intermissionmag.com

Matilda The Musical
The Fox Theater, St. Louis


Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs October 21 through November 1, 2015; as seen October 22

Roald Dahl’s children’s books are known across several generations and have been the inspiration for several movies. There are few children born after 1970 who haven’t read James and the Giant Peach or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And, if they’ve been raised to avoid books, god forbid, by parents like Matilda’s, they have likely seen the movies. Matilda was one of Dahl’s later books, published in 1988, aimed at children, but the story told by this well-presented play adapation has nuggets of truth for parents as well as for children. At the risk of diverging from the purpose of this review, few know that Roald Dahl also wrote children’s poetry, adult fiction and non-fiction titles! Several of his works were intriguing enough to be adapted for television’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents series. Only James Bond afficonados are likely to know that he wrote the screenplay for Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice.

As alluded to above, Matilda Wormwood is the unexpected, unwanted and unloved child of “telly-watching” parents, both of whom are appalled by her interest in books. This is just one of the 5-yr old’s prodigious skills, all of which she applies to solving the problems of her classmates and adults around her. Ignored by her mother and abused by her father, Matilda reads voraciously, secretly visiting the library to borrow books and keeps the librarian rapt by telling installments of a story of her own invention. At school, run like a prison by child-hating Miss Trunchbull, Matilda defends her ill-accused friends because “if it’s not right, you have to put it right!” Realizing that her beloved teacher’s impoverished living conditions are undeserved, Matilda seeks to right the wrong using a special and remarkable gift.

A clever and sometimes dark story, the lead role is handled in rotation by three very young actresses: Gabby Gutierrez, Mia Sinclair Jenness, and Mabel Tyler. On the night we attended, Mabel Tyler played the very substantial role with the confidence and aplomb of most adult stage actors. She’s tiny (only 4’ 5” tall) but has a large presence, even at 10 years of age! If the other two girls play the role equally well, this is indeed an extremely talented cast. A truly exceptional, and memorable, performance was delivered by Bryce Ryness as the Crunchem School’s malicious and heavy-handed headmistress and disciplinarian, Miss Trunchbull.

While the score by Tim Minchin was lively, engaging and apropos, the only truly memorable song was “When I Grow Up”. That said, however, the choreography by Peter Darling was complex and crowded but the cast seemed to hit stride from the very first notes. Alongside the performances of Tyler and Ryness, the very impressive and detailed set by Rob Howell must be given high marks. Not surprisingly, Howell has been the recipient of many awards of prestigious acclaim including three Oliviers and a Tony.

The Fox was, if not completely, very nearly full last night. This is particularly meaningful since as a school night, it drew a lot of young theater-goers. While in general we love seeing parents introduce their children to live theater, it’s dismaying that some parents haven’t taught their children how to behave in a theater. Perhaps that’s the fault of so much media being available in our homes with little apparent need to show common courtesies such as not talking, getting up in the middle of the show, or even arriving on time! (Not only were the three women who brought five grade-school girls late for the beginning of the performance, they blocked our view AGAIN when they returned late from intermission!)

There’s little doubt that this tour of Matilda The Musical is deserving of high marks in support of the 4 Tony Awards® and record-setting 7 Olivier Awards® amongst the 50 international awards it has received. You will be drawn into this story of an incredible girl, deprived of the love all children should receive from their parents, who uses her imagination and wits to change course for a better life. This sharp production is here only until November 1st, so get your tickets without delay at metrotix.com or call the Fox box office at 314-534-1111.

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