Loud and Raucous Matilda Makes Unimpressive Seattle Debut
A critics darling in London and on Broadway, described by some as an Annie for the new millennium, Matilda The Musical based on Roald Dahl’s dark children’s book, comes across as loud, raucous and largely charmless in its Seattle debut at the 5th Avenue Theatre. On opening night, after some serious tech issues during previews, the sound was also a culprit. It was loud, but the all important lyrics and dialogue were mostly muddy when not outright unintelligible. Many of the children in attendance were squirming in their seats or bored when not under the spell of some definitely. Unfamiliar as I am with the Dahl book, I imagine that Dennis Kelly’s adaptation largely follows the outline of it, if not slavishly, but children at the performance stated on exiting they liked the book much better. Tim Minchin’s Music and Lyrics now and then catch the ear or touch the heart but not consistently enough for a 2 and ½ hour show. Director Matthew Warchus and Choreographer Peter Darling make sure the show is loaded with eye candy, but charm is in short demand, and the cruelty of the parents and headmistress is cringe inducing where it should be farcical.
Matilda follows the adventures of an extraordinary little girl with extraordinary powers. The daughter of abusive parents, Matilda finds refuge in library books, which she reads quickly, and in creating her own stories. Things are no better at school, where Matilda also must face a tyrannical and cruel headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, who believes in Crunchem Hall’s motto: “Bambinatum est Magitum,” or “Children are Maggots.” She finds companionship in her teacher, Miss Honey, who though well-intentioned, is shy and fragile. Brave little Matilda knows she has to stand up against the adults in her world, and in doing so, discovers her own remarkable powers.
As one of the three young actresses in the title role for the Seattle run of this tour Gabby Gutierrez is cute, and a more than competent and spunky singer and dancer. She hasn’t the range of a more seasoned child star, nor is she a natural fit for the role, and she is also hard to understand a lot of the time, but she is more than serviceable. Jennifer Blood is winsome, lovely, charming and sweet-voiced as Miss Honey, and never saccharine, and scores with her first solo, “this Little Girl.” Quinn Matfield is raffishly caddish as Matilda’s Father Mr. Wormwood, and his Act Two opener “Telly” is old-school Brit song and dance rouser performed with abandon. Ora Jones is winning as the kindly librarian Mrs. Phelps Actor Bryce Ryness, dragged up as Miss Trunchbull the malevolent headmistress is too intense and realistic a villain to truly entertain in the role, and Cassie Silva is mostly just shrill and whiny as Mrs. Wormwood. The rest of the ensemble is a well-oiled mix of children and adults, but with no real standouts. The best number in the show, "When I Grow Up" is one of the few moments where the music and stagecraft (children swing out on top of the crowd’s heads) combine with alchemy to delight.
Rob Howell’s eye-pleasing sets and costumes, as lit with consummate skill by lighting designer Hugh Vanstone are beyond reproach, and deserving Tony award winners. Simon Baker’s sound design as noted was still not fully functional so it is hard to judge adequately. Using my new rating system I regretfully give Matilda SWM (Something Was Missing +) or 2 and ½ stars.
Matilda runs through September 6th at the The 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle. For tickets or more information call 206-625-1900 or go to www.5thavenue.org. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue Theatre box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org