Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Matilda the Musical began at Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) at Stratford-upon-Avon in November 2010 and after a limited run transferred pretty much intact to the West End where it continues as a major hit. A Broadway production opened with Bertie Carvel, the original Ms, Trunchbull, in 2013 and racked up an impressive 1500+ performances. Since performance rights have been made available to regional theatre companies, it is a regular visitor. Another production opens at Venice Theatre in St. Petersburg in May.
Based on a beloved children's novel by Roald Dahl, who also created "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "James and the Giant Peach," Matilda is the story of a resilient little girl who, in the face of rejection by her family, finds a new loving one while conquering the big bad world around her. Her nemeses include her parents (Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood) and Ms. Agatha Trunchbull, while teacher Miss Honey and librarian Mrs. Phelps are her protectors. The musical has great appeal to children, especially girls.
Matilda the Musical has a fair number of cultural elements that are uniquely British, which might explain the difference in success in London vs. New York. I wonder if Annie felt a bit off to English audiences as Matilda does to me, although Annie has stronger storytelling and a first-rate score; Mr. Minchin's score simply doesn't rise to the same level. There are several quite good numbers, including "Naughty," "Telly," "When I Grow Up" and "The Smell of Rebellion." This is a good musical, not a great one.
Rylee Kranz (seen) and Allie McLaughlin shared the title role at alternating performances. Ms. Kranz was spunky, with a good deal of stage presence, and sang well, but beyond that I cannot judge her performance. The gremlin acoustics, so often a part of Manatee Performing Arts Center in the past, wreaked havoc with all of the children's voices. It was impossible to understand dialogue or lyrics from the young members of the cast. This was not a problem for the adults. Cory Woomert scored yet another personal triumph as Ms. Trunchbull. He seems to relish playing villains, and this part ranks with Captain Hook as one of the best.
In the finales of both acts it must have been a deep delight for Bruce, played by Asher Woomert, to triumph over his real-life dad playing Ms. Trunchbull. The role was shared with Kyle Ramon. These boys also alternate in the role of Michael. Another family group participating in this production was Michael DeMocko as Sergei and daughter Caitlyn as Tommy in the green cast. Sarah Cassidy added another fine leading lady to her resume as Miss Honey, also singing for The Acrobat. Bill Shideler and Christina Capehart were menacingly funny as The Wormwoods, while Aaron Castle played Rudolpho, The Doctor, and the Escapologist. All of the big and little kids and adult ensemble reflected Producing Artistic Director Rick Kerby's strong hand in leading this theater company, building a solid pool of local talent.
Music direction was by Rick Bogner, who kept things lively. The set design by Donna Buckalter, with shelves of books everywhere, was clever and in the proper spirit for this musical. Costumes by Becky Evans were well done as was Patrick Bedell's lighting.
I don't doubt we will be seeing more of Matilda as other companies and schools produce this musical often.
Matilda the Musical ran through February 2, 2020, at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts, 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton FL. For tickets and information, call 941-748-0111 or visit www.manateeperformingartscenter.com.
Cast (Red Cast listed first, Green Cast second):