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Matilda the musical first came to LA’s Ahmanson Theatre in 2015 starring triple threat Mia Sinclair Jenness who effortlessly carried the show with her wittiness, spunk, grace, charm, and triple threat performance. Four years later Matilda is making its Ventura County debut thanks to 5 Star Theatricals (formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre) and the result is comedic and heartwarming genius all rolled up into one! Those familiar with the 1998 book by Roald Dahl will be able to follow the story through the different plot twists and turns. Anyone who’s seen the film with Danny DeVito can also follow the gist of the story but be forewarned that Matilda’s telekinesis is only a small part of the musical in comparison. For those who are enjoying Matilda for the first time, grab a copy of the book from the local library or bring your best ears with you because similar to the national tour production often portions of dialogue are difficult to catch whether it is due to accents or actors being drowned out by the percussion.
I took my dad to see Matilda The Musical on opening night yesterday at Thousand Oaks’ Civic Arts Plaza and walking back to the car park he was marveling at how he found himself enjoying the show far more than he had expected going into it and we heartily agreed that this was the best production we’ve had the pleasure of seeing at 5-Star Theatricals (or Cabrillo Music Theatre). 5-Star Theatricals prides themselves for “providing an extraordinary performing arts experience through live, Broadway-quality productions of musical theatre” and with Matilda they have hit it out of the park.
Lucy Bollier (sharing the role with Olivia Marcum) played the titular role on opening night to thunderous applause. She was utterly delightful from her signature song “Naughty” to her imaginative storytelling scenes with Ms. Phelps (Deanna Anthony) to those rare displays of vulnerability that remind the audience she’s only a 5 year old in need of love and affection. And yes you might shed a tear during her gorgeous “I’m Here” with Ben Carroll (The Escape Artist). Remember how in 2015 I said that the musical numbers “with few exceptions are often forgettable and jarring”. I don’t know quite what made a difference this time but I found myself loving each and every single musical number as performed by this incredible cast. We the audience found ourselves heartily laughing out loud at the comedy that was perfectly executed by all members of the cast.
There was not a single weak link in the ensemble and their group numbers such as “Revolting Children”, “Miracle” and “When I Grow Up” are splendid and powerful with strong dancing/acrobatics and singing. Standouts that I couldn’t tear my eyes from were Tyler Marie Watkins and Renee Cohen (Next to Normal). And the children held their own opposite the adults with equally strong and engaging performances. Obviously Bruce (Marcello Silva) gets some of the sweetest moments but all the kids prove why they are on stage.
Following in the footsteps of two Cabrillo Music Theatre alum Lesli Margherita and Cassie Silva, Janna Cardia makes her 5-Star Theatricals debut as Mrs. Wormwood who holds her own as she plays brilliantly opposite John Paul Batista (dance partner Rudolpho) and James Larsen (Mr. Wormwood) and effortlessly dances and sings her way through “Loud” while maintaining her accent – no easy feat.
James Larsen (Mr. Wormwood) wins the prize for best comedic timing and earning some of the biggest belly aching laughs. And I particularly enjoyed his final scene with Lucy Bollier’s Matilda. Yes Wormwood’s actions are unforgivable but thanks to Larsen’s fabulous performance you actually are hoping for a happy ending and want desperately to manipulate Matilda and Mr. Wormwood to embrace in a hug. Alas, Dahl’s material may be over the top but it is also realistic. In contrast to the cruel and selfish Wormwoods, Katie DeShan makes us ache for Miss Honey, Matilda’s kindergarten teacher, who beautifully sings her way through “Pathetic” and “This Little Girl” while struggling to muster the strength to stand for herself and her students. Meanwhile Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper is the next in a line of brilliant and memorable Miss Trunchbulls. His comedic timing and panto posturing are priceless. And lets not forget his fabulous belt during “The Smell of Rebellion” that earned some well deserved oos and awwws from the audience. I would be rather amiss if I didn’t acknowledge the talents of two standouts – Deanna Anthony as librarian Miss Phelps who was not only bighearted but also just too cute with her excitement and enthusiasm during Matilda’s storytelling sessions. Man, I think we all need a Miss Phelps as our bff or big sister. And the handsome Ben Carroll was not only splendid in his duet with Bollier (“I’m Here”) but made a big impression as the Doctor during the opening number “Miracle”.
The set design by Stephen Gifford was equally brilliant and truly rivaled any Broadway production. Great live music, under the direction of Jennifer Lin, is another 5-Star Theatricals tradition. The Matilda orchestra was comprised of 11 musicians including two trumpets and a cellist. [Updated: I have been informed that the NYC orchestration is not available to local theatres so the only choice is the West End orchestrations as seen here.]
What a brilliant and perfect production! Matilda the musical makes an excellent night (or afternoon) out for adults and children alike. And for parents the show provides plenty of talking points for later such as the miracle of life (“Miracle”), the importance of a positive attitude (“My House”), and the importance to take charge of your life (“Naughty”).
“Just because you find that life’s not fair it
Doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it
If you always take it on the chin and wear it
Nothing will change” – “Naughty”
“Every life I bring into this world restores my faith in human kind Each newborn life a canvas. Every life is unbelievably a life. Every life is a miracle.” – “Miracle”
DATES: Runs through SUNDAY, MARCH 31 Thursday at 7:30pm; Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm; Sundays at 2pm
Cast: Lucy Bollier and Olivia Marcum as Matilda, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper as Miss Trunchbull, Janna Cardia as Mrs. Wormwood, James Larsen as Mr. Wormwood, Katie Deshan as Miss Honey, Nick McKenna as Michael, Deanna Anthony as Miss Phelps and Ben Carroll as the Escape Artist/Doctor.
The Ensemble features (in alphabetical order): John Paul Batista, J.B. Bauersfeld, Jared Cardiel, Renee Cohen, Joah Ditto, Maya Galipeau, Josh Golombek, Iyana Hannans, Tyler Luff, Carolyn Lupin, Julia Marley, Luke Pryor, Monica Ricketts, Nico Ridino, Glory Rose, Drew Rosen, Marcello Silva, Taylor Lynda Thomas, Tyler Marie Watkins and Olivia Zenetzis.
Disclaimer: I had my ticket comped for review purposes but all opinions are my own.