After a two-year pandemic-induced delay, Matilda the Musical finally hits the stage at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park. The musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s tale of a gifted little girl navigating a treacherous world runs through May 22.
Matilda Wormwood (Gigi Bruce Low, alternating with Anja Kao Nielsen) is a miracle child, though her loutish parents (Shannon Rider and Garet Waterhouse) refuse to acknowledge her. Upon Matilda entering school, Miss Honey, her teacher (Madison Scarbrough), immediately recognizes her gifts and tries to advance Matilda a few grades. The school’s tyrannical headmistress (and former champion hammer thrower) Miss Trunchbull (Tim Setzer) will have none of it. Trunchbull takes sadistic pleasure in disciplining the students, or “maggots” as she refers to them, but she may have met her match in the rebellious Matilda.
Dahl’s children’s stories are chock full of villainous adults offset by one or two kindly grown-ups. Cartoonish cruelty is also a hallmark, and it’s manifested here with activities like Trunchbull swinging a student around by her pigtails, forcing another to eat an entire chocolate cake and dragging students off for a session in the dreaded “chokey.”
Director Sheri Lee Miller endured many challenges in getting this show on the boards, so its raggedness in some areas is somewhat understandable. Low gives a technically strong performance, but it appears as if Miller was unable to coax any of the layers of character out of her that would induce an audience to embrace, sympathize and root for Matilda beyond what the script demanded. It was left to her “classmates” to bring range and energy to the show. Other young performers like Tyler Ono as the cake-challenged Bruce and Molly Belle Hart as Matilda’s new best friend, Lavender, were able to rally the crowd to their side.
Among the adults, Waterhouse and Rider were amusingly grotesque as the parents, and Scarbrough and Gina Alvarado as a friendly librarian brought heart to the show. Setzer, and the audience, reveled in the glorious comedic nastiness of Trunchbull.
Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics were drastically underserved by significant sound issues at the opening night performance, an aberration at this usually reliable venue that they will hopefully correct. Far too much of the singing was unintelligible.
In Matilda the Musical, children should be seen AND heard.
‘Matilda the Musical’ runs through May 22 at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Fri, 7pm; Sat & Sun, 2pm; Thurs, May 19, 7pm. $12–$36. 707.588.3400. spreckelsonline.com Unvaccinated individuals must mask.