Between her mean TV-obsessed parents and a cruel school headmistress (“You Maggots!”), Matilda Wormwood has it pretty tough. What’s a five year old child to do? Why, read books of course! You see Matilda is smart, really smart, and has a powerful mind in more ways than one (think telekinetic!). Her teacher, Miss Honey, sees it and nurtures her student. But both she and Matilda have the awful Mrs. Trunchbull to contend with. Yet despite all this, Matilda is a special, brave little girl who refuses to accept that this is her destiny.
“Matilda, the Musical” is a musical with a message: Stand up for yourself, even when your life seems awful!
Children who like to read are familiar with this tale because of Roald Dahl’s book. “Matilda, the Musical” is the book come to life (book by Dennis Kelly and songs by Tim Minchin), and the Cape Cod Theater Company/Harwich Junior Theatre’s production is fabulous. Everything clicks in this production. The young cast members give their all (all 20-plus of them!) and they are all wildly talented. The adults are pretty good, too.
The play opens with Matilda’s pregnant mother giving birth to Matilda, establishing that she is indeed a Wormwood despite having nothing in common with the crass, brash family. Her mother (Sara Plunkett) calls her stupid for reading books and her father (Brian Williams) refuses to accept she’s a girl. Her brother (Lir Wood) barely pays her any attention at all. The three play the family loudly (they’re as loud as their clothes!) and with the exaggerated gestures required. At school Matilda has a BFF named Lavender (the precocious Haley Labdon), a teacher who adores her (the sweet Samantha Walker), lots of friends and Mrs. Trunchbull (Brittany Rolfs), the cruelest headmistress you’ve ever experienced. She force feeds a student (Tyler Brackett) chocolate cake when she discovers he has a stolen a slice, and swings another (Chatham Bridge) around by her pigtails just because she hates pigtails! Trunchbull lives to torture children, and Rolfs steals the show in this role. She makes her tongue move like a snake, screams and sashays her enlarged butt up and down the stage. She’s deliciously evil!
The role of Matilda is shared by two young actors. Opening night was Shae McSharry’s turn. McSharry is fabulous; we could hear her lovely singing voice in the back row. She’s expressive too. Claude Danner, the costume designer, told me Grace Olah plays the role with the same pizzazz but with her own style. So audiences win with either young actor and might want to catch both.
The young ensemble stupendously performed Suzette Hutchinson’s complex choreography with cartwheels and more during the many song and dance numbers. Each included the very youngest (a trio of nine-year-olds, Io Torrellas, Olive Mills and Charlotte Kemp) to the tweens and teenagers (Brackett, Bridge, Emily Carr, Aeva Dabreo, Orla Delaney, Finn Dyer, Perry Gill, Sophia Hennessey, Labdon, Annalise Langelier, Mia Lima, Kelly Martin, Scarlett O’Malley, Lily Pierce and Oliver Shaw) performing in perfect sync and with enthusiasm. Matt Kemp is very funny as Rudolfo, Mrs. Wormwood’s dance partner, and Dianne Wadsworth is perfectly delightful as Matilda’s librarian.
James P. Byrne skillfully directs the show by allowing the actors to play to their strengths, especially these talented children. Byrne designed the set and lighting too. We loved the story telling with the cast acting as shadows behind a screen used throughout the show in many ways. Tech director Matt Kohler contributed here. Behind the scenes, stage manager and lightboard operator Abby Feinstein, sound operator Ethan Dunford with crew Ciaran Cusick and Lexy Hatch kept it all going smoothly, a huge task with a cast of this size. Danner succeeds on the costume design with noteworthy accents that define the characters. Robert Wilder’s musical direction and the band (Wilder, Amanda Kosloski and Tony Stevens) are the icing on the chocolate cake.
“Matilda” is the perfect family outing; it’s two hours of entertainment that is sure to appeal to grandpa as much as your first grader. And meeting Matilda and her friends at the meet and greet after the show is always an exclamation point on this live theater experience!
"Matilda, the Musical"
At Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre, Division Street, Harwich-based
Through July 20
Information and reservations: 508-432-2002 ext. 2, www.capecodtheatrecompany.org