This rousing import may have slipped passed you, but must be seen if you like Broadway musicals.
It’s always great when a musical you hadn't expected to move you does so on many levels.
“Matilda the Musical” now playing for a short run at the Civic Theatre in San Diego did that for me, and it will do it for you as well.
At first I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had seen the movie, knew that it was based on a story by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG) but beyond that it was all new to me.
That’s because Matilda made its debut in London then eventually came to the states where it played on Broadway for a while, won a Tony for Best Book and now tours the country.
"Matilda" is a rare treat and we are lucky to see this little gem hit San Diego. It's a surprising and delightful little musical that comes out of nowhere with big heart and several memorable Tim Minchin songs.
Anyone familiar with Roald Dahl knows of his affinity for abused children. He loves to take kids to a dark place only to have them claim victory over the evil adults or misfortunes that plague their lives.
Extremely precocious Matilda is one such girl. An unwanted and unexpected child of an over-exaggerated mother (Darcy Stewart) who likes to take dance lessons, not with her even crazier husband Mr. Wormwood (Matt Harrington), but the sexy dance instructor Rudolpho (Stephen Diaz) she sees every week.
The library is Matilda’s serenity temple. There she can find books which allow her to escape to different parts of the world. Also Matilda loves to tell stories to the librarian, but stops short when she doesn’t know where the plot will lead.
Unfortunately, the first day of school approaches. It is represented more like a prison than a learning institution. Along with the promise of knowledge there also lurks Headmistress Trunchbull, an evil old woman and former hammer-throwing Olympiad.
Then there's the angelic Miss Honey (Jennifer Rowles), a kind-hearted teacher who immediately recognizes Matilda's potential and tries to advance her in the right direction, but she too is intimidated by the Headmistress.
Jenna Weir played Matilda in my performance (there are three) is as sweet and charming as she can be. Her voice hangs from the rafters and she can belt out a tune maybe better than some seasoned professionals.
She’s perfect as the abused, but headstrong tyke who isn’t as concerned so much with the future as to when it will arrive.
The most nuanced performance must go to Dan Chameroy who plays Trunchbull. His drag performance of the evil gym teacher left many in the audience laughing and applauding as he masterfully chewed up the scenery.
Trunchbull is part Paul Lynd and part Scooby-Doo villain, however her verbal abuse might be shocking to some, especially if there are children with you.
The real star here is Weir who is no stranger to show business. Every aspect of her gift is expressed in this production from singing to storytelling. The story-within-a-story she tells of the acrobat and his wife is a suspenseful yarn that she acts out in addition to her main role and singing duties.
The songs are memorable too with a wonderful opening number called "Miracle" and the technically superb "School Song."
"When I Grow Up" is a subtle number, but maybe the most memorable as the actors literally swing off the stage and into the audience.
Rob Howell has designed three main sets which aren't elaborate, but they don't need to be because the best parts of the show come from the cast and technically masterful scenery isn't required.
Unlike the film, Matilda's "powers" aren't integral to the story, so don't expect showstopping special effects. But you won't miss them; you will be too enthralled by the performers and book.
"Matilda" is a rare gem that may have slipped past your radar, but is well worth your time. A genuine musical in every sense of the word with so much heart it may become your new favorite. It's now one of mine.
"Matilda: the Musical" plays through Sunday, February 5, at the Civic Theatre.
The Civic Theatre is located at 1100 Third Ave, San Diego, CA 92101