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Review: 'Matilda' at Drury Lane is Broadway-quality work

May 23, 2019 at 10:49 PM

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One of the greatest storytellers of the 20th century, Roald Dahl, published his children's novel “Matilda” in 1988. It was adapted as a stage musical by the Royal Shakespeare Company, received its West End premiere in 2011 and won seven Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical.

The book was adapted by Dennis Kelly with Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin. “Matilda The Musical” made its Broadway premiere in 2013 and went on to win five Tony Awards, including Best Book of a Musical. The Regional Premiere of “Roald Dahl's Matilda The Musical” is now playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.


“Matilda” tells the story of a precocious 5-year-old girl (Audrey Edwards of Chicago and on occasion Natalie Galla of Warrenville) who develops some exceptional talents. Faced with a family that doesn't understand her and a headmistress who appreciates no child, bookish Matilda always stands up for what is right. Although Edwards was sometimes difficult to hear on press night, she navigates dense passages of storytelling with charm and variety.

Sebastian has assembled an astonishing cast of talented child actors. Patrick Scott McDermott (and on occasion Gabriel Robert) impresses as young Nigel. Joshua Zingerman (and on occasion Carter Graf) displays an appetite for playing Bruce Bogtrotter. Anna Fox (and on occasion Bailey Mosbacher) gives an enthusiastic performance as Matilda's friend, Lavender. The entire children's company excels in the energetic, amusingly choreographed musical numbers.

Matilda is befriended by the librarian, Mrs. Phelps (Linda Bright Clay), and her teacher, Miss Honey (Eben K. Logan). Mrs. Phelps is enthralled by Matilda's fantastic storytelling abilities. Miss Honey is impressed with Matilda's reading and multiplication skills. While Matilda is fearless, Miss Honey is revealed to be fearful. Miss Honey offers Matilda a safe space in the midst of so much adversity while Matilda provides a solution to her teacher's troubles.

Stephanie Gibson and Jackson Evans portray Mrs. and Mr. Wormwood, Matilda's and possibly the world's worst parents. These self-absorbed characters are portrayed with zany physical comedy and impressive dance skills. Evan C. Dolan as Michael Wormwood, Matilda's monosyllabic brother, and Alex Benoit as Rudolpho, Mrs. W's ballroom dance partner, round out the hilarious household. One of the best musical numbers,”Loud,” features Mrs. Wormwood and Rudolpho who are joined by Miss Honey, amusingly out of her element, and the colorful dance ensemble.

The musical's most unforgettable character is Sean Fortunato's hilariously grotesque headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. Fortunato's villainess dominates the stage inflicting terror on her young charges and is featured in “The Hammer.”


Other standouts include Liam Quealy as a Party Entertainer and Andrew MacNaughton as both an enthusiastic Doctor and a Russian mafioso. The adult ensemble displays its athleticism in musical numbers such as “School Song” and “The Smell of Rebellion.”

Director and Choreographer Mitch Sebastian succeeds at the difficult task of balancing the various elements of this show. The zany slapstick comedy amuses, the grotesque villain horrifies and the wistful fantasy enchants. Sebastian is ably supported by the stage magic of Scenic Designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec, Lighting and Projections Designer Ray Nardelli and Costume Designer Theresa Ham. Drury Lane Theatre is producing Broadway-quality work.

• Richard Pahl has worked as an actor and director for more than 40 years. While serving two terms on Elgin's Cultural Arts Commission, he produced its Page To Stage play reading series. Recent directing credits include “Over the River and Through the Woods” for Elgin Theater Company, "Spinning Into Butter" for Janus Theatre, and "Making God Laugh" and a staged reading of "Peggy's Birth Day" at Steel Beam Theatre. He will be appearing in “Love Letters” at the Elgin Arts Showcase on May 26.