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Berkeley Playhouse’s ‘Matilda the Musical’ revitalizes beloved children’s literature, celebrates villains

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BERKELEY PLAYHOUSE | COURTESY

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NOVEMBER 29, 2022

A good villain is just what the doctor ordered. Roald Dahl’s novel “Matilda” may make its titular character the centerpiece of the story, but what makes Berkeley Playhouse’s musical production stand out is the hilarity, ridiculosity and exuberance of the antagonists: Mr. Wormwood (Mark P. Robinson), Mrs. Wormwood (Mary Kalita) and Miss Trunchbull (Gregory Lynch). Where Dahl’s original novel brought readers close to the protagonist, the musical ensures all characters are beloved by audience members. 

Berkeley Playhouse’s production of “Matilda the Musical,” which runs through Dec. 23, celebrates the beloved novel by bringing the story to life and adding depth with careful attention to detail, engaging audiences of all ages. 

Overall, the vocal performances by the cast were captivating. In the number “School Song” the comparison between the older and younger students emphasized the gap of having experienced Trunchbull’s schooling. Juxtaposing the downtrodden, despondent attitude of the older students with the dreamy, starry eyed looks of the younger students reflected this difference, adding nuance to this song. 

Worthy of note, the trembling timbre of Miss Honey’s (Chanel Tilghman) voice remarkably showcased her vulnerability as she sorrowfully, yet wonderfully, belted out her notes. In a similar manner, Matilda (Ozzie Schaffer) expertly relayed her attitude and mischievous side through song, adding a slight smirk while dyeing her father’s hair green and casting long, misty-eyed stares into the audience to sentimentally communicate her conflict with her family and herself. 

While Miss Honey and Matilda’s loving tenderness and dreams of finding each other pulled at heartstrings, what ultimately captured the audience’s attention were the so-called villains. Mr. Wormwood’s hilarious car schemes, jaunty mannerisms and darkly humorous jabs at his family kept the audience engaged and on their toes. He even broke the fourth wall to continue his provocation of others by poking fun at audience members.

In a similar manner, Miss Trunchbull’s broad, high set shoulders, snarky nose and upturned demeanor at the despicable “maggots,” or children, she leads immediately alerted the audience that it was in for some memorable moments. While terrifying as a principal, Lynch’s exaggerated mannerisms and side remarks kept audience members wanting more of his performance, wondering who might be the Chokey’s next victim. 

An important aspect of the musical is how it remained true to the original novel while adding in bits of humor and attitude to keep audiences of all ages engaged in the performance. While Mrs. Wormwood’s silly ballroom dance moves may make viewers of a younger age laugh, the larger comedic irony of the way in which she will only do these moves with her partner Rudolpho will appeal to an older audience’s sense of humor. 

Berkeley Playhouse’s production and set crew excelled in adding small details to bring this production to life, such as Mr. Wormwood’s desires for his son to grow up to become a duplicate of himself. Reflecting this, they were both dressed in yellow plaid during the musical, symbolizing his dreams for his son’s future. 

Additionally, the prowess of the special effects helped ground the larger-than-life scenes in reality. Whether it was Miss Trunchbull swinging Amanda Thripp (Madelyn Simon) by her pigtails for donning such an offensive hairstyle or Matilda’s magical powers of telekinesis emerging, the set design and prop department excelled in bringing these otherworldly moments to life. As a result, the musical never felt too cheesy. 

However, as marvelous as the production was, there were some notable issues in the timing of microphones that made it difficult to hear different members of the cast in their songs and speech. Furthermore, the orchestra, while wholly talented and skillful, would at times overpower the singers, creating difficulties in understanding what they were singing about. These lags and faults would pull the audience out of the spectacular production, taking them away from the mystical world of the stage.

Overall, Berkeley Playhouse’s production of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” fills viewers with nostalgia, reminding them of the love they have for this marvelous novel while still adding a modern touch to celebrate the villains.

Contact Sejal Krishnan at 

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NOVEMBER 29, 2022