Broadway in Cincinnati’s Matilda is Visually Appealing
Posted On July 7, 2017
Review by Liz Eichler of Matilda the Musical: Broadway in Cincinnati
If you know and love author Roald Dahl and his dark humor, you will appreciate Matilda the Musical, playing at the Aronoff Center, through April 16. It is very dark story, with a few highlights. The show (book by Dennis Kelly, music and lyrics by Tim Minchin) is about a brilliant girl who is born to parents who do not love her so she finds solace in books and a friendly librarian. She is sent to a private school, run by a lunatic, but meets a sweet teacher who adores her and her abilities, and with love, Matilda finds strength to stop the bullying and “change her story.”
The highlights of the show are the performances of Matilda (Wednesday night was Jaime MacLean, but also in rotation are Gabby Gutierrez and Jenna Weir), Miss Honey (the sweet Jennifer Bowles), Mr. Wormwood (Matt Harrington), and Miss Trunchbull (Dan Chameroy). MacLean is a powerful force of concentration, with great diction, sharp movements and energy for this two-and a half hour show. Harrington and Chameroy each have wonderful comic timing and great physicality. There are quite a few strong supporting players as well, including the moves of Rudolpho (Stephen Diaz).
The songs aren’t all memorable, but the visuals accompanying them are, as the cast dances with a hospital bed, strollers, party tables, and a pommel horse throughout the show. “School Song” features a unique introduction to the ABCs. The strongest numbers occur in the second act, including the exhilarating “When I Grow Up” with the cast soaring over the front rows in their swings.
However, while the production has strengths in performance, this musical, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, likely in a smaller space, has some translation issues for a U.S. tour. The variety of accents are distracting as it is unclear where it is placed, England or America. The over enunciation of the younger actors helps, but they appear robotic, and a number are quite shrill. There are very English things—from the gym uniforms that look like pajamas to a U.S. audience (including the confused kids next to me), to the jolly intermission music hall number opening the 2nd act (it is fun, but the audience doesn’t understand the break in the 4th wall and performing while the house lights are still on).
The scenery motif is more baby blocks than books, forcing me to question the target audience for this show. Every audience member I asked said they loved it, from the sleepy 4-year-old to the 64-year- old. It has spectacle, music, singing and dancing. It even throws in the supernatural, and has a few surprises that made my neighbor jump. Yet, I would not take my favorite 7-year-old, for the same reason she doesn’t want to see the new “Beauty and the Beast” movie—there is clearly a struggle between good and bad and she just doesn’t want to be forced to watch bad behavior, no matter what the production values.
Tickets are available at cincinnatiarts.org or call 513-621-ARTS.