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NORWELL – The triumph of the human spirit is a much-needed theme during the holiday season and The Company Theatre is pulling out all the stops to achieve that uplift with its production of “Matilda the Musical."
The show runs through Dec. 18 and features a cast of Roald Dahl’s inspiringly offbeat characters and a book full of laughs in a creative adaptation written by Dennis Kelly with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. Directed by Zoe Bradford with musical direction by Melissa Carubia and choreography by Brad Reinking, the production showcases talented lead performers propped up by an engaging ensemble who held the audience, including many young theatergoers, in rapt attention throughout the opening-night performance.
“Matilda” is based on the 1988 novel by Dahl. It draws upon his experiences with evil school administrators while growing up in pre-World War II England. It inspired Danny DeVito’s 1996 film adaptation and subsequently the London and Broadway musicals. An updated film version of the musical starring Emma Thompson as Miss Trunchbull will stream on Netflix starting Christmas Day. Like other Dahl children’s stories (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “James and the Giant Peach”), it features a young hero battling comically evil adult forces and the help of at least one who is sympathetic.
Matilda Wormwood (Reese Racicot) is the child of self-absorbed parents who do not appreciate or even care about her. Her mother (Emilee Dennis Leahy) is a frustrated ballroom dancer who is upset that her pregnancy with Matilda interrupted her competition schedule. Her father (Todd Yard), a used car salesman, can’t get used to the idea that he has a daughter instead of a son. Neither parent understands why their daughter likes to read instead of just watching the “tele.”
Matilda finds solace and inspiration in books and at school from her teacher Miss Honey (Jennifer Beth Glick), who quickly recognizes her brilliance and spirit once she joins her class. Unfortunately, Miss Honey, Matilda and her classmates are all maligned by Miss Trunchbull (Christie Reading), the former hammer-throwing evil headmistress who is certain the children are all rebellious “maggots” who need discipline, not kindness.
“Matilda” is a well-woven mix of comic characters engaged in seriously unfunny behavior resulting in a difficult life for our heroine. Reese, a Plymouth resident, confidently navigates the many challenges of playing this role. She must be about as determined as her character to handle it all without breaking a sweat. Highlights include playing off her over-the-top but funny parents, creating a poignant and amazing story for Mrs. Phelps at the library, standing up for herself and her many classmates at Crunchem Hall Elementary School, and of course singing and dancing her way through several solos, including the wonderful “Naughty” and the very touching “Quiet.” She is the star, but she is also the ingredient that binds everything together.
Todd Yard is very entertaining as Mr. Wormwood. His clothes are loud and so is he. Yard is so endearingly funny in his neglect (“I’m So Clever”), that he almost deserves the hug he doesn't get from Matilda in the end. He also plays well off Leahy as Mrs. Wormwood and Oliver Dunn as Michael, Matilda’s listless older brother. Leahy, who we remember from “Footloose” a few years back, stands out for more than her character’s gaudy clothing choices (leopard prints and feather boas). Her dynamic performance of the salsa-influenced “Loud” with her outrageous dance partner Rudolpho (Brady Rafferty) was an Act I highlight.
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From the very first scene (“Miracle”), it is easy to tell that the boys and girls of the chorus are no ordinary group. They just about steal the show with their powerful movements, personality and voices, especially while backing up tour-de-force performances by Reading during “The Hammer” and especially the multifaceted “The Smell of Rebellion,” and while performing the show’s best feel-good good number, “When I Grow Up.” Quinn Kearney (Bruce) and Diana Lee (Lavender) were delightful in supporting roles.
Glick, who Company patrons will remember from lead roles in “Les Miserables” and “Miss Saigon,” plays one of the few adults Matilda can trust in this story, expressed beautifully in her renditions of “Pathetic” and “This Little Girl,” providing Matilda with the love and encouragement she deserves.
Balancing out the comedy and sometimes frenetic action is Reese's portrayal of Matilda's trips to the library to see Mrs. Phelps (Annie Jones) while she slowly (over four scenes) reveals the tale of the Escape Artist (Salvatore Guillermo Garcia) and the Acrobat (Elinor Ault). The moving scenes are punctuated by Reese’s delivery, Jones’ amazement, Ault and Guillermo Garcia’s presentation, Dean Palmer Jr.’s ethereal lighting, Michael Hammond’s period film clips, Lindsay Hoisington’s stunning costumes and Carubia’s deft musical direction.
Bravo to all the great British accents and elements. The show sounds and looks authentic and there are enough surprises to hold your attention throughout. It all adds up to a lovely and lively night of uniquely inspiring musical theater that anyone can enjoy this holiday season.
'Matilda the Musical'
When: Through Dec. 16
Where: The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive, Norwell
Tickets: $20, $48 and $56
Info: 781-871-2787; companytheatre.com
This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Norwell Company Theatre stages 'lovely lively' 'Matilda the Musical'