SLOC’s 97th Season Opener, Matilda the Musical is Enchanting and Captivating
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical, with book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, premiered at Stratford-upon-Avon, England, in 2010 and on Broadway in 2013. Community theaters don’t present the show very frequently, I would imagine, because it must be challenging to find at least eight girls who can sing, dance, and act who are typically all under the age of 12. SLOC has picked up the gauntlet and opened their 97th season with this mountain of a musical.
Matilda is the story of a young girl who was never wanted by her parents. Her father, wonderfully portrayed with all the moronic nonsense by David Quinones, Jr., and stupid airhead mother consumed only with competitive ballroom dancing by a very funny Brittany Glen, are perfect. They deposit Matilda into a boarding school as soon as she is old enough, run by Miss Agatha Trunchbull, perfectly imagined as a sadomasochistic witch. Nick Contois becomes the horrid Trunchbull, making the Wizard of Oz’s wicked witch and the witch in the gingerbread house of Hansel and Gretel fame appear to be the Mary Poppins of children’s fairy tales.
If Contois is the perfect baddie, then Jennifer Lefsyk is the ideal kindhearted, loving and caring adult Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey. Lefsyk plays her part with all of the kindness one would hope for, without ever overstepping into the realm of sweetness and goo. Her voice compliments the role, shining in her act 1 numbers Pathetic and This Little Girl and again outstanding in her second act solo My House. Elizabeth Corey is Mrs. Phelps, the kindly librarian to whom Matilda enjoys telling her made-up stories as well as sharing books from the school library. Corey, in the only nonsinging adult role, is a wonderful sweet foil to Matilda.
Kevin O’Brien, Ashley Polidore, and Andrei Bires do a fine job rounding out the adults in the cast. The remainder of the 20-plus cast members are children or teens. The cast of children ranges in age from 9 to 11. Each one is adorable, all of them can sing, dance, do acrobatics, act, and have learned the art of mugging to the audience while still looking convincing, remaining in character, and all of this while speaking with British accents.
Of particular note are Amaya Ridley as Lavender, who has impeccable comedic timing and a future in theater should she choose to pursue it, and 11-year-old Vincent Connell. Vincent was called on Friday morning and told that the young gentleman, who normally plays the role of Bruce, was out ill. Did he think he would be able to learn the part and all it entails and be ready for the weekend performances? Without batting an eye, he filled in, never dropped a line, a note, or a dance step, and did an amazing job. When it comes to getting pulled out of the chorus and into one of the lead characters, Shirley Maclaine had nothing on this young man.
But the show belongs to nine-year-old Marlena Rowe as Matilda. (The role of Matilda is shared for various performances throughout the run.) Rowe’s character is on stage literally throughout the entirety of the show. It is a grueling job by any standards. With more lines and choreography and being included in eleven of the show’s sixteen musical numbers, it is a workhorse of a role. Rowe carried it off without a hitch. She is endearing, charming, has enormous talent, and a great find for SLOC.
If this is any indication of the season ahead, it is going to be quite amazing. James W. Alexander has done a momentous job not only of perfectly casting the production but also of leading and molding them into a cohesive unit. Community theater can be challenging at best when dealing with amateur adult thespians. When you add children, and many of them, into the mix, it can be daunting. Alexander has done a phenomenal job making it all work and work very well. Music Director Elizabeth Sterling shines by vocally pulling the very best out of her cast. Add to that Caley Alyce Lacey’s beautiful choreography, and you have a winning trifecta in technical leadership.
Surrounding the cast on a delightfully imagined set filled with oversized children’s old-fashioned wooden letter blocks and gigantic books whose spines read like a who’s who of the classics, and set designer Molly Waters has created an enchanting place for the players to play. Costume Designer Rory Alexa and hair designer Jennie Canale have done a great job finishing the picture to bring this not-always-pleasant children’s story to life.
Matilda is a show that many children will be familiar with, and though the themes are mature, there are villains to dislike and good folk to embrace, everyone will root for Matilda. Book your seats as soon as the show is playing to sold-out audiences for most performances. Matilda runs through September 24 at SLOC’s 427 Franklin Street theater in Schenectady. For ticket information or reservations, visit www.sloctheater.org or call 518-730-7370.