Roald Dahl’s classic children’s tale, Matilda, has been brought to life in a dazzling production at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage. Presented by the Arts Club Theatre Company, the Tony Award-winning Matilda The Musical tells the story of a brave and hyper-intelligent young girl who dares to stand up for what’s right, including facing off against her villainous school principal. Arts Club’s version is a slick display of masterful storytelling, thanks to tremendous creativity and talent from the show’s artistic team and cast.
Director Daryl Cloran has crafted a whimsical world where quirkiness is the norm. Along with Cory Sincennes set and costume designs, and Gerald King’s lighting, we’re transported to a world of delightful mystery and eeriness, exuding the spirit of Roald Dahl’s storytelling. Everything is off-scale, often set at peculiar angles. The base of Dahl’s set is a giant bookcase that serves multiple purposes throughout the show, including helping to tell the story of a fearless acrobat who flies through the sky on a trapeze towards the arms of her true love. With the help of a moveable ladder that slides across the bookcase, and some clever choreography from Kimberley Rampersad, we’re able to see this spectacular story come to life.
As this is a co-production with Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre and Winnipeg’s Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, we’re treated to top-notch performances from adult actors from Vancouver, Edmonton, and Winnipeg, while the kids performing in this production are mostly local. On the night that I attended, I had the pleasure of seeing the talented young Georgia Acken star as Matilda (she alternates with Thailey Roberge). She fearlessly embodied this beloved role with confidence and grace, and excellent singing.
Acken’s relationship with Alison MacDonald as Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey, was also wonderful to watch. MacDonald offers a first-rate performance, playing Miss Honey in a very likeable fashion, and displaying outstanding vocal talent. Together, Acken and MacDonald have a very sweet connection and the friendship between their characters is touching.
John Ullyatt is sensational as the wickedly entertaining school principal, Miss Trunchbull. Dressed in a hilarious oversized costume with gigantic boobs, every moment with Ullyatt is non-stop fun, as he prowls the stage, terrorizing Matilda and all the other kids. His vocalization in this role is superbly amusing and his physical movements are a riot to watch. At one point, we see him leap over a gymnastics vault and stick the landing, while wearing a ridiculous phys-ed teacher outfit.
The level of comedy is off the charts in this show. The fantastic Lauren Bowler shines bright as Matilda’s mother, Mrs. Wormwood, who cares less about parenting than she does about ballroom dancing with her sexy dance partner, Rudolpho – played with great comedic timing and physical comedic ability by Julio Fuentes.
Ben Elliott brings the right amount of douchiness and dim wittiness to the role of Matilda’s dad, Mr. Wormwood. Like Ulyatt’s portrayal of Miss Trunchbull, you hate Bowler and Elliott’s characters for being such awful parents to Matilda, but you love them at the same time because they’re so hilarious.
The handsome Justin Stadnyk is also a treat to watch in this show, bringing his gorgeous voice and dashing stage presence to the role of the doctor that delivers Matilda, as well as the various ensemble parts he plays. I was also very impressed with Becky Frohlinger, a dynamite dancer who sparkles as the Acrobat. Along with the Cassandra Consiglio, who is also a fierce dancer, we’re treated to a fun, sassy, ballroom number at one point during the show. With their long lean lines and strong partnering skills, Stadnyk and Andrew MacDonald-Smith are excellent dance partners to Frohlinger and Consiglio in this number.
Sharon Crandall is heart-warming as the loveable librarian Mrs. Phelps. Her excitement every time Matilda tells a story is very cute, as well as the kindness her character exudes. As I mentioned earlier, the children’s ensemble is composed of mainly local kids, all of whom possess a tremendous amount of talent and energy.
I particularly enjoyed watching young Angelo Cornel who radiates as one of Matilda’s classmates, Bruce. Cornel is brilliantly animated, and speaks with outstanding diction and clarity. His performance easily projects to the back of the theatre.
Underneath the comedy, and the mysterious, supernatural aspect of the story, lies the show’s celebration of the beauty of childhood innocence. “When I Grow Up”, which features the ensemble joyously playing on swings is very moving, and speaks to the heart of the show. Arts Club’s production of Matilda The Musical is as inspirational as it is entertaining, and delivers its messages with heart-felt genuineness.
Matilda The Musical, presented by Arts Club Theatre Company in partnership with Citadel Theatre and Manitoba Theatre Centre, runs at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until July 14. Visit the Arts Club’s website for more information.