Matilda the Musical, based on Roald Dahl’s book about a brainy little girl abused by her dullard parents and cruel headmaster, does not sound like an uplifting family musical, unless you’re familiar with Dahl’s imaginative and thoroughly demented storytelling.
Charity Rose as the clever heroine Matilda says, “Even if you’re little, you can do a lot” in the regional premiere at The Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista.
This little actress and singer is a delight to watch. She commands the stage for about two hours, schooling her classmates and teacher on how to stand up to injustice, and delivering complex lines and songs with ease.
In the tender song “Quiet,” Rose sings in a heartfelt whisper. As she walks closer to the stage edge, we are struck by her tiny frame and bravery.
The production, directed by Jamie Torcellini, has dynamic elements that we expect from Moonlight Stage Productions and a splendid cast that shines. Every scene screams with childlike imagination.
The show opens with loud and adorable children in superhero costumes, and helicopter parents who call them “miracles.” Horns sound like deflating balloons. But Matilda Wormwood’s parents don’t want her. They want her to watch the telly and make fun of her zest for learning and reading books.
Kristina Miller-Weston and Kevin Hafso-Koppman are outrageously cruel and dumb as Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood, and we wonder how they stay in character without cracking up.
Comic zingers include Mrs. Wormwood practicing for dance competitions with her spicy dance partner Rudolpho (Ala Tiatia), and Mr. Wormwood, a swindler used car salesman, who has to avoid capture by angry Russian mobsters. Matilda is only five, but she’s able to negotiate because she reads books and speaks fluent Russian.
The narrative has tones similar to The Wizard of Oz and Harry Potter, where children must battle evil forces and find the helpers. The characters are so extreme they become cartoonish, which allows us to laugh at them.
Moonlight superstar Randall Hickman has played the monster in Young Frankenstein and Ursula in the Little Mermaid, and his turn as the evil headmaster Miss Trunchbull is a laugh riot.
He constricts his voice when calling students maggots and transforms into a former Olympic hammer thrower. We are gobsmacked when she launches a little girl into space. When she threatens to send kids to the “chokey,” a room full of sharp objects, Matilda has to save the day with psychokinetic powers.
Ashley Fox Linton as good teacher Miss Honey is a testament to the importance of teachers as mentors and protectors. Teachers in the audience will groan at the idea of her living in a shed and having to work with Trunchbull. Linton’s heavenly voice feels like a warm hug when she sings “This Little Girl.”
Choreographer Colleen Kollar Smith’s inspired and athletic dance sequences include young children leaping on and off desks, acrobatic flips, eye-popping fouettes, vivid ballroom contests, and climbing on silks.
Not every line is audible over the stellar orchestra, directed by Elan McMahan, in part because music and lyrics by Tim Minchin are often fast and dense tongue-twisters.
But in fully committed performances, Miss Rose and the incredible young cast, along with some famous adults, nail the British accent, thanks to dialect coach Vanessa Dinning. They successfully carry the message that children must be brave and a little naughty.
Edgy and smart, Matilda is another summer hit for Moonlight.
Matilda The Musical runs through August 3, 2019. www.moonlightstage.com