Theater Review: “Matilda” is Marvelous

Samantha (Sam) Sonnett, Staff Writer

Pali students told the intriguing story of “Matilda” in a colorful performance in Mercer Hall between March 16 and 25.

Born to unconventional parents, young and gifted Matilda is not afraid to call out what she believes is “not right.” While the narrative is a bit outlandish, I was moved by the emotional rollercoaster. By the end, I felt as though I had been dropped right in the middle of Roald Dahl’s original vision.

“Matilda the Musical” is based on Roald Dahl’s 1988 novel “Matilda.” The show was written by playwright Dennis Kelly, composed by Tim Minchin and originally directed by Matthew Warchus when it debuted in England in 2010. 

Directed by Cheri and Monique Smith, Matilda Wormwood (Willa Browne) is neglected by her parents Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood (Samuel White and Maren Carrere) who wish she was more “normal.” Matilda is a brilliant child, reading advanced novels and solving high school math problems by the age of five. When she enrolls in school for the first time, she must learn to face the “big fat bully” Miss Trunchbull (Theodore King) while finding refuge in the care of her wonderful teacher, Miss Honey (Alexandra Palmer). Pali’s theater department’s rendition of  “Matilda” featured a double cast for three of the main roles.

The lights rose to reveal a children’s birthday party scene, and as the song “Miracle” began, I knew I was in for a show full of talent and unique storytelling. Pali’s live band played an eerie tune as the ensemble entered in bright costumes. The flow of choreography in this fascinating opening number was halted by Browne’s presence. Her poised vocals broke the unsettling chaos as she depicted the harsh insults her parents had spewed.

Characters from all ends of the personality spectrum were represented in the musical. From White and Carrere’s rowdy stage presence to Palmer’s calming persona, they truly had it all. 

Carrere proved her many talents during “Loud,” an intense salsa number about her beauty priorities. Although her hips may have been upstaged by her energetic dance partner, Rudolpho (Conor Kowalski), she commanded attention through her stunning voice, sending chills down my spine. 

Audience members were entertained in a post-intermission performance by White that drew them back into the world of the musical. White interacted with the audience in a number titled “Telly,” explaining that he learned everything from the television. While spectators laughed, they were also given an explanation as to why his many attempts at great fortune were always unsuccessful and eventually led to the Wormwoods’— and Rudolpho’s — great escape to Spain at the end of the musical. 

Palmer’s kind, touching character was juxtaposed by King’s intimidating energy, perfectly framing Browne’s mature and defiant role. 

Palmer wowed everyone in the house with a professional-level rendition of “Pathetic” that displayed a near-impossible level of vocal control. This contrasted well with the following number, as King presented Trunchbull’s core values in his version of “The Hammer” and  seemed to tyrannize the auditorium with his powerful voice. 

It is no wonder that Browne has been cast as the lead in her first two Pali spring musicals (previously appearing as Oliver in “Oliver”) as she captured the essence of Roald Dahl’s vision while inspiring awe with her impressive vocals. She was a natural storyteller, and I couldn’t help but root for her character in the fight against power-abusive parents. From the moment she stepped onto the stage during “Miracle” to her last ballad in the solo “Quiet,” I was captivated by her performance and presence.

To tie the show together, a wonderful ensemble accompanied the main characters in harmonization and well thought out choreography. Their talent truly brought the show to another level, aided especially by a talented group of experienced dancers on Pali’s dance team.

The actors were accompanied by a student orchestra, which played a flawless collection of tracks. The band rivaled a Broadway performance, striking in perfect time and harmony. A pit choir also sang with the actors, adding to the illusion that there were hundreds of students present at the Crunchem Hall School.

Also, the childlike sense of wonder in the show was enhanced by great sets and nifty projector-work.

Ultimately, the show transported me into another world, and I was entranced for the entirety of the three-hour musical. Based on their performances, these revolting children don’t deserve to see the Chokey door slam!

**Note: This Tideline writer only saw one of two casts of “Matilda the Musical.” The second cast featured Sage Denham as Matilda, Tema Ferrene as Mrs. Wormwood and Aurora Finetti as Miss Honey.