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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Matilda

Last night's show at the Smith Center was Matilda, an adaptation of Roald Dahl's book about a precocious little girl who gets revenge on her grotesque parents and her villainous schoolmistress. As directed by Matthew Warchus, the production is lively and entertaining, with several strong performances by juveniles, and the songs by Daniel Kelly and Tim Minchin are the for the most part engaging, although only a few really grabbed my attention.

Matilda (Gabrielle Guterriez) is a genius, who prefers reading books to watching television, which confounds her parents. Her father is a man who wears green plaid and is a crooked car salesman, while her mother is a ghastly woman who does nothing but practice ballroom dancing.

Matilda plays tricks on her father, like making his hair turn green and gluing his hat to his head, while taking solace in the library, where she entertains the librarian with a story about an escape artist and his wife, an acrobat.

When she goes to school, her teacher, Miss Honey, is very kind, and discovering her abilities, goes to the headmistress to put her in an advanced class. But Miss Trunchbull (great name) hates children, and sadistically imposes discipline. In every stage production this character is played by a man, with comically large breasts, kind of a combination of Porky's Miss Ballbreaker and Despicable Me's Gru, and that's no different here, as the wonderful Dan Pomeroy plays the character.

Matilda ends leading the students in a revolt, by virtue of her superior brain and, added somewhat haphazardly, the power of telekinesis.

The show was on Broadway in 2010, and seemed to be a hit with the smaller audience members in attendance (lots of girls in their nice dresses). I found it to be diverting, but it reminded me of a lot of other things. We've seen a lot of mean teachers, like Mr. Squeers or the one in How Green Was My Valley, and a lot of nice teachers, and this show has both. The character of Matilda is wonderful, though, she is extremely well-read, having taught Russian to herself by desiring to read Dostoevsky in the original, a fact that ends up being handy at the end. She's heroic and principled, and an ideal role-model for girls, even if she does love pranks.

Matt Harrington kind of steals the show as Mr. Wormwood, Matilda's father. He is such an example of greed and stupidity, yet he is oblivious, and has a vaudeville-style number praising the "telly." My favorite number, though, is the second-act opener, with the kids on swings singing "When I Grow Up," which was not only the best song musically, but also very touching.

To sum up, Matilda was a lot of fun, for both adults and children, with lots of stage magic and terrific performances.

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