Raise your hand if you are, or have ever been, a bookworm. (My arm is definitely up; I have been one continuously since the age of four.) Now, make your way to the Northern Stage box office to purchase tickets to Matilda The Musical, and park yourself in the theater seats. You will have found your tribe.
This Broadway musical based on a book by Roald Dahl brings all of the pop and sizzle expected from Northern Stage's mid-season, holiday productions. Eric Love directs a cast of kids (make that two casts since the younger actors alternate), and a handful of adults. Of course the story is ultimately uplifting, but there's a world of dark that Matilda and her audience must wade through to the light.
Matilda (portrayed on opening night by Kylie Benoit) is an unwanted child, and worse, a bookworm upon whom her ditzy and narcissistic parents (Lisa Karlin and Matthew Patrick Quinn) heap endless scorn. Matilda finds refuge with Mrs. Phelps, a kindly librarian (Danielle Cohen), and a well-meaning but timid schoolteacher, Miss Honey (Alexis Sims). Alas, school is not the haven Matilda might have hoped for, presided over as it is by the thoroughly rotten Miss Agatha Trunchbull.
Lisa Karlin as Mrs. Wormwood, Matthew Patrick Quinn as Mr. Wormwood. Kudos to Costume Designer Aaron Patrick DeClerk and Wig Designer Robert Pickens.
Benoit's Matilda is a convincing mix of pluck and vulnerability, a young feminist who is determined to find and claim her place in the world. Karlin and Quinn are delightfully over-the-top in their portrayal of parents gone horribly wrong. Ian Nolon played Matilda's laconic brother Michael with an authentic teenaged slump and few words, but watch for his delivery of the line "Telly" that opens the second act with a satiric look at the small (in more ways than one) screen. Other standouts: the voice of Ross Thompson as the doctor in the opening scene, and Kyle Brand as Rudolpho; his undulating hips steal every one of his scenes.
If the show belongs to anyone in particular, it has to be Tom Ford, whose Agatha Trunchbull is as terrifying as Hannibal Lecter and my 8th grade teacher Sister Eustace. Trunchbull is an unchecked bully and the consummate villain. From his/her first moments on stage, Ford has the audience positively rooting for his character's demise, and hoping it will be a suitably painful one.
Last and by far not least is the cast of children who sing and dance like pros. They tackle lines, blocking and choreography with talent and spirit. Their ensemble numbers, especially with those nostalgia-inducing wooden desks, rock the house.
Matilda The Musical is playing at the Barrette Center for the Arts at Northern Stage in White River Junction VT through January 1. Tickets are selling quickly and can be obtained through Northern Stage's website or by calling the box office at 802.296.7000.
(Top photo is part of the Matilda cast. All photos by Kata Sasvari)
Note: “Bookworm” is a term that, according to Merriam-Webster, has existed since at least 1580.
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