PLAY REVIEW

‘Matilda’ magic makes memories

Beloved children’s book comes to life in song

Sam Desmond
Posted 10/20/22

One of the most fulfilling, albeit most difficult, genres of theater to satisfy an audience is a production meant for a younger crowd accompanied by adult sensibilities.

“Matilda,” now …

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PLAY REVIEW

‘Matilda’ magic makes memories

Beloved children’s book comes to life in song

Posted

One of the most fulfilling, albeit most difficult, genres of theater to satisfy an audience is a production meant for a younger crowd accompanied by adult sensibilities.

“Matilda,” now playing at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale, is one that manages to play well to both children and their parents, in a fantastical and nostalgic look at childhood that neither shies away from the pain of abuse or neglect, or the redemptive quality of courage and perseverance.

The anchor of the show, Claire Daly, in the title role of Matilda, played the part with such an effortless grace and a Stuart Little-type quality that captured the character’s vulnerability.

Managing to contrast Matilda’s precociousness in reading, arithmetic, and all pursuits intellectual with a light-hearted reticence and bold advocacy for the downtrodden, Daly proved herself to be quite the actress.

Michael J. Coppola, in his role as the ever-downtrodden Bruce Bogtrotter, had an effervescence that was captured in each scene as he engaged the audience to cheer for his underdog status. In the second act, Coppola takes the mic and belts out an amazing solo that had the house nearly on its feet with its powerful bravado.

But of course, no fairy tale would be complete without some deliciously evil villains to contend with, and Matthew W. Surico, as the plotting and pompous Mr. Wormwood, was a perfect aggravation to Daly’s Matilda. Donning quite the strong cockney accent, Surico managed to create a character that was lovably naughty.

Veronica Fox as the (most probably) adulterous wife obsessed with ballroom dance, provided some grown-up humor in the form of a vain, vapid, and vexing vixen (whose derriere in pink hotpants drew wild cheers from the crowd).

But Ana McCasland as the Olympian-turned-warden, Miss Trunchbull, was magnetic and feverishly delightful, with a nuanced and terrifying performance.

McCasland’s diabolical cuteness and smiles throughout her machinations of child abuse was a crowd favorite and truly reminiscent of old-school nuns. Her pauses and poses were spot-on with the character, as she smiled and sneered her way through moments of abject cruelty.
And although Miss Trunchbull’s weapon of choice, the Chokey (described as a type of claustrophobic closet with nails and spikes one would get thrown into), is never seen, her bellowing threats and sheer delight in torture were enough to induce some anxiety.
The moral center of the story, Miss Honey, was played with restraint and an abundance of sweetness by Carissa Navarra. Navarra’s grasp of the character arc—the fortitude and strength overpowering her meekness through her love and affection to save Matilda from a terrible childhood like her own—was so heartwarming and genuine, that the final scene where she adopts Matilda played out like a real-life reunion of lost souls.

Minor roles by the stoical Brian Frank (the Escapologist), flirtatious Andrew Teperdijan (Rudolpho), and strong-armed Andrew Murano (the Russian mob leader), rounded out the storyline and offered moments of reflection, titillation, and belly laughter.

As usual, production coordinator and scenic designer, John Mazzarella, and costume designer, Ronald R. Green III, delivered on their reputations of quality and spectacle with a dream-like stage backdrop and whimsical props and transformative apparel.

In particular, the school uniforms, which spanned the children through adult actors, were a mix of Green Day rebellion with “Beetlejuice” aesthetic.

Director Jordan Hue brought together quite the feat of performance and pulled from his cast their very best.

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