Note: After the coronavirus put performances of this production on hiatus, Hale Center Theater has resumed performances of Matilda.
OREM — Though the script was odd at several junctions, Hale Center Theater Orem’s production of Matilda the Musical was high-quality, family fun. This musical is based off of the book written by my personal favorite children’s book author Roald Dahl, written for the stage by Dennis Kelly, with music by composer-lyricist Tim Minchin. Under the direction of local Ashley Gardner Carlson, I was impressed by many aspects of the performance.
Carlson’s director’s note in the playbill included a desire for “everything the audience sees in this production to be seen through Matilda’s lens” — a goal that was phenomenally executed. This began with the work of Cole McClure as set designer, who turned the entire theater into a larger-than-life library with gargantuan books along the back wall, an oversized, retro television fit with projections of 1970s-era commercials, and covered the set with enormous letter blocks and books that the cast could climb on. I felt transformed into a young child, seeing the world as much bigger than I, thanks to the work of McClure and his team.
Costume designer Tami Crandall took the story back in time, with bright colored dresses and shiny disco outfits for certain musical performances. One of my favorite costumes was that which belonged to Mr. Wormwood’s character: a horrific, plaid-patterned suit made up of almost fluorescent orange and shades of yellow and brown that matched the character’s personality perfectly. I enjoyed the wide range of costumes in Matilda, from the children’s school uniforms to Miss Trunchbull’s combat boots and hunchback that made the story of Matilda truly come to life.
The choreography, also by Carlson, was fantastic, with everything from ribbon twirling to a teensie tap number. Carlson has a knack for providing variety not just for variety’s sake. The large group dances were always entertaining and moves were rarely reused. One of my absolute favorite songs from the musical adaptation of Matilda is the “School Song,” where the entire alphabet is used letter by letter to describe their school as a prison. I loved the choice to use McClure’s giant letter blocks in this scene to illustrate the alphabet being used and to help the cast members to move around in a unique manner in comparison to the rest of the production.
One more critical note to the director would be in regards to the time period being portrayed. Though mentions of Matilda having read “Lord of the Rings” and “Crime and Punishment” are humorous as a part of the script, the very beginning of the musical threw me off when parents came in with smartphones, taking selfies. Though it illustrated the point that the parents were self-absorbed and did not give adequate attention to teaching their children, the use of hand mirrors would have been a better choice in keeping the production congruous with the era, especially because so much effort was placed in the set and costume designs to create a retro atmosphere.
One other critique I have is for McClure in his capacity as sound designer. In Matilda, there was a lot of yelling and screaming, and mics were left on as the entire ensemble of children shouted and squealed unintelligible complaints. This left my ears ringing after the performance. It would be beneficial to mute the microphones during these moments and just let the children’s natural, deafening abilities to scream carry the moment without the assistance of electronic amplification. Still, with McClure’s many hats in this production (as set designer, technical director, and sound designer), it is easy to see how this may have been overlooked.
Even with the mostly superb technical elements, Matilda would not have come to life the way it did without the actors and actresses. Though a few of the stars were outstanding, many of the supporting characters seemed to steal the show with this Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday cast.
Matilda was played by the incredibly talented Kelsey Plewe. Impressively, Plewe was able to hit the notes she was assigned to sing while simultaneously running around the stage playing pranks on her father or finding a book to read. Moreover, she was convincing in every way. Plewe performed the songs, and didn’t just sing them; she showcased a range of emotions, from sadness to anger to courage, and had superb storytelling abilities when she told the story of the acrobat and escapologist.
Another star worth mentioning was Corinne Adair, who fabulously portrayed the hysterical Mrs. Wormwood. Her crazy wigs (which were great work from hair and makeup designer Janna Larsen) were changed a wonderfully ridiculous number of times throughout the night, and her gaudy red lipstick perfectly matched the personality of the character. Adair’s ability to be an overzealously bad parent was almost disturbing, screaming at the thought of her child reading a book and flailing her arms about as she entered and exited scenes. Her lines, of course, were witty in and of themselves — but Adair’s added facial expressions and body language made her character sadly realistic and absolutely preposterous in the best kind of way.
Tanner Sumens was another noteworthy performer, playing a diverse group of characters throughout the show, and he was able to switch between them excellently. Sumens was impressive in both his voice (highlighted in his roles as Mrs. Wormwood’s Ob/Gyn and the Escapologist) and in his ability to incite audience laughter in the role of Rudolpho. As Mrs. Wormwood’s dance partner, Sumens tangoed across the stage with her until they were interrupted by a visit from Miss Honey (played by Kenzie David). The character Rudolpho took the time to stretch it out, and showed off his tight pants and crotch to the entire audience in a series of uproarious poses. Sumens is both a talented actor and vocal performer, and I hope to see him on the stage again soon.
Finally, it would be a mistake if I did not mention the young Grant Westcott, who played Bruce. This cake-eating kid had some brief moments to shine during the production, but Westcott mostly danced and sang along with the rest of the children and ensemble cast. Near the very end of the musical, however, is when I was absolutely blown away. During the song “Revolting Children,” Westcott’s bellowing voice filled the stage and stole the show, with an unbelievable range and passion for the words he sang. Westcott, I cannot wait to hear you perform again!
Kelly’s lopsided and whiplash-inducing script aside, Hale Center Theater Orem put on a fantastic show that children and adults alike will enjoy. While not my favorite production I have seen at this theater, I am consistently impressed by the talented individuals who work so diligently to produce first-rate theatre. Support the incredible local artists in Matilda the Musical and spend an evening with the Wormwoods and their prodigy daughter.