THESE REVOLTING CHILDREN ARE CHARMING AND THEIR HERO PLAYED BY THE TOUR DE FORCE YOUNG SOPHIA GILBERT IS A MUST SEE
Roald Dahl is best known for “Charlie and Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach” and is the author of many classic children's books. This spring join his “Revolting Children” in Contra Costa Musical Theatre production of the TONY winner MATILDA THE MUSICAL. Miss Honey’s classroom is now open at the Lesher Center for the Arts Hoffman stage through May 12th. Dahl’s novel about the young five year old hero, was made into a movie in 1996, but it took two attempts to get this musical to stage. The 1990 version didn’t last long but in 2010 the RSC version MATILDA THE MUSICAL opened and was an instant hit both on the West End and in New York. Book by Dennis Kelly and music by Tim Minchin kept the fairy-tale musical with a full size child cast. MATILDA is now just beginning its run of regional stages and CCMT was smart to book the big musical for the first Bay Area production.
Directed and choreographed by the award winning Jennifer Perry, who stage the Shellie winner BILLY ELLIOT last season. Perry has cast some of the best talent to fill this huge cast, that also calls for a full pre teen cast that stands up to the adult leads. The gifted 8th grader Sophia Gilbert who shined as Dorothy last fall at the Berkeley Playhouse plays the extraordinary Matilda and she is brilliant in the opening number “Naughty”. Music Director Eryn Allen conducts the pop and splendid score with over 23 songs that tells the story.
MATILDA herself does warm your heart as a young genius girl. Yet the show stopper is not the “Revolting Children” but one of the most wonderful villains I have yet to see on stage since “Hook” - the terrific Mark Farrells’ evil Miss Trunchbull is effectively the best drag queen “Mrs.Hannigan” type I have seen to date. ANNIE did come to mind a few times, but this story and musical is far more entertaining. MATILDA is a young genius whose parents and school headmistress try to crush her spirit. When Farrell is not on the stage as Trunchbull, the best parts are the children's numbers. Composer Tim Minchin, work includes “School Song”, "Revolting Children" and the anthem banner “When I Grow Up.” The humor appeals to both children and adults, as we follow the story of the little girl trying to create a better life.
The children are bullied by some very terrible adults, and young Gilbert’s Matilda, wins your heart from her first number “Naughty”. She sings with the other preteen cast “sometime you have to be a little bit naughty just because you find that life's not fair”. It is easy to tell from her first entrance on stage that this little hero will take care of any wrongs. Matilda is one of Dahl's kinder tales, it's fun to see his famous trademark sparkle in the villains and over the top adults he creates. Miss Trunchbull is a past Olympic hammer winner, the busty headmistress who tosses young students off stage by their pigtails or ears. The nightmarish cake eating bit is also part of the 2.5 hour show, and as awful as these abusive scenes seem, this is what makes this show so fun and touching.
Perrys staging and choreography is eye candy busy on the two level stage that gives the young cast room to dance, swing and climb. She modernize the tone of show by letting the *Gen Alpha cast use cell phones as props. The large child cast are all charismatic and Perry manages to let each one them show their talent. The adorable Ayssa Kim stands up to the Farrel, and Chris Apy, Ella Dunderdale, Sean Gin, Grace Perry, Kennedy Williams, Joshua McCooey, Jax Franks, Aimee Hennessy, Lucy Powers, Kevin Lechner, and Hannah Bachman round out the energized younger cast.
The production numbers are all well done and very inspiring by both the child an adult cast. The two women that support Matilda’s dreams include her teacher Miss Honey played by the powerhouse Josselyn O'Neill Ryder who recognizes the child's brilliance she sings “This Little Girl” with pitch perfect charm. The librarian Mrs Phelps played by local favorite Jennifer Stark listens to the little girls wonderful stories. Stark sings “Acrobat Story” with Gilbert during each of her visits to the Library.
The adult cast has just the right Dahl quirkiness and charm. CCMTs award winning Linda DiVito and the very funny Michael Doppe are the reprehensible parents called the Wormwoods. Their first scene is Matilda’s birth on stage, a very “monty python” moment, as mom Wormwood complains the birth kept her from her cha-cha ballroom contest.
The camp Zachariah Mohammed plays Rudolpho Mrs Wormwood’s flamboyant dance partner, always in the wings ready to take the lead. The talented Connor Johnson plays Matilda's older brother Michael who grunts his lines and mimics Daddy Wormwood, a slimy, cheat car salesman and perfect clown. Doppe topped with green hair has the best comic timing as the father, always calling Matilda “boy” and saying her love for reading books is a waste. In fact, Father Wormwood opens the second act warning the kids in the audience that reading will stunt their growth.
The demanding role of Matilda is usually played by three child actors, she has to be on stage for over 95% of the show. Gilbert is a professional who held this show together along with the supporting cast and the other kids in the cast. It’s a huge demanding show and the youth cast is the key to fun on stage.
The many kids in the show are always at top speed and have the best fun when Farrell is on stage. The young Xander Raymond is a stand out as Bruce the tyke that is forced to eat a full chocolate cake at each performance. He has a great solo in the closing number “Revolting Children”, where he is the one actor who gets to use a hand mic to belt the number. It reminded me of a younger version of “Spring Awakening”.
Once at school Matilda finds hope in her new teacher Miss Honey, and the friendly Librarian Mrs. Phelps. Matilda fills Phelps with her stories and dreams. The Acrobat lovers are part of her stories and are played by distinguished Chanel Tilghman and dapper Keaton Wilkerson. The fun contrast between Honey and Trunchbull keeps the second act at times a bit long, but the payoff with Trunchbull is the PE class as Farrell flies across the stage to land in a set of rubber balls.
The kids are rebellious and very entertaining, normal children who attempt to think for themselves and that point is clear as they rally around their new superhero Matilda. The ensemble cast fills in as the older teens and Russian thugs including the high flying Ronald James, Alex Moore, and the accomplished Aubri Kahalekulo as a child hating party clown. The keen dancers Amanda Leigh, Lindsey Meyer, Rachel Powers, Logan Schluntz, Katie Turley and Catherine DeVincenzi keep the anthem songs vibrant.
Set designer Kelly James Tighe along with the help from Rooster Productions created a two level set bright storybook and vaudeville theme sets and block carts for the Woodworm house and piles of library books. Propmaster Debbie Shelley provides scooters for the whole cast, and plenty of party balloons, a big cake, school desks, swings and of course a game boy for Matildas dim witted brother Michael.
The grey tone costumes of award winning Liz Martin bring a authentic effect to each actors look as their costumes include many fast changes for the younger cast. The drag dresses of Trunchbulls over the top look included some heavy handed stuffed busty belts and mile high boots.
The dresses for Mrs Wormwood are camp and carnival bright and Divito carried them well as she swaggered off stage or conga danced. The dance teacher Rudolpho was dressed in black with eye candy capes and Matilda wore the perfect Annie dresses that Martin oversized on her to make her look like a five year old. The 80’s pop look is topped off by marvelous wig designer Michael Berg who put the green in Doppe’s wig. Aaron Spivey’s lighting design is set to blue tones aided by the effective projection designed by Tom Estes. Sound designer Kira Daughtry keeps the Kaufman stage in the perfect mix with Allens 14 member pit managed by Steve Logoteta as the pop anthem songs progress the story. Stage managers Emily Steiner and Kathleen Parsons have the huge task of wrangling a busy cast and over sized set that went smooth opening weekend.
Some complained that you can’t follow the lyrics of the younger cast, but I had no problem getting through the volume of the musical. The second act can get a bit “Stephen King-ish” as Matilda throws some “Carrie” into her spirit, but it is still fun and a great way to get revenge on bullies in the story. “When I Grow Up” reprises Matilda's quest for a better life and the hope that her dad finally may call her his daughter.
MATILDA THE MUSICAL is a joy to watch and a lesson in listening to a child's dream and their potential to change life for the better. You can’t beat the twisted edge of Roald Dahl and the children's tales he writes. “Charlie and Chocolate Factory” Broadway tour is now at SHN’s Golden Gate stage and in the footsteps of MATILDA. Next up at CCMT is the Gay fantasy PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT Oct 11th just in time for Pride 2019. Next year in April NINE TO FIVE THE MUSICAL will make its Bay Area Premier. But in the meantime it is a must that you fill your Easter weekend with Miss Trunchbull and her attempt to match of wits with the amazing Matilda.
Contra Costa Musical Theatre Present
The Bay Area Regional Premiere
'MATILDA' The Musical
By Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin,
adapted from the Roald Dahl novel
Directed and Choreographer by
Music Director Eryn Allen
Through May 12 Hoffman Theatre,
Dean Lesher Center for the Arts
1601 Civic Center Drive, Walnut Creek Ca
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, one intermission
Tickets: start at 30.00 www.ccmt.org
Photos by Linda Carter
*Generation Alpha, succeeds Millennials (2005 to present time)
WHEN I GROW UP - THE WEST END CAST - LONDON
Photos by Linda Carter
WHEN I GROW UP - THE WEST END CAST - LONDON