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Bob Goepfert Reviews "Matilda The Musical" At Proctors

“When I Grow Up” - The Company of Matilda The Musical National Tour
Joan Marcus

“Matilda the Musical,” which is at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady through Sunday, is a work that respects its audience. The show is the most mature young person’s entertainment you can imagine and should be appreciated equally by young and old.  But a word of caution – not too young as this is a thoughtful but dark story.

“Matilda’ is a musical about powerless people living in a world that is out of their control.  It makes you remember what its like to be about three feet tall, lack knowledge and learning to be a victim.  This world is dark, filled with shadows and populated by giants who refuse to nurture anyone.  In other words “Matida” examines the world through the eyes of a confused and terrified child.

It also shows how change can happened when one of those powerless little people have imagination, a gift for learning and a sense of decency and fair play.  That person can change the world.  

Young Matilda is one of those people.  Her world consists of shallow, ignorant parents who do not care about her.  The father so wanted a boy he only refers to Matilda using male pronouns.  The mother is only interested in ballroom dancing and is actually terrified that Matilda can actually read a book and tries to tell her stories.  Home is horrid and the television is the center of the universe.

Matilda is gifted so she is able to stay sane by reading books.  It’s no coincidence that one of her favorite authors is Charles Dickens.   Like one of his characters she is raised in ignorance and fear then sent to a school which is more like a penitentiary led by a sadistic Head Mistress.  

The genius of the show is that while it out-Dickens Dickens by taking the approach of a Grimm’s Brothers fairy tale, it makes everything palatable and even entertaining by having the adult characters played so broadly their danger is minimalized without being negated.    While this approach lets adults laugh at themselves, it also, and more importantly, permits younger audiences to see the word in which they live without being fearful.   

There is nothing remotely comic about “Matilda” but there are funny moments that generate laughter. This is because of some great innovative staging that keeps the production almost other-worldly.  The acting is great, especially by the 10 children in the cast.  They are an unbelievably talented group who can sing, dance, act and even mug when called for.  They are always charming.

The tour travels with three young girls alternating the demanding role of “Matilda.”    On press night Matilda was played by Tori Feinstein, who recently perfromed the role on Broadway. Young Ms. Feinstein is a precious dynamo who is equal parts charming and determined.  Think Little Orphan Annie with shades of Carrie.

The adults are also excellent.  Bryce Ryness plays the vile Head Mistress Miss Trunchbull as a stand-in for tyrants everywhere.  He is broad, comically sinister and always has the touch of danger about him.  He is able to effectively create this menacing character even though he is clearly a male performing a female role.  It is an effective visual joke that is subliminally disturbing.

The production is not perfect.  The second act drags and not every segment moves the tale equally.  Clearly some moments are included for needed fun, but they, like the ending, which offers resolution by tying all the pieces together, extends the show past the point of interest.

My biggest problem was that often the young voices combined with British accents often made many of the song’s lyrics undecipherable.   This not only was a problem in offering information but it takes you out of the moment and with a show that breaks so many rules, it is not a good thing.

Flaws aside, “Matilda the Musical” is a grown-up treat for all ages.    It’s not for the very young but it treats young audience like they are intelligent and that’s a good thing.

“Matilda the Musical” plays Proctors Theatre in Schenectady through Sunday.  For schedule and ticket information call 346-6204, proctors.org

Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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