“Matilda the Musical,” which has been growing in fame and popularity since it debuted in London’s Cambridge Theatre in 2010, has come to Fayetteville.
Matilda and her powerful intellect played to a sold-out audience on Saturday night.
It's a fast, fun and high-energy show. The story of “Matilda” is about standing up for what’s right and not putting up with what’s wrong. We need Matilda in our lives, and she has arrived at just the right time.
If you’ve never seen the musical, think of “Annie” and mix it with “Oliver Twist.” Add a dash of “Harry Potter” and Lemony Snicket, and — bam! — that’s “Matilda.” Now energize the Shelley-like creation with memorable songs and outstanding choreography, and you’ll have a magical stage experience.
The beloved book-turned-musical is the latest big stage production from Cape Fear Regional Theatre. The musical is based on the book “Matilda” by famed British writer Roald Dahl, who also wrote classics like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach.”
Music and lyrics for “Matilda the Musical” were written by Tim Minchin. CFRT’s education director, Marc de la Concha, directs the production. The choreography is by Charlie Sutton, and the music was directed by James Clark Jr.
This is a big production that supports an adult ensemble playing multiple roles and two youth casts: the “Honey” and “Trunchbull” casts. Isabel Iaturo stars as Matilda in the “Honey” cast; on alternating nights, Callie Mackenzie Tisdale plays Matilda in the “Trunchbull” cast. Iaturo played the lead role on Saturday night.
When Mrs. Wormwood (played by Kelly Felthous) finds out she is pregnant, she claims it was the worst day of her life. After all, she would be missing her dance tournament. Mr. Wormwood (Kevin David Stevens) tells the doctor that his son was missing some parts.
The Wormwoods wanted a boy, but they got the “miracle” of a girl instead. Matilda Wormwood’s shady, self-serving parents regularly mock her, driving Matilda into the solitude of reading at the library. There, Matilda discovers her love for books — and also that she possesses telekinetic powers.
Along her journey, Matilda finds respite in characters that are in her corner, like librarian Mrs. Phelps (Ayana Washington) and teacher Mrs. Honey (Jennifer Newman).
Enter Miss Trunchbull
On Matilda’s first day of school, she meets Miss Trunchbull (Merrill Peiffer), the school’s cruel headmistress. Trunchbull dresses like a World War I military officer in a stiff, drab-colored uniform, wide leather belt, and trench boots.
This is where you’ll see author Dahl’s preference for the dark and macabre. Dahl likes to pit villainous adults against children in his stories.
Trunchbull, a former Olympic world champion hammer thrower, hates children. She especially hates hair worn in pigtails and is prone to grabbing a child by her pigtails and hammer-throwing her over the school’s wall. Yes, Cape Fear Regional depicts this in the production, and the execution is hilarious, bringing a roar of laughter from the audience.
Her favorite weapon to punish the children is the Chokey, a tiny closet filled with nails and glass and used for solitary confinement.
Everything changes the moment Matilda stands up to Trunchbull, using her intellect and telekinetic powers to stop her.
Top-shelf performances and props
Director de la Concha helms Cape Fear Regional’s biggest production of the year, and the cast goes big, loud and fast. With the musical’s elaborate set, props, singing and dance numbers, you’ll feel like you’re sitting in a seat on Broadway. I’ve seen popular shows on Broadway that didn’t have sets and performances as elaborate as in Saturday’s performance.
The British play is performed by Americans who speak and sing in a British accent. The fact that all the actors, including the children, accomplished both so impressively is highly commendable.
Local young talent Isabel Iatauro does an outstanding job with her passionate performance as Matilda. It’s evident that Iatauro came prepared for her debut role at CFRT.
Kevin David Stevens nailed his role as shady used-car salesman Mr. Wormwood. A highlight for Wormwood is the song “All I Know,” in which he interacts with the audience to promote watching television instead of reading books.
Kelly Felthous’ interpretation of Mrs. Wormwood was as loud and flamboyant as her hot pink outfit. With an irritatingly nasal voice, Felthous captures the self-obsessed, shallow, egotistical Mrs. Wormwood in all her peroxide hair-dyed glory. She’ll almost convince you that girls don’t need to be smart, only look good.
Felthous and Fabi Galmeister, who plays dance instructor Rudolpho, perform the dance number “Loud,” so intricate that it leaves the audience roaring with applause and amazement. During the number, both actors dance the mambo and rumba with professional expertise. The scene is both hilarious and jaw-dropping.
Lastly, we come to Ms. Trunchbull. Merrill Peiffer’s performance as the tyrannical headmistress is a highlight of the show. Peiffer looks like she is having fun playing the character as she stalks the children with her hands, grasping her belt and eyeing them with animated expressions of disdain.
CFRT’s version of Trunchbull is not as harsh as the movie or book version of the character. Peiffer’s Trunchbull is wickedly humorous at times, rather than always frowning and cruel.
The brilliantly designed sets act as a supporting player, quickly and effortlessly transforming from a library, to a classroom, or the schoolhouse courtyard, from Matilda’s bedroom, a living room to Trunchbull’s office.
The actors place and remove the props themselves. One moment you’re in Trunchbull’s office, then suddenly it’s a library, and you’ll wonder how that happened. The stage has projection screens and digital props that help portray Matilda’s visions and telekinetic powers.
After Saturday’s performance, members of the audience left in a buzz of excitement, realizing they just witnessed Cape Fear Regional Theatre take its production power to another level.
Matilda herself may be small, but her show is big.
“Matilda the Musical” will run through Feb. 19, but the theater says tickets are selling fast. For theater lovers, “Matilda” is a must-see.