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Theater Review: "Matilda, the Musical"

“Matilda, the Musical” plays through February 23, 2020 at Coronado Playhouse, 1835 Strand Way, Coronado.
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Coronado Playhouse

Some people have a childhood so horrendous it’s downright funny. Of course, they’re fictional (and in this case, invented by that loony writer, Roald Dahl).

“Matilda, the Musical” plays through Feb. 23 at Coronado Playhouse. Written by Dennis Kelly and set to music by Tim Minchin, the show is directed by Rayme Sciaroni, artist in residence at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

This very British story still holds the record for most Olivier awards won by a musical, tying with “Hamilton” in 2018.  In 2013, the show won five Tonys, including one for Best Book of a Musical.

The cast features many talented area kids who amusingly sing, dance and cavort around in this kids’ classic story.\

Matilda’s mom, Mrs. Wormwood (Kaitlin Sten), always wanted to be a dancer, never a mom, and is shocked when the doctor tells her she’s pregnant. But having a baby doesn’t slow her down; she still acts as if it isn’t so and spends more time vamping around with partner Rudolpho (Victor Reveles) than being a mom.

Meanwhile, dad (Justin Allen Slagle) – who makes a living selling substandard used cars to unsuspecting Russians – considers Matilda just a nuisance, because he wanted a son. So he calls her “boy.” And brother Michael (Jameson Johnston) is just, well, a pain.

How to escape? Why, by reading, of course. She goes to the library, where she finds not only refuge but a friendly librarian, Miss Phelps (Elise Feyedelem). Miss Phelps is quite taken with Matilda’s intelligence and knowledge, but she’s absolutely blown away by the girl’s ability to tell a riveting story.

That takes us off to another plot thread, Matilda’s continuing story about a pair of acrobats (Jacob Sampson and Grace Rice), who add visual delights as we get to sample their wares.

But school is far from ideal. The upside is that Matilda’s teacher is sweet, helpful Miss Honey (Aislinn Lowenberg), so impressed that she’s reading the likes of Dickens, Dostoevsky and Brontë and tries to get her moved up a few grades.

This attempt is scotched by that monster of a headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, who delights in inflicting torture like endless, difficult phys. ed. workouts and threatening students with a horrendous place called The Chokey (you don’t want to know.) She’s played hilariously by Anthony Zelig.\\

The situation is dire, but the show is funny, and Matilda shows that she’s got what it takes to weather this storm. She starts by being “a little bit naughty” and putting hydrogen peroxide in her father’s hair oil, which turns his hair green.

When Trunchbull gets to be too much, the kids decide to rebel and take things into their own hands, leading to more hilarity.\

“Matilda” is an amusing story, and these kids have obviously worked hard to spit out all those lyrics intelligibly. It’s a tough task and wasn’t always successful on opening night, but it’s fun to watch anyway.

Matilda is double-cast; I saw Luna Olivieri, who was terrific. I also found Owen Schmutz (as student Bruce Bogtrotter) amusing, especially as he endures a particularly sickening punishment from Trunchbull. And Leah Rojas made me giggle as the Matilda hanger-on, who keeps announcing to all that she is “Matilda’s BEST friend.”

Lowenberg’s Miss Honey is wonderful as Miss Honey, and has a particularly lovely voice as well.

Slagle and Sten inspire giggles (and gasps) as Matilda’s otherwise occupied parents.

Nina Gilbert does a fine job with the six-member onstage band, and Alyssa Anne Slagle contributes some fine choreography.\

Kudos to Tony Cucuzzella for the malleable set design, and to Chloe Oliana M Clark (lighting), Michael Cook (sound) and Lisa Samson (costumes) as well.

“Matilda” illustrates a childhood no kid should ever have, but this cast manages to make it fun to watch.

The details

“Matilda, the Musical” plays through February 23, 2020 at Coronado Playhouse, 1835 Strand Way, Coronado.