By PAM HARBAUGH
Another clever girl takes the stage. This time, it’s MATILDA THE MUSICAL, on stage through May 14 at Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando. This is the national tour of the Tony, Olivier and Drama Desk award winning musical and is part of the Fairwinds Broadway in Orlando series.
Based on the 1988 book by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach), “Matilda” is about an extraordinary girl who stands up to harsh authoritarians. The musical was created by the Royal Shakespeare Company and has book by Dennis Kelly who wraps everything up with surprising twists. It’s both dark and delicious and, in the end, very satisfying.
This touring production bounds with talent. Opening night saw Gabrielle Gutierrez in the title role. It’s fitting that she play a prodigy, for this young lady with the clear, crisp voice is as confident as a seasoned stage veteran. She is pert and appealing as the young girl who loves books and taught herself Russian in order to read Dostoyevsky as the author had intended. And, she wrings from the audience sympathy for Matilda who had the misfortune of being born to parents (very funny Darcy Stewart and Matt Harrington) who torment her with their neglect and rude behavior.
Another obstacle in Matilda’s young life is the headmistress of her dreary school — the imperious and cruel Miss Trunchbull, played with understated relish by Dan Chameroy. It is Miss Trunchbull who makes a living hell for all the students and it is Matilda who makes a living hell for Trunchbull. At Matilda’s side stands the kind hearted teacher, Miss Honey (a most appealing Jennifer Bowles).The music and lyrics are by comedian Tim Minchin, and while they have been hailed as quite superior by national critics, it seems a pity that you can’t quite understand all the lyrics despite the cast’s energetic enunciation. Rob Howell’s costume and scenic design bring a fun comic exaggeration, but not to much.
The show is very cleverly directed by Matthew Warchus (“God of Carnage” and “Groundhog Day”) and wonderfully choreographed by Peter Darling (“Billy Elliot: The Musical” and “Groundhog Day”). The young cast members as well as the older ones go through fantastic rounds of physicality. It’s a lot of fun just to watch this show unfold.
This is a lively, engaging, smart musical that does not play down to an audience of any age. Hallelujah!
SIDE O’ GRITS: MATILDA THE MUSICAL runs through May 14 at Dr. Phillips Center, 445 S. Magnolia St., Orlando. It performs various times. Tickets start at $33.75 and may be purchased online at drphillipscenter.org, by calling 844.513.2014 or by visiting the box office between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, or noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. Online and phone ticket purchases are subject to handling fees.