TheatreSquared’s production of ‘Matilda’ features captivating choreography, vivid storytelling and an impressive cast of young actors, most of which make their T2 debut in this musical retelling of the beloved 1988 Roald Dahl book and 1996 film.
Matilda, played on alternating nights by Leanne Parks and Piper Wallace, finds that her exceptional intellectual abilities allow her to move objects with her mind. Her kind teacher, Miss Honey, played by Elisabeth Evans, teaches her to appreciate her unique gifts, despite her abusive family telling her that good looks and television are more important than reading.
One of Matilda’s safe havens is librarian Mrs. Phelps, played by Justine Ryan. The maternal figure helps her choose books and listens to Matilda’s tale of an escapologist, an acrobat and a little girl who grew up with an unimaginably cruel aunt. It is later revealed that the story parallels Matilda's neglect at the hands of her family, along with dark details of another character’s past.
Miss Honey’s timidity and Matilda’s tenacity complement one another. Together, each teaches the other how to stand up for themselves and overcome their fears. On opening night, Wallace perfectly portrayed Matilda’s curious and clever nature. I was also captivated by Evans’ beautiful voice during her musical numbers.
I was especially impressed by how Drew Johnson, Bruce Kemph and Jacquelyne Jones portray the villainous characters of Miss Agatha Trunchbull and Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood. The characters comedically embody the cruel and harsh behavior Matilda yearns to escape through books.
All the children in Matilda’s class have their own unique personality, including Lavender, who is quirky and adventurous, and Bruce, who is funny and kind. The musical highlights the beauty of individuality, teaching children to embrace their differences and be confident.
Aside from delightful and well-cast characters, one fun element of the musical’s innovative storytelling is the way in which the second act opens with a bit of audience participation, which makes for a great transition to the plot’s climax.
The show includes plenty of smart and enchanting special effects that deliver much of the same magic as the story’s cult classic film adaptation. For example, a scene that could present some on-stage challenges is that in which Miss Trunchbull throws student Amanda Thripp across the courtyard by her pigtails. Yet, on opening night, the audience’s transfixed eyes collectively followed the single spotlight that convincingly represented Thripp’s flight. The turbulent lighting design and musical effects that accompany her somewhat graceful landing further added to the illusion.
The play’s choreography was also quite impressive and multi-layered. The complex and colorful numbers provide the viewer with many captivating elements to take in at once. One number that particularly stood out was “When I Grow Up,” which is distinguished by the use of scooters and colorful ribbons as props.
I greatly enjoyed TheatreSquared’s rendition of “Matilda,” featuring an exceptionally talented cast and impressive choreography. Audiences young and old will find themselves charmed by this miraculous tale of a special little girl who just might get her happy ending after all.
“Matilda” runs through July 18 at the Fayetteville Public Library event center, and tickets range from $17 to $58. Thirty tickets for each performance are reserved at a $10 price for those under 30.