With summer rapidly approaching, I speak for myself and many other students when I say that school and homework are the last things I want to think about. Yet, Virginia Stage Company’s production of Matilda presented school and all of life’s ups and downs in a funny, delightful way.
The musical Matilda is based off of the children’s novel of the same name. For those unfamiliar with the plot, it follows Matilda, a bright young girl born into a family who despises books, as she goes to school for the first time and forms a bond with her new teacher, Miss. Honey, while struggling with her new found friends against the dreadful headmistress, Ms. Trunchbull.
As I waited for the production to begin, I recalled the times as a child I would run into the school library, hoping that one of Roald Dahl’s books would be there. I must admit, I entered the theater with high expectations, and as usual, Virginia Stage Company did not disappoint.
The stage is beautifully decorated by scenic designer, Mckay Coble, with giant bookshelves and books, all in the art style of Quentin Blake, who illustrated the novel. The books that make up the set fascinatingly enter in and out of the bookshelves to open up and reveal each new setting of the production. Accompanied with lighting designed by Maranda Debusk and costumes by Jeni Schaefer, each scene comes alive.
Mesgana Jackson takes on a difficult task with the role of Matilda, acting as both the story’s main character, and the narrator. At various points, it was difficult to understand what she was saying, which made the plot a little confusing, but overall, Jackson plays the role with a brightness and spirit that brought out everyone’s inner child.
With an ensemble of 10 young children, you may think things might get a little hectic, but each of the kids bring a high level of energy to the performance. Aubrey Swain, who plays Matilda’s best friend, Lavender, is absolutely adorable, as well as Lucie Johnson, who plays the loveable rule breaker, Bruce Bogtrotter.
In addition to the wonderful children’s ensemble, high schoolers from The Governor’s School for the Arts make up the rest of the student ensemble. Choreographer Kyle Garvin truly showcases the talent of these students with minimalistic, clever choreography. The students, especially Dylan Cavasos and Alexander Simpson, take on their own individual, unique characters, which was refreshing. Moreover, Emma Teixeira and Katelyn Mallow stood out in their featured roles of the Party Entertainer and the Doctor, respectively. In each of the numbers, particularly “The Chokey Chant,” the contrast between the naïve young kids and the pessimistic big kids is recognizable and adds another layer to the production.
Matilda’s family had me laughing every time they were on stage. The dynamic between Matilda’s father, Harry Wormwood (Ryan Clemens) and her brother, Michael (Conor Crowley) is absolutely hilarious, especially in the opening number of Act 2, “Telly.” Clemens has a stage presence that demands your attention. Robyne Parrish, who played Matilda’s mother, Zinia Wormwood, is thoroughly entertaining to watch, as she and Matthew Tiberi (who plays the Italian dancer, Rudolpho) play off of each other. Both actors were outrageously funny. Every time TIberi came out on stage, the audience was eager to see what was in store.
The teachers in the musical round out the cast. Laura Aguelo, who plays the librarian, Mrs. Phelps, is a delight to watch, as she and Matilda tell stories and move the plot along. Miss Honey (Abby Church) brings a simplistic beauty to each scene. Finally, Chris Blem, who plays the evil headmistress, Ms. Trunchbull, truly stole the show. His mannerisms and acting choices give the character life and originality that was honestly terrifying at times.
Director Tom Quantaince makes great use of the entire theater, with the cast dancing in the aisles and running all around the house. The staging is very clever with the usage of all the moving parts of the set, and even having the ensemble act as parts of the set. There were times when I would not see what was going on because people’s backs were turned, but overall, the entire performance was wonderful and engaging. It had me smiling the entire time.
Virginia Stage Company’s production of Matilda runs at the Wells Theatre until June 2nd. Tickets can be purchased here.