SCHENECTADY – “Matilda, the Musical,” a bouncy little show brought to the stage by Schenectady Light Opera Company about a brave little girl who triumphs against bullying and bellicose boneheads, owes much of its success to its engaging score and lyrics by Tim Minchin and its dark and sinister story by Dennis Kelly.
Adapted from the book by the master of the odd and eerie Roald Dahl, the musical successfully captures the angst and anxieties of growing up different than those around you and the struggle to live your life fully. “Matilda, the Musical” is a perfect tonic for kids surrounded by oppression, idiots and evil.
The story? Like most of Dahl’s oeuvre, “Matilda the Musical” is creepy, uncomfortable and familiar. Small child knows the truth, adults scramble to confuse, intimidate and brainwash the innocence to conform to the lie. It’s an oft-told topical tale and you will need to go to the show for the details.
Two little girls alternate in the role of Matilda. At Saturday night’s performance; it was Ryleigh Goss’s turn. Blessed with a strong singing voice and slightly defiant swagger, Goss, standing with her arms akimbo, was the perfect combination of pluck and determination. Goss does a stellar job with Matilda’s first act’s signature tune, “Naughty” and again with the second act ballad “Quiet.” Amaya Ridley’s boisterous turn as Matilda’s bestie Lavender is fun, as is Vincent Connell’s sheepish and apprehensive Bruce and so is Charlie Palmer as narcoleptic Nigel. All of the kids portraying Matilda’s school chums were first rate.
The adults were too. Brittany Glenn and David Quinones, Jr. are simply awful – and that’s a compliment – as Matilda’s parents, Mr. & Mrs. Wormwood. Vain, disinterested and selfish, Glenn and Quinones play the “poster parents” for “worst” and both these skilled actors grab every laugh that comes their way. Quinones’ act two opener, “All I Know” and Glenn’s dance routines with her equally vain and vacant dance instructor Rudolpho (an exceptional Andrei Bires) are two of the highlights of this dynamic duo.
Also amusing is Alex LaFargue as Michael Wormwood, Matilda’s hopeless and TV-addicted sibling. Elizabeth Corey is wonderful and downright hysterical as the librarian Mrs. Phelps, who plays a perfect audience for Matilda’s storytelling. Jennifer Lefsyk does a great job as Matilda’s teacher, the meek and mild, Miss Honey. The scenes with her and Matilda are some of the most touching and poignant of the evening. Lefsyk delivers Miss Honey’s act two ballad, “My House”, with heartfelt and beautiful simplicity. As the headmistress from Hell, Nik Contois is wonderfully offensive as the bellicose and belligerent Miss Agatha Trunchbull, making the most of the character’s two comedic musical numbers, “The Hammer” and “The Smell of Rebellion.”
“Matilda, the Musical” will certainly entertain those that attend – catchy tunes, great set, engaging and talented cast – but it may frustrate as well. And it’s due to an inherit flaw in the show itself, its vernacular and use of dialect. When you have pre-teen kids relating a heightened emotional story, singing and dancing, and using a working class British accent you will have some issues with diction. And we do. Quite a few of the lyrics never made it cleanly over the footlights, leaving some in the audience confused and bit unclear as to just what exactly was happening. And in the words of our heroine, “That’s not right.”
But there is much that is right. Spare, simple and effective, Molly Waters’ set design does a great job utilizing the SLOC space fully and effectively. The small orchestra under the strong baton of Elizabeth Sterling is great and director James W. Alexander has kept the focus of the evening small and taut, while allowing the moments of broad comedy to play out beautifully.
If you are a fan of Dahl’s book, the musical is worth a peek if you are able to secure a ticket.
WHERE: Schenectady Light Opera Company, Schenectady
WHEN: Through Sept. 24
HOW MUCH: $20 – $35
MORE INFO: 877-350-7378