by Lynn on August 3, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book by Dennis Kelly
Based on the book by Roald Dahl
Music and lyrics by Tim Minchin
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Choreographed by Peter Darling
Set and Costumes by Rob Howell
Lighting by Hugh Vanstone
Sound by Simon Baker
Illusion by Paul Kieve
Cast: Paula Brancati
Aiden Bushey
Dan Chameroy
Keisha T. Fraser
Hannah Levinson
Anthony MacPherson
Brandon McGibbon
Riley O’Donnell
Darcy Stewart

Roald Dahl’s dark comedy about a spunky girl named Matilda who had smarts, common sense and a love of books and her evil parents and others who try to thwart her, brought to beautiful life in this glitzy musical.

The Story. Matilda Wormwood is a precocious, curious, smart kid. She loves reading. However her parents are horrors. Her father wanted a boy and does not acknowledge Matilda as a girl. He criticizes her love of reading. He’s a shady character who sells defective cars to get rich quick. Her mother is more interested in her sexy dance partner than she is in being a good mother. The head mistress in the school, Miss Trunchbull hates kids and picks on Matilda. Matilda does find comfort in the library with the kindly librarian, Mrs. Phelps. Matilda also has a champion in her teacher Miss Honey. Alas Miss Honey is meek and is bullied by the odious Miss Trunchbull. Is there a happy ending to this dark story? Of course. Never try to push around a scrupulously honest, fair-minded kid who read most of the classics by the time she was three years old.

The Production. Director Matthew Warchus has imagined a big, neon-coloured world for Matilda. In Rob Howell’s set there is a backdrop of letters in various sizes and colours that sometimes spell out Matilda’s name or other words. They are all representative of her world—reading. Similarly Howell’s costumes, garish sometimes, austere sometimes, witty always. Matilda is dressed conservatively in the school uniform—dark skirt, blazer and simple blouse. The other students are in various degrees of messy. Matilda is pristine. She carries a brief case that is also a back pack. She looks like a miniature accountant. As played by the formidable Hannah Levinson, Matilda is serious, almost humourless (this is a kid who has not been raised with humour or a sense of fun), desperate for affection, wise, with a sense of justice and fearless in trying to get justice where she thinks it’s lacking, which is just about everywhere. And Ms Levinson can sing with a strong set of pipes for one so young. She has a talent that is impressive no matter what age she is.

Matilda’s horrible parents are played by the agile and creative Brandon McGibbon as her father and Darcy Steward as her flouncy, bubble-headed mother. The odious, mean-spirited Miss Trunchbull is played by the steely-eyed, purse-lipped, smirking, tight-voiced Dan Chameroy. This is a focused, controlled performance of frightening and funny intimidation.

All the children shine with their many and various performances. They sing and dance well and are not too cloying.

Warchus throws in all sorts of glitz, glitter and eye-popping effects, the stuff that’s de rigueur in today’s musicals and it’s done very well. There is perhaps one moment of sentiment when Miss Honey shows Matilda kindness—Matilda hugs Miss Honey after a long pause. While this is the dark world of Roald Dahl’s book, we do have to see that Matilda does know how to return affection even if she’s had none in her life.

Comment. I’m a fan of all of Roald Dahl’s kids’ books. I like that prickly, edgy, almost pointed world he creates, matched by his really dark adult short stories. I think Matilda, The Musical really captures the dark world of the book, and puts its own spin on it.

It was heartening to see parents and their kids of many and various ethnicities seeing this show.

David Mirvish Presents the Royal Shakespeare Production of:

Performances began: July 5, 2016.
I saw it: July 31, 2016.
Closes: Nov. 27, 2016.
Cast: 24; 15 men, 9 women.
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

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