By Joanne Engelhardt
Palo Alto Players’ current production of the musical version of the beloved Roald Dahl book, Matilda is a bit of a mixed bag.
While there are odd bits to enjoy – most especially Doug Santana’s uproarious acting and buxom look as the school’s old bag principal, Miss Agatha Trunchbull – there are also times when the sounds of screeching little voices and painfully outdated sound system at the Lucie Stern Theatre make one wonder whether to leave at intermission. And why did someone run the air conditioning during the show, making people try to bundle up in their sweaters or jackets for a matinee production?
…Costume designer Greet Jaspaert also deserves a shout-out…
Two young girls play the title role of Matilda Wormwood: Sofia Zamora and Araceli Grace. This reviewer saw Grace as Matilda, so comments made here are about her. Grace is a charmer, though I also found it frequently difficult to hear her words clearly. Good news: when she sings, her words are crystal clear.
For those who are not familiar with Dahl’s book, it can be quite confusing to watch the PAP production. Matilda’s parents, Mrs. Wormwood (a campy take on the role by Brigitte Losey) and her husband, Mr. Wormwood (Randy Lee) are more interested in money and trying to con other people out of theirs than they are in Matilda.
But the young girl has two people who watch out for her: Mrs. Phelps (Kayvon Kordestani) and her kindly teacher Miss Honey (Madelyn Davis). Davis likely has the best voice in the 29-member cast, and she uses it in several numbers: “Pathetic,” “This Little Girl,” “When I Grow Up” and “My House.”
One of the best group musical numbers in Act 2 is “When I Grow Up” featuring the children, Matilda and Miss Honey. Four long swings are lowered from the rafters, and some of the youthful ensemble jump on them and swing away. Then four older boys take over and swing far out into the audience. That causes an audible “Oh!” from the audience, and applause. Credit choreographer Whitney Janssen for that bit of excitement.
Costume designer Greet Jaspaert also deserves a shout-out for coming up with appropriate clothes for the large cast – and for creating the comical clothing of Santana as the dreaded Miss Trunchbull.
As the Escapologist, Steve Roma plays a large part in Matilda, although to anyone not familiar with the book, it might be a mystery what he does.
For some reason, PAP seems to be focused on children’s stories this year.
Matilda runs for just four more performances this weekend, ending on Sunday, Sept. 24. If you go, prepare by bringing along a warm jacket. PAP’s next production in November is The Wizard of Oz, then there’s more adult fare in 2024.
Aisle Seat Executive Reviewer Joanne Engelhardt is a Peninsula theatre writer and critic. She is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
|Written by||Dennis Kelly|
|Producing Company||Palo Alto Players|
|Production Dates||Thru Sept 24th, 2023|
|Production Address||1305 Middlefield Road Palo Alto, CA 94301|
|Tickets||$30– $57 (limited availability)|
|Reviewer Score||Max in each category is 5/5|
|Aisle Seat Review PICK!||----|