The Muny closes its 101stseason with an uplifting musical about growing up that features a look inspired by the whimsical work of St. Louis artist Mary Engelbreit. “Roald Dahl’s Matilda” takes audiences on a spirited adventure through the humorously twisted world of Matilda Wormwood, a gifted young girl with completely oblivious parents. The imaginative musical traipses through a childhood filled with memorable characters and familiar challenges, in an upbeat, can-do tale with a perfectly captivating heroine.
Equipped with a brilliant mind and resourceful, slightly rebellious personality, young Matilda seems nonetheless destined for a life of disappointment and underachievement. Her mother is far too busy with her dance contests and her father is busily working on transparently bad get-rich-quick schemes to pay much attention to the girl. Luckily, Matilda has a friend in the local librarian and she’s a student of the nurturing Miss Honey. The story is filled with odd characters and comically exaggerated hurdles, but is ultimately a positive tale of perseverance and embracing your true self, whoever that may be.
Mattea Conforti is simply spectacular as Matilda, with a big personality and voice, as well as charisma that plays all the way to the back row of the theater. Filled with a wonderfully expressive imagination, she captivates from the moment she hits the stage and her rendition of “Naughty” is a perfect introduction. The always compelling Ann Harada is marvelous as Matilda’s self-absorbed, wise cracking mom and she’s paired with Josh Grisetti as her husband, a man of many cons and too few brain cells. Grisetti elicits plenty of laughter with his hapless schemes and spot on comic timing. His energetic take on “Telly,” leading off the second act, finds the audience in the palm of his greedy hand, perfectly setting up the rest of the quick paced, if familiar, musical tale.
Laura Michelle Kelly is the warm, tenderhearted Miss Honey, and she brings a touch of sadness and insecurity to the role without becoming consumed by melancholy. Her sweet soprano take on “This Little Girl” is a welcome contrast to the doubt of the nonetheless engaging “Pathetic.” Darlesia Cearcy is humorously over-enthusiastic as librarian Mrs. Phelps, completely committing herself to Matilda’s storytelling with over-the-top reactions. The irrepressible Beth Malone is Miss Trunchbull, the domineering school principal in cahoots with Mr. Wormwood. The perfect comic foil to Matilda’s optimistic nature, Malone chews the scenery and bullies the schoolchildren with gleeful determination.
“Roald Dahl’s Matilda” is a children’s musical at heart, and the children in the supporting cast and youth ensemble turn in outstanding performances that take the show over the top, ensuring the production is as memorable as it is fun. Owen Hanford and Ella Grace Roberts shine as the beleaguered Bruce and self-appointed best friend Lavender, respectively, and Victor Landon, Ana Mc Alister, Elliott Campbell, Ava Castro, Trenay LaBelle and Spencer Donovan Jones turn in strong, convincing performances as Matilda’s classmates. Among the adult ensemble, Gabi Stapula and Colby Dezelick captivate as The Acrobat and The Escapologist, and Dezelick and Kelly are lovely in “My House,” a gently song that helps set up the show’s big finale. Other notable songs include “School Song,” “Bruce,” “Quiet” and “Revolting Children,” and the group numbers feature impressive choreography by Beth Crandall.
Director John Tartaglia embraces the sense of surreal that permeates the story, but carefully reigns the excesses in, ensuring the whimsical tale is appropriate for all but the youngest or most sensitive family members. The story features plenty of dark turns, and some may give a few temporary frights, but the abundance of humor and moments of exuberant release and self-empowerment keep the focus and tone positive, and brimming with possibilities. Paige Hathaway’s Engelbreit-inspired set is a visual delight that perfectly frames the musical, and Nathan W. Scheuer mirrors the look and feel with an expertly interwoven video design, while costumer Leon Dobkowski and wig designer Kelley Jordan add all the finishing touches, with an assist from Puppet Kitchen International, Inc. and Eric Wright.
Thoroughly engaging and spectacularly imaginative, “Roald Dahl’s Matilda” delivers a relatively simple message to look for the best in others and believe in yourself no matter your situation. The humorous path to a heartwarming happy ending is filled with memorable moments and playfully exaggerated characters, making it easy for audiences to wholeheartedly embrace the fantastic, and sometimes a little weird, musical.
At The Muny through August 11. For more information call (314) 361-1900 or visit www.muny.org.