Thursday, February 2, 2017

Matilda the Musical

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
Matilda the Musical at Civic Theatre through Sunday

Wednesday night I complied with a friend’s request to take him to the Broadway San Diego presentation of the Broadway touring production of the Matilda the Musical. He is a fan of Roald Dahl, who wrote the 19988children’s book upon which the 2010 musical is based.

Like almost everyone in the world, I’m aware of British author Dahl, in my case principally because of his book turned film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which starred my all-time favorite screen actor, Gene Wilder. How I missed reading Dahl’s books when I was younger is a mystery to me.

At any rate, the musical is a showcase for the heroism of one small English girl, (Matilda, played opening night by Jenna Weir) who uses her own considerable powers to change the outcome of her unhappy life. She is being raised by her mother, Mrs. Wormwood (Darcy Stewart) a self-involved blond more interested in Rudolpho (Stephen Diaz), her Latin dance partner, than in Matilda or Mr. Wormwood (Matt Harrington), an entrepreneurial schemer who insists on referring to Matilda as “He.”
Company of Matilda
Photo by Joan Marcus

Already able to read and speak several languages, the 5-year-old, largely self taught Matilda is sent to a boarding school run by the outrageously cruel Miss Trunchbull (Dan Chameroy, playing in drag), where her champions are the kindly librarian, Mrs. Phelps (Keisha T. Fraser), and her teacher, Miss Honey (Jennifer Bowles). The school is attended by all manner of equally mistreated youngsters, who do a bang-up job singing and getting the words across, a ­­criterion insisted upon from the beginning by the musical’s director Matthew Warchus and creators Dennis Kelly (book) and Tim Minchin (music and lyrics).

All the lead performances are excellent, especially that of the indefatigable Weir as Matilda (she shares the role with two other girls here in San Diego). Chameroy is fabulous in his drag role, treading the thin line between too much and just enough much, and I was particularly enamored of Bowles as Miss Honey, who also has a line to tread, too sweet and treacly or just right. Despite his inhumanity, the cuckold Harrington (a graduate of Pt. Loma High School) manages to find a grain of humanity in Mr. Wormwood.

Despite some wonderful songs (“When I Grow Up” is among the best) there are numerous so-so songs (the kids in the audience didn’t mind a bit) and throughout the evening the decibel level is so high that the show grows quite fatiguing as it slowly creeps toward a satisfying denouement. Judicious cuts would bring it in at a much more manageable length. This is not an original thought.

Jenna Weir, Jaime MacLean and Hannah Levinson 
all star as Matilda.  
Photo  ©2016, Joan Marcus


opening night, Musical Director Bill Congdon conducted a travelling and local orchestra comprising union musicians. Rob Howell is the set and costume designer, Peter Darling the choreographer, Simon
Baker the sound designer, and Hugh Vanstone the lighting designer.

Matilda the Musical
San Diego Civic Theatre
Through Sunday, February 5 or 888-937-8995

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