Matilda The Musical opened on the mainstage of the Cumberland County Playhouse to a crowd that included many excited children.
This Tony Award-winning musical is based on the Roald Dahl British children’s novel, Matilda. Published in 1988, it is the story of a very talented and troubled little girl in an English village.
The script is by Dennis Kelly. Tim Minchin composed the music and lyrics. Kyra Crosby played Matilda on opening night. Sarah Hedrick alternates in the role.
Britt Hancock and Leila Jones played Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood. They do not understand their daughter nor do they try.
Cory Clark plays their son Michael, who is usually glued to the television. He is loved. He is a boy. This second child has been a disappointment from conception.
Hancock plays Mr. Wormwood as an angry man. Wormwood Motors, selling useless used cars, is his main concern. His lengthy tirade in song, “All I Know,” begins the second act. Later he lets us know his view of himself as he sings “I’m So Clever.”
Leila Jones plays Mrs. Wormwood. Her career as a ballroom dancer and actress is the focus of her life, far more important than her bookish daughter.
The show has a cast of more than 30, including adults and youngsters as young as 10.
Greeting theatergoers when entering are what appear to be 5,000 books. A thank you note in the program indicates it took 28 people to paint them all. They highlight Matilda’s love of reading. Whenever her father sees her with a book, he destroys it.
A key figure in the story is Miss Honey. Larren Wodward, who plays the role, was with us last Christmas season in Holiday Inn. As the lone figure of compassionate caring in the life of Matilda, Miss Honey has to struggle against the authority of the headmistress and the undisciplined actions of the students. She alone knows that patience and respect are the bywords of teachers.
Weslie Webster, as the librarian, has delightfully eccentric costumes. She encourages Matilda in her reading and storytelling skills.
The Escapologist (Chris Hallowes) and the Acrobat (Fiona Mowbray) are figures from the stories she creates. Since my life as a somewhat troubled child was eased by a caring librarian, I longed for a bit of tenderness in the role. The projections accompanying the stories may have been more visible in seats further back in the house. Thanks, John Fionte, Brian Hull and Crissy Varnell for this media addition.
Costumed in the uniforms of a private school are Justin Burr, Cory Clark, DeAnna Etchison, Jensen Crain-Foster, Chris Hallowes, Cora Hassberger, David Kappel, Rachel Lawrence, Heather McCall, Fiona Mobray, Charlie Munday, Zachary Taylor, Jonathan Tison, Gwyneth Yockey. They are a rowdy bunch.
Headmistress Agatha Trunchbull is played by the ever-creative Jason Ross. Her maxim is: “If you are having fun, you are not learning,”
With 15 scenes in Act I and another nine in Act II, set designer Tom Tutino had a challenge. He has done an amazing job.
Scene changes include those flying from above or shifted by busy stage hands. These enable us to see the Wormwood living room, Matilda’s unattractive bedroom, the library, the school gym as well as the outside street. Tutino and his staff have been very busy.
Ron Murphy and David Garrison on the keyboards, plus Phil Barham, Wayne Robbins, Andy Neilson, Tony Greco, Jordan Morack, Jeff White, Jacob Miller, and Chet Hayes keep the audience alive with rollicking music throughout the show.
Jess Griffin brings her varied talents to the role of director for this show. She previously directed Madagascar and co-directed Annie.
She comments “Bringing the story of Matilda to life on this stage is a literal dream come true. Thank you to everyone who was part of the magic. May we all walk away feeling a little braver, stronger, and committed to making the world a better place.”
I am certain that as performances continue, the diction of the young people will become clearer and the sound more modulated. I hope to see it again.
Matilda, The Musical will be playing through Aug. 18. Call 931-484-5000 for tickets.
It is rated PG. Clearly the youngsters in the audience loved every minute of it.