SANDY — The musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda has found its way through the streets of London, past Broadway’s Shubert Theatre, and landed smack dab in the middle of Sandy’s circular stage. With the cast surrounded by audience members awaiting this British tale of Matilda, the petite prodigy that can move things with her mind, the colorful balloons placed around the theatre hinted at the fun night in store.
Directed by Dave Tinney, this production was hilarious on the surface and had a deeper meaning within. The first scene opened with children playing on and around a table covered in birthday gifts, singing about their miraculous qualities. Tinney then had the parents rise up from under the stage, completing the scene of an outdoor barbeque with their lawn chairs and party drinks. The physical movements of the parents were extremely toy-like, as if they were plastic dolls. This directorial choice helped set the tone of a play that takes place in the children’s world where the kids are the ones in charge.
Tinney also did well constructing the blocking so that the audience “in the round” had an equal view of the production. Dancers would rotate, there would be an equal number of performers facing in each direction throughout the night, or a giant set piece would spin. No matter what way the scene faced, the audience had the chance to be included in the characters’ lives.
The intricate and larger-than-life set pieces designed by Kacey Udy became one of the most magical elements of the evening. From large libraries and giant paper airplanes that flew in from the ceiling to living rooms and flower gardens that rose up from the ground, nothing was ever out of place. In one scene, an actor drove a real car in and out of the theater.
A few notable pieces included flying books that descended from above that had balloons attached, matching those held by children down below. The smaller children were then safely secured to these books, and the books with children attached floated into the careless dreams of growing up, bobbing up and down and swinging in a circle. The second set piece of note was a giant ruler that was the basis of the classroom floor. The chalkboards, lockers, and desks complete with pencils in mugs adorned the the scene. The bright yellow color was an important contrast to Trunchbull’s gray, prison-like lunchroom.
Miss Agatha Trunchbull’s costume, designed by Peggy Willis (assisted by Katie Eborn), was my absolute favorite. Trunchbull, played by a man, had unique costume challenges to overcome. The drill-sergeant-inspired outfit was made of olive green material, synonymous with greed and ambition. Trunchbull’s exaggerated bosom and hunchback made her large presence even more frightful for the schoolchildren. Danny Inkley brought this costume to life as Miss Agatha Trunchbull. Inkley gave Trunchbull just enough sass to add humor to the firm and stoic character. During the physical education scene, Inkley repeatedly blew a whistle at the children, keeping them in line during their class period. In contrast, Inkley also added humor when he had to show off as Trunchbull by belly flopping onto the obstacle course. Inkley as Trunchbull then sat on top of the course as though he were the little mermaid, wind blowing through his hair while flexing his over-sized muscles for all to see.
The star of the show, Matilda, was played by Julia Buckner for Tuesday night’s production. Buckner was a very talented fourth grader who was easy to love as a performer. While Matilda was shy and timid, she could also be courageous and stand up to the adults in her life who cared more about the “telly” than their kids. On her first song of opening night, Buckney’s British accent got in the way of understanding the song’s lyrics. As Buckney became more comfortable with the audience, her accent became more clear and easier to understand. By the final number, Buckner as Matilda shone in her vocal and oral performance. Overall, Buckner did an amazing job as Matilda in this musical spectacular.
Whenever Mr. Wormwood, played by Ryan Simmons, came onto the stage, he had a strong stage presence. Simmons had a clear and understandable accent all while being this overly dramatic, comedic character. Simmons’s comedic timing was well-placed with his physical gestures and witty comebacks. After realizing that his hat was super glued to his head, Mr. Wormwood had a couple moments of trying every physical position he could to pull it off, all while calmly repeating the word, “ow.” Simmons as Mr. Wormwood hilariously rolled around on the ground and played to the laughter of the crowd watching from every angle.
This well thought out design and portrayal of characters created a cohesive, hilarious, and enjoyable production. While the children may have lived in “revolting times,” the adults played key roles to help the children understand their worth and potential. Don’t stay at home watching the telly with Matilda on stage at Hale Center Theatre.