Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Blackbeard
The musical by Dennis Kelly (book) and Tim Minchin (music and lyrics) is based on Roald Dahl's book about a 5-year-old genius who triumphs over her selfish and willfully ignorant parents (Christopher Michael Richardson and Tracy Lynn Olivera), helps her beleaguered schoolteacher Miss Honey (Felicia Curry), and fights the injustices of her school's tyrannical headmistress Miss Trunchbull (Tom Story).
Dahl wrote children's stories with a decidedly dark edge, which Kelly's book and Minchin's songs treat with both respect and playfulness. Like Matilda, with her love of books and language, the authors have created an intricate web of stories and relationships: Matilda may be in a bad situation, but she understands that she has to change her own story if she's going to survive.
Dunn gives an emotionally true performance and demonstrates a self-possession beyond her years, but she isn't the only star of this production. Story, whose repertoire encompasses Shakespeare, Tom Stoppard, and low comedy, is a fearsome Trunchbull, a grim, humorless athlete of giant stature who can also do a cartwheel. (Story has seven Helen Hayes Award nominations. Now would be a good time to give him the award.)
Curry wins the audience's empathy as a woman with a good heart but few resources, along with Rayanne Gonzales as a kindly librarian. Richardson and Olivera are deliciously over the top in their roles (with invaluable assistance from Pei Lee's costumes), as is Andre Hinds as Mrs. Wormwood's long-legged ballroom dance partner. Matilda's classmates are double cast, six at each performance, and they form a strong ensemble.
Milagros Ponce de León's scenic design uses books as its basic building block, with a proscenium arch and several inner frames constructed from bookshelves, which shimmer and glow under Nancy Schertler's lighting design and Clint Allen's projections. Roc Lee's sound design adds to the sense of unease and terror at school and the moral vacuity at Matilda's home.
Olney Theatre Center