ever. The scaling down for the tour did take out some great effects, such as the desks rising out of the stage (they now slide in from the wings), but the dynamic staging,  choreography (by Peter Darling), striking color scheme and costumes (by Rob Howell, who also designed the set), are all recreated from the London and Broadway productions.  It’s a distinctive looking show, and sharply written as well, with a distinctly British sensibility that thankfully hasn’t been lost in the transfer across the pond. Dennis Kelly’s book is at turns witty, poignant, and occasionally chilling, with the joys, hopes, dreams, challenges, and fears of childhood on display in this remarkably rich story. Tim Minchin’s score, with memorable songs like “Naughty”, “School Song”, “When I Grow Up”, and “Revolting Children”, is top-notch, as well, and deserves all the praise it has received.

The cast here is excellent, as well. There are three young actresses (Mabel Tyler, Gabby Gutierrez, and Mia Sinclair Jenness) who alternate in the central role of Matilda. Tyler, the Matilda I saw, gives an excellent, gutsy performance, with just the right blend of toughness and vulnerability, as well as a good sense of comic timing a a strong singing voice that she employs well on her solos “Naughty” and “Quiet”.  Her classmates are well-played by a memorable ensemble including children and a few adult cast members dressed as children. Blood, as Miss Honey, is convincing, and her struggles to stand up for Matilda are sensitively played. Jones is also excellent as the other sympathetic adult in Matilda’s life, Mrs. Phelps. The unsympathetic adults are played in a much more cartoonish and over-the-top manner, as is fitting for a Dahl story. Silva and Mattfeld are both hilariously boorish as the Wormwoods, with Silva’s hilarious dance number “Loud” and Mattfeld’s ode of the joys of “Telly” standing out as comic highlights of the production. As the unrepentantly villainous Trunchbull, Ryness shines, managing to make a character with really no redeeming values incredibly entertaining to watch. His presence in the role is unmistakable, and he draws the audience’s eyes whenever he steps foot on stage. There were also memorable performances by Ian Michael Stuart and Natalie Wisdom as the subjects of Matilda’s recurring stories, the Escape Artist and the Acrobat. There’s a strong ensemble as well, lending support and maintaining the show’s level of energy and overall atmosphere throughout.

As far as I’m concerned, Matilda is one of the best new musicals of the past 20 years. After first witnessing its theatrical magic in London, I’ve been glad to see it gain success on Broadway and now on its first national tour. I’m pleased to see that the spirit of the show shines through on the tour, for the most part. I hope many St. Louisans take advantage of the opportunity to discover this remarkable show.

Bryce Ryness, Mabel Tyler, and the cast of Matilda Photo by Joan Marcus Matilda National Tour

Bryce Ryness, Mabel Tyler, and the cast of Matilda
Photo by Joan Marcus
Matilda National Tour

 The First National Tour of Matilda the Musical is running at the Fox Theatre until November 1, 2015.

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