OGDEN — Matilda, based on the novel of the same name by Roald Dahl, first appeared as a musical on the West End in London in November of 2001, and then it came to Broadway in April of 2013. It has had widespread popularity and acclaim for its music by Australian rock star Tim Minchin and book writing by Dennis Kelly. The story follows young, brilliant Matilda, played in the Terrace Plaza production by Daphne Dixon, who is mistreated by her parents, the over the top Wormwoods, played by Justin Lee and Whitney Cahoon and her awfully abusive head mistress, Miss Trunchbull, played by John Rollins.
Matilda befriends her teacher, Miss Honey, played by Maren Messerly, who sees the gifts that Matilda has, and together they overcome the challenges of abuse and mistreatment, with the help of the other kids of the cast, to show that love and intelligence can conquer mistreatment.
The very first thing that I noticed when attending Matilda at Terrace is the amazing set, which I am told is the design of director Aaron Larsen-Ford and assistant Bryant Larsen-Ford. The set was built with a whole team of builders credited in the program, included Nathan Fawcett who I am told came up with the genius way the chalkboard is used in act II. From the chalkboard paint on the walls and the floor to the nice choice of colors, it was my favorite set that I have seen at the Terrace.
Dixon as Matilda was nothing short of remarkable. As a critic, I have been so glad to see this show rise in popularity for young actors, because as Annie has aged, it is fantastic to see other shows come about that challenge young actors and actresses in new and different ways. Matilda is one of the most challenging roles that a young actress can face, and Dixon took this role on with flying colors. The most wonderful moment for Matilda in the show is the song, “Quiet,” where the balance of dynamics in the writing is complicated to pull off both musically and as a practice in acting, and Dixon took my breath away.
To compliment Dixon’s performance was Messerly as the gentle Miss Honey. (I mean, her name is Maren, she is likely to be very skilled). In this telling of Matilda, I have long appreciated the portrayal of difficulty that Miss Honey had with the mistreatment of Trunchbull, and the sanctuary she had when she finally got a space of her own. Messerly truly captured this portrayal in her song, “My House,” which brought me to tears.
Rollins as Trunchbull was deliciously evil, building a character easy to hate and making it exciting to root for the children as they worked to overcome the mistreatment and come into their own. Rounding out the villains, Lee and Cahoon as the Wormwoods gave us the best costumes and also the most comedic parts of the show. Cahoon in her number, “Loud,” showed amazing musical skill, comedic timing, dancing skill (those splits!), and choreography, also by Aaron Larsen-Ford. Costume Designer Stephanie Bruckman did a great job with all of the costumes, but it is clear she had the most fun with the Wormwoods. And Lee as Mr. Wormwood stole the show when opening up the second act with the amusing song, “Telly,” breaking the fourth wall in the best way possible.
The children of the ensemble shined best during the number, “Revolting Children,” where the music direction of Jamie Balaich combined with Aaron Larsen-Ford’s and Bryant Larsen-Ford’s choreography and the fantastic lighting design by Miland Palmer all worked together to show off the skills that are abundant within the cast.
Matilda is one of the finest stories about strength, love, kindness, understanding, and standing up for what is right in the face of abuse and unkindness. The cast and crew at Terrace Plaza have worked hard to help the themes shine through while magnifying the skills and talents of the cast. I was highly impressed with the full cast and hope to see more companies look at shows like Matilda that showcase young talent in more challenging, interesting, and innovative ways.