Review: ‘Matilda’ at Theatre in the Park a ‘revoltingly’ good show

Clarate Heckler - July 20, 2019 12:23 pm
Photo credit Theatre in the Park.

A warm night breeze with stars above your head creates a magical atmosphere anywhere, but there’s nothing quite like watching live outdoor theater.

Now in the final half of their 50th anniversary season, Theatre in the Park (TIP), debuted “Matilda the Musical” on Friday.

Based on the 1988 book by Roald Dahl, “Matilda” tells the story of Matilda Wormwood, a 5-year-old who already knows her times-tables and loves to read everything from “Jane Eyre” to Dostoevsky.

Born into a less than supportive family, and attending a school ruled by the cruel Miss Trunchbull, Matilda finds solace in her teacher Miss Honey, Mrs. Phelps the librarian and the stories in her mind. It is a story of perseverance, integrity, the meaning of family and the power of words.

Adapted for the stage by Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, the musical perfectly captures the quirkiness of Dahl’s classic story that has captivated generations of readers.

The set and props are minimal, but effective, with seamless transitions between scenes. Co-Choreographers Ann and Mitchell McCroskey are to be commended, not only for their movements, but for their incorporation of elements such as scooters, swings and school desks.

Director Mark Swezey has done an excellent job. The Wormwoods are as slimy and grotesque as you’d like them to be, Miss Honey just as kind and pure.

Twelve-year-old Mia Cabrera is outstanding as Matilda. Her exceptionally mature vocals combine the soft and sometimes mischievous tones of a child with the power of one old beyond her years. She smoothly navigates between moments of triumph and sorrow.

Another performance of note is Weston Thomas’ portrayal of Miss Trunchbull. Thomas brings this ugly character to life through impeccable comedic timing and details such as claw-like hands and pigeon-toed feet. The audience went wild after Thomas’ first song, “The Hammer,” and from that point forward laughter ensued whenever he took the stage.

The strong supporting cast and ensemble of young actors keeps the stage alive. Their rousing performance of “Revolting Children” brought the house down. Stand-outs also included Madeline Hendricks as Amanda, the little girl who gets hammer-thrown by her pigtails, Liz Secrest as Lavender and Thomas Kenefake as Bruce.

It is an engaging show, at once comedic and heartfelt, that keeps the audience’s attention for its entire two-and-a-half-hour run. There are plenty of tongue-in-cheek moments to offset the sadness of the story, making it a show as much for adults as it is for children.

“Matilda the Musical” runs through July 27 at Shawnee Mission Park. For showtimes and ticket info visit www.theatreinthepark.org/ticket-options.

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