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Theater Review: “Matilda, the Musical”

“Matilda, the Musical” plays through August 3, 2019 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre, 1200 Vale Terrace Drive in Vista.
Photo credit:
Ken Jacques

You can’t pick your family, but poor Matilda (Charity Rose) wishes mightily that she could have chosen hers. The problems started at birth, when mom Mrs. Wormwood (Kristina Miller-Weston) was more interested in the dance contest she was missing than in knowing how her new baby was.

Dad is no help. Mr. Wormwood (Kevin Hafso-Koppman, resplendent in a gaudy pink plaid suit, with a heavy English accent) is a used-car (read: lemon) salesman who so wanted a son that he calls Matilda “boy” and uses masculine pronouns to refer to her – when he refers to her at all. He’s mostly too busy selling bad cars to visiting Russians.

Then there’s her gormless brother Michael (Piatt C. Pund), about whom (in her opinion) the less said the better.

Yep, Roald Dahl’s hilariously horrifying, very British “Matilda the Musical” is back through Aug. 3 at Vista’s Moonlight Amphitheatre, directed by Jamie Torcellini.

How can Matilda escape this impossible situation? She’ll go to the library, of course, where she finds a friend in librarian Mrs. Phelps (Shirley Johnston). Mrs. Phelps is impressed that Matilda is reading the likes of Dickens, Dostoyevsky and Brontë, but she’s even more thrilled to find that Matilda’s really good at telling stories.

But then there’s school. At Crunchem Hall, thinking out of the box is not allowed and reading frowned upon. Obedience to the rules is taught. Though teacher Miss Honey (Ashley Fox Linton) is nice, mean headmistress Miss Trunchbull (Randall Hickman) runs the joint, and won’t hear of Miss Honey’s suggestion to move Matilda up to the top grade where she belongs.

But Matilda does learn of Miss Trunchbull’s favorite torture, er, punishment: Chokey, a tiny closet full of dangerously sharp objects that stick out, where “misbehaving” students are locked.

How will Matilda (or any of the students) survive this? Matilda tries being “Naughty,” because “just because you find that life’s not fair, it doesn’t mean you just have to grin and bear it. Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.” For starters, she puts hydrogen peroxide in her father’s hair oil, which turns his hair green.

Meanwhile, Matilda’s mom is still dancing with spectacular partner Rudolpho (Ala Tiatia). They show up most dancers you’ll see onstage these days, with moves both amusingly unusual and seemingly impossible, like leaping splits.

There are some scenes I find a bit much, like Trunchbull’s punishment of student Bruce (Alexander Ikizyan) for eating a piece of her chocolate cake. (She makes him eat the whole thing. Ugh.)

Later, Trunchbull punishes what she regards as “The Smell of Rebellion” with an exhausting workout that she figures will make them too tired to scheme. How wrong she is.

“Matilda” stars eight supremely talented child actors, led by Charity Rose’s astonishing Matilda. Matilda makes or breaks the show, and she makes this one with great finesse and nary a stumble. And she’s just ten years old.

But all of them are amazing, as are the adults in this large cast. Miller-Weston and Hafso-Koppman are magnificently awful as the horrible Wormwoods.

Joy Newbegin impresses as the acrobat who dangles herself in a death-defying silks routine.

Hickman is wonderfully awful as Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress everyone loves to hate. Gotta love that costume too (by Shon LeBlanc); Hickman looks like a refugee from “The Mikado.”

Kudos to director Torcellini, who keeps all the balls in the air nicely, and to Stephen Gifford’s malleable set design (all those fake books!). Sound and lighting are nicely handled by Jim Zadai and Jennifer Edwards, and Colleen Kollar Smith adds some fun choreography.

It’s summertime, and thinking about school may not be the first thing on your mind. But “Matilda” will likely make you grateful that your experience was nothing like hers.

The details

“Matilda, the Musical” plays through August 3, 2019 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre, 1200 Vale Terrace Drive in Vista.

Wednesday through Sunday at 8 pm

Tickets: (760) 724-2110 or www.moonlightstage.com