By Brad Haynes
In Matilda the Musical, our title character (played in this performance by Gabrielle Gutierrez, and alternately covered by two other actresses during the run) has it rough. She’s born into the Wormwood family, a family who value their telly (Brit slang for television) more than their genius daughter herself. In fact, Matilda’s used car salesman father (Matt Harrington) wanted a boy and refuses to acknowledge Matilda as a girl. Her “strictly ballroom” mother (Darcy Stewart) is no better, belittling the fact that her daughter is able to read entire novels at the age of 5.
It appears that things may get better when she leaves home for school at Crunchem Hall Elementary, where her brilliance is quickly recognized by teacher Miss Honey (Jennifer Bowles), but that is soon overshadowed by the terror of Crunchem Hall, headmistress Miss Trunchbull (an incredible Dan Chameroy, in a terrific example of cross-gender casting).
While the general story found in the 1996 film Matilda is similar, Matilda the Musical adheres much more closely to the original dark material of the Roald Dahl novel, bringing it to magical life onstage via some superb effects, brilliant staging, and inspired choreography.
Although the music (penned by Tim Minchin, who is currently represented on Broadway with the hit Groundhog Day) isn’t exactly the type that you will find yourself humming as you leave the theater, it all serves to move the story forward, as we witness Matilda realizing that she has the power to make a difference, not only for herself, but for those around her.
Actually, one of the numbers WILL probably stick with you after the curtain falls. Second act show stopper “When I Grow Up” (pictured above) is imaginatively staged using choreographed swings. It also has a tune which is a true earworm and a hint to Matilda’s fortitude with her lyrics, “Just because you find that life’s not fair it, doesn’t mean you have to grin and bear it. If you always take it on the chin and wear it, nothing will change. Just because I find myself in this story, it doesn’t mean that everything is written for me. If I think the ending is fixed already, I might as well be saying I think that it’s okay. And that’s not right!”
Suffice it to say, Matilda gives it her all to try to make things right, and witnessing her magical attempts at making a change definitely moved the Dr. Phillips Center audience who were on their feet with a standing ovation before the winning Matilda, or Gabrielle Gutierrez, even made it center stage for her curtain call.
Matilda the Musical plays the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts at 8 p.m. through Friday, May 12; at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, May 13; and at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, May 14. Click here to purchase tickets.