note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Sheila Barth
It won seven Olivier Awards, the most in London’s West End history, 50 international awards, four Tony Awards, the New York Drama Critics Best Musical Award, and more, wowing audiences globally.
Besides featuring a heinously evil,villainous,androgynous anti-hero and pathetically abused, precocious 5-year-old little girl as foils, the celebrated Royal Shakespeare Company and the Dodgers’ first national touring production of “Matilda the Musical,” boasts frequent, eye-popping, explosive stage effects. The celebrated play is currently making its Boston premiere at the Boston Opera House through June 26, It sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? The musical, featuring book by Dennis Kelly, music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, directed by Matthew Warchus, pulls out all stops to keep theatergoers rapt, but somehow, underwhelmed critics last Wednesday night.
It seemed uneven, the pace dragging at times, and racing through other scenes, thinning the story line. The ensemble of adorable children sing and dance well, but oftentimes, it’s difficult to distinguish their words. That’s also true of sad-eyed, child star Sarah McKinley Austin in the lead role. Her voice is big, her acting fine,but at times, she and the cast disconnect, losing bravura.
Matilda Wormword is the unwanted little daughter of a shyster father (Brandon McGibbon) and tawdry dancing mother, (Darcy Stewart), who only wanted to have their indolent teen-age son, Michael (Darren Burkett). Matilda, whom they call “lousy little worm,” confounds them. She could read at 2 years old. At 5 years old, she challenges herself by frequenting the library, voraciously reading tomes, like the Harry Potter series. Matilda also captivates Mrs. Phelps (Keisha T. Fraser), the children’s room librarian, by creating fantasy stories, sensationally enhanced by sound designer Simon Baker, lighting designer Hugh Vanstone, and illusionist Paul Kieve, during actors’ enactments.
Matilda’s parents treat her miserably, but the little heroine successfully and subtly - almost too subtly - exacts. her revenge on them with her “naughty” stunts, adding peroxide to her dad’s hairgrooming products, turning his hair green, or lining his hat with paste.
The Wormwoods happily get rid of Matilda by enrolling her in Crunchem Hall, where Matilda thinks she’ll finally find happiness. Unfortunately, the little champion of righteousness clashes force with headmistress Miss Trunchbull, thwarting Trunchbull’s disciplinary torture whenever possible. Garbed in black, deliciously savoring the next torture to inflict on innocent students, Dan Chameroy is thoroughly despicable as Trunchbull the Terrible.
Matilda’s sole ally and role model is kindly, sweet teacher, Miss Honey (Paula Brancati), who is also victimized by the evil headmistress.
Rob Hamell’s drab sets of cement blocks adorned with light-up alphabetic letters, large, moving panels that separate, revealing an old-fashioned classroom, the Wormwoods‘ cluttered apartment , and the library’s wall-to-wall bookshelves, enunciate the play’s austerity.
Despite terrific orchestral accompaniment by the blended group of company and local musicians, the continuous barrage of swirling lights, thunderous sound effects, and cascading confetti, this production of “Matilda” lacks the charm, pathos and pizzazz of other hit musicals spotlighting abused children, such as “Annie,” or “Oliver”.