REVIEW — As any parent, educator or fan of Roald Dahl’s children’s novel “Matilda” knows … children are maggots. They are loud, a little bit naughty and completely revolting. They also steal the stage in Tuacahn Amphitheater’s Broadway in the Desert production of “Matilda the Musical.”
Based on Dahl’s 1988 novel and adapted for the stage by Dennis Kelly with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, “Matilda the Musical” tells the story of young Matilda Wormwood (Lydia Ricks) whose intellectual gifts are completely overlooked and even demonized by her parents Mrs. Wormwood (Sara Gallo) and Mr. Wormwood (Brad Bradley).
Matilda’s life becomes even more complicated when she enters school and has to face the wrath and scorn of the school’s headmistress Miss Trunchbull (Matt Ban).
Throughout the stage musical, Matilda finds comfort and solidarity with Mrs. Phelps (Nicole Powell), a kindly librarian who loves Matilda’s stories; Miss Honey (Mindy Smoot Robbins), her sweet and mousey school teacher; and her classmates who are equal parts scared little children and troublemakers.
“Matilda the Musical” debuted as a trial run by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon from late 2010 to early 2011. It had its West End premiere in November 2011 and its Broadway premiere in April 2013. It was by all accounts a critical and box office success, earning seven Olivier Awards in 2012 and five Tony Awards in 2013.
Now Tuacahn has brought the musical to its outdoor stage as part of the 2018 season of Broadway in the Desert productions.
Tuacahn’s production is highlighted by brilliant performances from Gallo, Bradley and Ban, who have the heavy job of providing both the comedic relief and dishing out fear and loathing in convincing fashion. It is a tough balance to get right and all three take it in turn quite well.
Gallo as Mrs. Wormwood shines as the woman whose love for herself is eclipsed only by her desire to be a world champion ballroom dancer. That Matilda was even born, let alone that she is preternaturally inclined to learning, is a source of constant annoyance and anxiety to Mrs. Wormwood.
As Mr. Wormwood, Bradley is an effective loser of a father who stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that Matilda is a girl and spends his days trying to cheat his customers. Though he is often funny, Mr. Wormwood is also cruel to Matilda and some of the moments between the pair are thick with fear and injustice.
Of the three antagonists, Ban’s portrayal of Miss Trunchbull seems to have the most meat. He is hilarious to be sure but also sinister, mean and downright scary. On the plus side, Ban can sing. Look for him to shine in the first act’s “The Hammer.”
Countering all the cruelty is Robbins’ turn as the sweet yet mostly spineless Miss Honey, who instantly recognizes Matilda’s gifts and wants nothing more than to show her kindness and encourage her to learn.
Miss Honey is a bright spot in the dark school and is often at odds with Trunchbull and her arm of the law style of educating children. As the story progresses, audiences learn there is more to their relationship than meets the eye.
Robbins’ has a powerhouse voice that belies her character’s meekness but at the same time shows how earnest Miss Honey is to help Matilda.
The show is bolstered by genius set design that makes great use of the Tuacahn outdoor stage and incorporates clever projections onto many of the set pieces. The show isn’t quite as grandiose as other Tuacahn productions in terms of wild pyrotechnics but it has just enough dazzle to fit the themes of the show.
The hidden gem of any production, this one particularly, is the orchestra, and though we don’t see them they are crucial to the entire mood of the show. “Matilda’s” score is at times discordant and harsh but also piercing and beautiful in places and the orchestra deftly maneuvers through the production with panache.
At the helm of the entire production, however, are the children, including the show’s title character.
Sourced largely from local children, the “revolting children” are actually anything but. Each child makes their mark on stage without losing their ensemble quality and it is easy to see that they are well-trained singers, dancers and actors. The children open the show and provide some of the strongest scenes of the musical.
It should be added here that the production is done using British accents and most of the children were quite adept at using the accent, a feat many adult actors cannot even manage.
Leading the cast of children is the delightful Ricks as Matilda. Ricks commands the stage as the gifted and overlooked young girl who loves to read, tell stories and has a keen sense of what is right in the world.
Ricks is an 11-year-old Washington County resident and if her starring role as Matilda is any indication, her future on stage is bright.
Overall “Matilda the Musical” proves to be a strong choice for Tuacahn’s 2018 season. It is both sinister and sweet and has a pleasing depth to its storytelling.
“Matilda the Musical” plays on alternating evenings with Tuacahn’s other productions Monday-Saturday until Oct. 18. Tickets range in price from $29-$96 and can be purchased online by calling the box office at 800-746-9882 or 435-652-3300 or in person at the Tuacahn box office located at 1100 Tuacahn Drive in Ivins.
- What: Tuacahn Amphitheater’s production of “Matilda the Musical.”
- When: Alternating evenings, Monday-Saturdays until Oct. 18.
- Where: Tuacahn Amphitheater, 1100 Tuacahn Drive, Ivins.
- Cost: $29-$96.
- Purchase tickets: Online | By calling the box office at 800-746-9882 or 435-652-3300 | At the box office, 1100 Tuacahn Drive, Ivins.
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