|Nava Ruthfield as Matilda, and Ann Cornelius and Chris Ensweiler as her parents (Mark Kitaoka)|
Matilda the Musical
Issaquah: Through 12/30/18, Everett: 1/4/19-2/3/19
Village Theatre reports that their current production of Matilda the Musical is selling better than any show in history! One can’t call it a holiday show, but you might guess that a lot of kids would be excited to see it. They would be especially interested if they have read the Roald Dahl books.
Village’s production is as good a production of this musical as you’ll likely see anywhere! It’s particularly good to see it in a more modest theater than the cavernous Paramount or even the large 5th Avenue because – no matter what – the lyrics are going to be hard to understand.
Firstly, many lyrics are sung by children and no matter how hard they work at it, their high-pitched voices and lack of forming hard consonants make lyrics hard to understand in group numbers. But add to that fake British accents, and that complicates it almost beyond any understanding. So, a smaller theater like Village is more ideal for understanding those difficult words.
The casting choices, particularly of the “grownups,” are terrific. Basil Harris, as the awful Ms. Trunchbull, is just scary enough and he sings his solo with gusto. Also awful – and really funny – are Chris Ensweiler and Ann Cornelius as Matilda’s terrible parents. Marissa Ryder, as the overly sweet and terribly un-confrontational Miss Honey, has a lovely voice for the (interminable) ballads.
Shaunyce Omar tries her best (which is very, very good) to infuse Mrs. Phelps the librarian with some extra spice, but since she’s clearly one of the best voices on stage, it’s almost criminal not to let her have a song somewhere! As a newcomer to the Seattle area, Jose Luis Uz makes a splash as the salsa dancer (and practically steals the scenes he is in).
The children’s ensemble, headed by Nava Ruthfield as Matilda on the day I saw the production, does a great job, including with the interesting and deliberately-awkward choreography by director Kathryn Van Meter. Young Thomas Gomes took on the role of the picked-on Bruce and won our hearts.
Matthew Smucker’s scenic design of massive chalkboards with cursive alphabets all over makes for a seamless set changing operation as walls open to classrooms or living rooms or doorways or library with small adjustments to their placement. Lighting designer Alex Berry makes good use of pinpoint lighting to bring our eyes to the proper places on stage. Costume designer Melanie Taylor Burgess created mostly understated uniforms, but had great fun with Trunchbull’s umm… assets and the Wormwoods’ amazingly garish clothing. The musicians were outstandingly led by Tim Symons, and also, the underscoring was held to a more minimal degree of loudness, allowing dialogue to be heard, as well.
The musical itself suffers from the fact that it is a musical of a book that is mostly a story related by the little girl Matilda. It’s hard to translate telling a story to stage and this musical doesn’t really do it very well. The songs added are often overly long (the ballads) and often don’t move the story along, either. There are a couple that are fun, thankfully including the opening number, Miracle, where the little kids relate how their parents call them “little miracles” and “prince(lings)” and then they have to go to school where the older kids are ready to terrorize them. It is, however, a faithful rendition of the novel, so kids who have read it will know what to expect. And it is also a whole-family-friendly production.