Make Way for Modernized Matilda

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Sam Bodnar

The playbill to the Broadway tour of Matilda is full of the lives of the amazing cast and crew who put on a wonderful performance.

Sam Bodnar, Editor-in-Chief

Earlier this week, the Broadway tour of Matilda arrived in San Diego looking to stun audiences with the mind of a five-year-old.

Backed by a cast of 30, this tour brings Roald Dahl’s classic tale about an oppressed little girl to life in semi-modern times. Young Matilda Wormwood is in a home where her parents do not value critical reading or her intellectual abilities, and is forced to live in daily isolation. The school she attends is run by an evil woman, Miss Trunchbull, who despises children and believes that Matilda is an idiot.

Her only saving grace is her generous and sweet teacher, Miss Honey. As Matilda’s intellect becomes stronger and stronger, and the treatment towards her becomes increasingly cruel, Matilda develops the ability to move objects without touching them. Through this whole process of battling her horrid lifestyle and gaining her new powers, she befriends Miss Honey and ultimately forms a mother-daughter bond that will last forever.

Plot aside, the casting in this production was well thought out and really provided the right touch to the events in the musical.

Matilda

Photographer: Joan Marcus
The tour’s three Matildas: Jenna Weir, Jaime MacLean and Hannah Levinson line up behind the special effects chalkboard.

The actress who portrayed the title character the night I went was 10-year-old, Jenna Weir. Weir captured the emotional toll experienced by Matilda perfectly and evoked dozens of emotions from myself and the people sitting around me.

Her rendition of “Naughty” at the beginning of the musical displayed the clever and friendly side of young Wormwood and her choreography was brilliantly executed in time with the orchestra. Her other solo, “Quiet,” captured the confined mind stuck in an environment where her knowledge was not appreciated. The power in that little diaphragm of hers did not falter, and she sang both pieces beautifully.

Miss Trunchbull

Photographer: Joan Marcus
Miss Trunchbull lectures her children about why she requires discipline from their “unappreciative” minds.

Ironically, Miss Trunchbull was played by a male actor, Dan Chameroy. Dressed in a tight overcoat and an underskirt, he beautifully displayed the athletic, cruel, and hilarious aspects of his role.

While Chameroy’s unlovable character did not have a solo all to herself, his booming tenor voice was very distinguishable in trio sections with Matilda and Miss Honey. Chameroy also gave a light-hearted side to Trunchbull by adding in high pitched laughs, awkward body motions during dialogue, acrobatics and so much more. For playing a character with a different gender, he did an incredible job.

Miss Honey

Photographer: Joan Marcus
Miss Honey looks to establish a glimmer of hope in Matilda’s life during her solo “This Girl.”

Jennifer Bowles, the actress in the role of Miss Honey, also did a very thorough job in playing her character. While the novel portrays Honey as only a coward and a harmless sweetheart, Bowles added some funk into her character. Resident director Corey Agnew, did an exquisite job in contrasting her from the rest of the cast by choosing to have her in bright colors. By further incorporating comedic bits into Honey’s role, Agnew which ultimately gave Miss Honey a well-balanced and diverse performance.

Acting aside, her voice was absolutely gorgeous. While there wasn’t a boat load of power behind her vocals, the smooth transition from her belt to her falsetto was on the money. Her solo “This Girl” revealed the kind and caring motherly feelings she had for Matilda and her other song, “My House” enabled her energy and power to light up the stage with joy.

 

Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood

Photographer: Joan Marcus
Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood ridiculously babble about cheating Russians out of money.

The Wormwoods, portrayed by Matt Harrington and Darcy Stewart, provided brilliant juxtapositions of comedy and tragedy. While the audience could feel for the rejection of Matilda’s intelligence, her parents comedically insulted her by implying things that could not possibly be valid.

For instance, their reason for why Matilda should not read was because they said that watching television had more value. Mr. Wormwood also screamed in her face about her lack of intelligence, yet he was stupid enough to scam members of the Russian Mafia in a car deal.

Full Company

Photographer: Joan Marcus
The cast of “Matilda” performs “Miracle,” the show’s opening number.

Collectively, the ensemble was very involved in telling Matilda’s story with some very elaborate choreography, euphonious harmonies, and overall solid contributions to developing the emotions and backstories of all of the characters. Costuming was mostly period appropriate, and it also featured some glossy glitz and glamour leaning towards present day fashion.

Their opening number “Miracle” and closing number “Revolting Children” were the highlights of the night. Through their energetic displays in dance breaks, gymnastic abilities, and harmonies beyond proportion, the actors nailed every aspect of their performance.

Technical Effects

From a technical standpoint, the ensemble worked very well with the crew to create special effects of a 50 pound cake vanishing in 30 seconds, as well as making it look like a small child was thrown by her pig tails miles into the air. Matilda was wonderfully modernized with these effects, but some bits within the plot were taken too far.

Elements from the blocking standpoint definitely could have been communicated more clearly. For example, Miss Trunchbull puts children in “the choke” (a tight box with nails in it) every time they misbehave, and to create the effect of it, she pressed a button and dozens of green laser lights shot from the roof all over the stage. It seemed as if she was trying to massacre the children, rather than use a machine to bring a choke into a classroom.

My only other issue with the production was the fact that there were older men and women portraying students in Matilda’s school, which really confused and alarmed me. While sitting in my chair, I just kept thinking, “Wow, that’s great! A grown man in an elementary school.”

Overall, this Broadway tour cast did a phenomenal job in a show with a 10-year-old lead. The energy of the entire cast was seamless throughout and they are easily going to put on more superb performances on the journey across the country.