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Matilda the Musical
Beck Center for the Arts
Review by Mark Horning | Season Schedule

Also see Mark's review of The Toxic Avenger

Olivia Billings and Timothy Allen
Photo by Andy Dudik
The late Roald Dahl was a masterful author of such popular children's and adult novels as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "James and the Giant Peach" and "Matilda," among others. He is known for including a strange bent in these wildly popular tales, some of which have been turned into movies and musicals.

Currently on stage at the Beck Center for the Arts is Matilda the Musical, with book by Dennis Kelly, music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. The musical enjoyed a five-year 1,555 performance run on Broadway, winning five Tony Awards as well as a very well received national tour. There are devious adults, precocious children, an evil head mistress, a caring and sensitive teacher—all thrown together in an off kilter set.

Matilda lives at home with her brain-addled, TV-addicted brother Michael (Lee Price), smarmy, crooked father (Timothy Allen), uncaring mother (Olivia Billings), and her mother's tango "dance partner" Rudolpho (Joey Carmello). Matilda is mocked by her family because she would rather sit by herself and read such highbrow authors as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens instead of joining in the communal act of watching "the telly." When not reading, Matilda fills her time playing tricks on her father (who cannot accept the fact that she is a girl) by putting peroxide in his hair tonic, turning his hair green, and later putting super glue on the rim of his hat, making it a permanent fixture.

Matilda is sent to school where she is harassed by the older children, accepted by the younger students (whom she organizes into open rebellion), and soon comes under the stern gaze of Miss Trunchbull, the hunchbacked, overbearing, totalitarian head mistress who thinks that "all children are maggots." Matilda also meets and becomes fast friends with her teacher Miss Honey (Samantha Lucas), who sees in Matilda an extraordinary collection of intellectual gifts. Slowly, Matilda convinces the other students to stand up against the tyranny forced on them and revolt against their adult bully by Miss Trunchbull.

The Beck Center production has a truly wonderful cast. The role of Matilda is shared by Sophia Tsenekos and Ella Stec, who held the role the night I attended and was an absolute delight, with the perfect balance of precociousness and sweetness plus a streak of naughty. Timothy Allen plays Mr. Wormwood for great laughs and is delightful, in his garish suit. High marks also go to Olivia Billings, who is equally gregarious in the flamboyant role of as Mrs. Wormwood, especially when paired with Joey Carmello as Rudolpho. Their onstage dance antics are priceless.

Lee Price is dimwitted son Michael, a boy of few words, as well as the Doctor, and plays both convincingly. Trey Gilpin wisely underplays the role of Miss Trunchbull, giving her a more under-the-surface seething that carries well for the role. Samantha Lucas, with her wonderful singing voice, provides a Miss Honey with a truly nurturing spirit stood as the message of hope for the show.

The various young children include Finn O'Hara as Bruce, Owen Hill as Nigel, Colin Willett as Tommy, Nolan Tiech as Eric, Grace Mackin as Lavender, Clara Endleman as Amanda, Marissa Dingess as Alice, and Ellie Ritterbusch as Hortensia. Other adult actors in the cast consist of Neda Spears as Mrs. Phelps, Robert Pierce as Entertainer/Sergei, Adam Rawlings as the Escapologist/Older Student, and Hope Spinner as Acrobat/Older Student/Ballroom Dancer, with the adult ensemble consisting of Piper Bruce, Antonia Cagelosi, Antonio DeJesus, Eli Owens, Sam Sommer and Kaelin Curran.

The eleven-piece orchestra is very suited for their job.

The off-kilter set designed by Trad Burns perfectly lends itself to the feeling of askew. Inda Blatch-Geib's costumes range from industrial-looking school uniforms to outlandish adult outfits. Lighting by Ben Gantose is sufficient to set the mood, but the sound is another matter entirely. Matilda the Musical is directed by Scott Spence, who celebrates his 100th production with this show. Handling the choreography duties with his usual aplomb is Martin Cespedes.

So, with all of this going for it, you would think that this Matilda the Musical would be a perfect evening of entertainment. Unfortunately this is not the case. While it has its moments, for the most part it is a flawed production. To begin with, there needs to be a law that only people born in the United Kingdom are allowed to have British accents. Here, the accented words come out garbled. That is not helped by the terribly balanced sound system that overly favors the orchestra, drowning out most of the singers. As a result, most of the humor is lost, because the audience simply cannot understand the dialog or the lyrics. Pity.

With it being summer and the kids out of school, this could be an opportunity to expose the little ones to live musical theater. As long as you are not a stickler for hearing and understanding each and every word, you will be fine.

Matilda the Musical, through August 11, 2019, at the Beck Center for the Arts, Mackey Theater Stage, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood OH. Tickets may be purchased online at or by phone by calling 216-521-2540.

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