By Jennifer L. Gusso
Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission
Children’s Playhouse of Maryland always seems to be increasing the challenge of the pieces that they select for their young performers, and they always seem to be providing those performers with the exactly the right skills to meet the challenge. Once again, with Matilda, they have selected a difficult score with complicated characters. Presenting the full version, rather than a truncated Junior version, these young people mastered complex songs, scenes, harmonies, and even monologues. They truly show that “even though you’re little, you can do a lot,” and are blessed to work with an adult team of directors that believe just that. Director Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, Music Director Charlotte Evans, and Choreographer James Hunnicutt never shy away from giving the young performers intricate skills to learn and opportunities to shine.
Boyer Hunnicutt’s staging is incredibly strong. Even with a lot of moving pieces and people, she keeps scenes and transitions seamless. The pace is excellent, which is key for a long show. The lighting design of Ed Lake is also a real star of the show. He really uses color in intentional ways to reflect the mood and dynamics of the scene. The lighting is the perfect complement to the beautiful set design of Diane M. Smith. A representational background with set pieces to create changing locations brings the world to life without slowing down the flow. Simple set pieces also move easily in and out to aid in the swirling, magical feel of the movement.
Matilda’s magic is furthered by number after number of complex rhythms and harmonies, mastered by the cast under Evans’ direction. Each of those numbers is brought to life with interesting and varied choreography by Hunnicutt. He brings out precision and energy in each performer, and each song has unique qualities to make it more fun and exciting than the last number.
Of course, none of this would be anything without the amazing children performers, and they are quite amazing. The entire group works as a cohesive unit, and there is not one member of the ensemble that lacks excitement. Even in some the smaller, featured roles, children take their moment and shine. Sam Izzo as the Doctor has a beautiful voice that soars over the opening number. Pierce Elliott is funny and flashy as Rudolpho. Soren Lange’s Nigel is as cute as can be as he hides from certain punishment in Chokey. Bella Pollara (Amanda) and Evelyn Acerno (Alice) are alight with energy in the children’s scenes and dance numbers. Even in a talented group, they both stand out with that extra star quality.
Perfect examples of taking featured roles and making them memorable by milking the comedic material for every ounce are Myles Taylor (Michael) and Bella Comotto (Lavender). Michael is not a man of many words, but Taylor’s facial expressions are the constant reminder that a picture is worth a million words. He creates a believable and loveable character while barely opening his mouth. It is a very impressive and nuanced performance from such a young performer. Comotto, on the other hand, shows the beauty of over-the-top and comedic delivery as the larger-than-life Lavender. Her exaggerated energy is just perfect in this role.
Speaking of exaggerated, two brilliant performances come at the hands of Dylan Morrison (Mr. Harry Wormwood) and Kathyrn Schudel (Mrs. Zinnia Wormwood). The Wormwoods are just about the worst people that you could ever meet, but it’s hard not to like them with these two in the roles. They both possess strong instincts about how to be funny without going too far over the top. In contrast to the Wormwoods, Miss Honey (Emily Signor) is kind and sweet and good. Signor has a beautiful soprano voice and a natural sweetness that really does justice to the role.
At the center of all of these crazy characters is Matilda (Maeve Acerno). In many respects, Matilda is the “straight man” of the piece which can make it difficult to play. She has to retain a calm, strength in the storms of exaggeration all around her. Acerno does just that. Her performance is grounded, and it brings real heart to the crazy tale. She radiates maturity and strength and is the perfect glue to hold it all together.
Despite not being the title character, it seems that the best material is reserved for Miss Agatha Trunchbull, and Ethan Holler’s performance never lets the audience forget that. Holler takes each and every word and squeezes every ounce of comedic evil out. His Trunchbull is deliberate and horrifying, just as she should be.
Matilda is a delightful story with nonstop laughter and fun. Everyone should get a chance to check out these young performers while they have the chance.
This is what I thought of Children’s Playhouse of Maryland’s production of Matilda.… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
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