Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The production is wonderful, offering inventive lighting by Brittney Baker, sharp choreography by Danae Holly, adorable costumes by Shannon Scheffler, and sometimes scary but always lovely hair and makeup by Khristah Garcia. Co-directors Kristin K. Berg and Doug Montoya have put together a sparkling show full of kids running in all directions in nicely coordinated chaos. These co-directors clearly have a knack with kids, which isn't too surprising, given that they are the co-artistic directors of Cardboard Playhouse Theatre Company, which produces a handful of "junior" versions of hit musicals each year starring kids.
The story of Matilda comes from Roald Dahl, who wrote some of weirdest and most beautiful children's books of the 20th century, including "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "James and the Giant Peach," and "Matilda," the tale of a brilliant young bookworm of a girl who was born into a family that loves TV and despises books. Dahl built his tale on a notion that most of us hold at some time in our childhood that we were born into the wrong family. And like many of us, Matilda finds her closest connection to an adult when she meets her teacher, Miss Honey.
The 1988 novel came to the big screen in 1996, directed by Danny DeVito. The story was warmly embraced by critics and kids, which set the scene for the 2010 musical with a book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. The musical was a hit in the West End, where it won seven Olivier Awardsthe most won by a show at the timebefore opening on Broadway in 2013, where it nabbed five Tony Awards and ran through more than 1,500 performances before closing in 2017.
The MTS production features outstanding acting and singing. Peacock as Matilda is strong in her delivery of singing and script, while she's also delightful in the gestures and asides that deliver Matilda's clear and quirky personality. Van Gerpen as Miss Honey delivers an entirely different personality than she did as Nora in the production of A Doll's House at the Vortex last month. Her bearing and facial expressions are completely altered as she effortlessly and effectively inhabits Matilda's savior of a teacher.
Lytle and Rupprecht and Mrs. and Mr. Wormwood bring a wealth of comic chops to the show in wildly hysterical buffoonery as well as subtle gestures. Even Matilda's odd brother Michael (Ayden Ghoreishi) is a continual hoot. The show's star of bizarre appearance and behavior is Sroufe as Agatha Trunchbull, the schoolmaster who detests children, Matilda in particular. All the kids are excellent, delivering physical stunts as well as genuine kid personality and comic charm.
For all its accolades in the U.K. and the U.S., the songs in Matilda are not particularly memorable. But the story is. We see the full range of Dahl's dark view of childhood. His stories reveal that the problems faced by children may actually be more serious and consequential than the problems of adulthood. With the exception of Miss Honey and the librarian, M. Phelps (Evie Long), the adults are untrustworthy, even dangerous. And then Dahl makes this horror show of childhood hilarious. Wonderful production by Musical Theatre Southwest.
Musical Theatre Southwest's Matilda runs through December 29, 2019, at African American Performing Arts Center, 310 San Pedro NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm. General admission is $25. For seniors, students, and ATG members, admission is $23. For reservations, call 505-265-9119 or purchase online at mtsabq.org