Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
At school Matilda must survive massive and mean headmistress Miss Trunchbull, who has a tendency to throw children like her beloved Olympic hammer. Ian Merrill Peakes' hilariously over-the-top performance is the highlight of the show. It is impossible not to laugh when Peakes wriggles against the newt in her bloomers or smashes students' heads together in glorious slow motion. Even the sideways glances Peakes throws the audience illicit vigorous giggles. Matilda's greatest ally at school is kindhearted teacher Miss Honey. Laura Giknis is thoroughly lovable, and her powerful vocals are spectacular.
At home Matilda must hide her love of books from her television-obsessed family. Mark Donaldson is hilarious as laconic older brother Michael. Lyn Philistine plays Matilda's shallow self-absorbed mother, and Christopher Sutton takes on the role of her swindling used car salesman father. Philistine and Sutton give fun high-energy performances, but the humor in their scenes falls short. Under Lindo Goodrich's direction the pair soft-pedal their poor treatment of Matilda, making the material feel flat. That unwillingness to embrace the darkest aspects of Dahl's tale keep this Matilda from reaching its full potential.
Goodrich's tepid approach to the nastier elements of Matilda's story also stifles the opening number "Miracle." Here, the talented children's ensemble comes off as adorable where they should be insufferable. Some of the other numbers featuring the children are better, particularly "When I Grow Up" and "Revolting Children." Matilda herself (I saw Jemma Bleu Greenbaum in the role, which she shares with Ellie Biron) is excellent, but Nicky Intrieri (featured chorus member and fellow student Bruce) stands out as a special talent.
Every kid knows what it it like to feel oppressed and unappreciated. With irreverent humor and a spirited score, Matilda the Musical taps into that youthful frustration. It may not be perfect, but the Walnut Street's production is a first rate entertainment the whole family will enjoy.
Matilda the Musical runs through January 6, 2019, on the Walnut Street's Mainstage, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. For tickets call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787 or visit www.walnutstreettheatre.org or ticketmaster.
Ensemble: Nicholas Karl Brown*, Chali Cooke*, Mark Donaldson*, Casey Elizabeth Gill*, Billy D. Hart*, Adam Hoyak*, Maria Konstantindas*, Kevin Kulp*, Cary Michele Miller*, Kathryn Miller*, Ellie Mooney*, Dan Olmstead*, Elliot Styles*, Tara Tagliaferro*, Jacob Tischler*, Kevin Toniazzo-Naughton*
*Denotes membership in Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.
: Performs all Tues.-Fri. eve., except 12/14 and 12/21, plus matinees 11/23, 11/29, 12/13, 12/26, 12/27 and 12/28 and Monday evening 12/31 **: Performs all shows Sat. and Sun., plus matinees 12/6, 12/20, and 1/3 and eves. 12/14 and 12/21