Encore Michigan

Matilda at The Riverbank memorable in Marine City

Review March 08, 2020 Paula Bradley

MARINE CITY, Mich.–There are some characters you just can’t help falling in love with, even when they are a little bit naughty. Precocious, clever, resilient and wise beyond her years, Matilda Wormwood is one of those characters. In this production of Matilda the Musical at The Riverbank Theatre in Marine City, even the antagonists end up being favorites.

Young Matilda is born into a family of shallow and self-centered parents who have no use for another child—let alone a girl—and a TV obsessed brother who can barely put a compound word together.  Matilda, though, is a bibliophile and a genius. She passes her time at the local library, teaching herself to read and absorbing classics like “War and Peace,” “Great Expectations,” “Jane Eyre” and many more, and enthralling the librarian with her dramatic storytelling, all before entering primary school.

She eventually begins school, where she encounters the lovely teacher Miss Honey and the hateful headmistress Miss Trunchbull. Matilda witnesses many abuses of the other students at the hands of The Trunchbull, and also learns of some wrong done to Miss Honey as a child.  She determines to right the injustices inflicted on all of them, using her wits and her newly discovered power to move objects with her mind. No one in the audience will mind that Matilda chooses to be a little bit naughty to make things right.  But what reveals the most about Matilda’s character in the end is the retribution she chooses not to exact.

Matilda is based on the 1988 children’s novel by Roald Dahl, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and book by Dennis Kelly. Aaron and Brittany Smith provide direction, music direction and choreography for the show that boasts the largest cast to date on the Riverbank stage, many of them youth. There is definitely no shortage of energy or laughs, and the lead roles are very well cast.

Third grader Rose Marie Hill portrays the precocious Matilda with a sassy yet lovable attitude, energy to spare and ease that eludes even some experienced adult actors. Even her British accent is well done, although it sometimes overwhelms her dialogue. The role of Mrs. Wormwood seems an ideal role for the talent of Brittany Smith, who brings on all the sarcasm, egotism and hot salsa dancing needed to make this reviewer wish the role was larger. Even though the role of dance instructor Rudolpho is not large, nearly all of his lines were met with audible laughter. Bill LaDuke plays the deceitful salesman Mr. Wormwood in sleazy con man fashion. 

If any antagonist could be considered a scene stealer, it would definitely be Miss Trunchbull, played by Michael Pacholski.  Everything about the portrayal is exaggeratedly harsh and dreadfully hilarious, from the instant Pacholski turns to face the audience.

Matilda the Musical boasts five Tony Awards (2013) and seven Olivier awards  (2012) including Best Musical. There are many lively and well-performed songs, including the opening number “Miracle” which features the youth ensemble, paired with counter-melody by the adult ensemble; “Naughty,” which reveals a bit of Matilda’s clever and mischievous nature; “Loud,” a riotous number featuring Mrs. Wormwood and Rudolpho’s salsa moves;  “This Little Girl,” featuring the sweetly pleasing vocals of Mallorie Green as Miss Honey; the Vaudeville style “All I Know,“ in which Mr. Wormwood sings the praises of television; “When I Grow Up,” an optimistic view beyond current circumstances; and “The Smell of Rebellion,” a hilarious iteration of Miss Trunchbull’s absolute disdain for children.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this show: a strong cast, energetic music and choreography,  a great story appropriate for all ages and with a well-developed young heroine, and most of all a wonderful message that encourages us to use the talents we have and to stand up to wrongdoing.

Week of 11/27/2023

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