Matilda The Musical’s young cast delivers a belter in Auckland

Matilda The Musical has now set up home in Auckland’s Civic Theatre until 22 October. With seven Olivier Awards under its belt, this critically acclaimed musical lives up to its hype delivering an energetic and raucous humdinger of a show that dives into the weird and wonderful world of Roald Dahl’s 80s children’s classic.

Matilda is a very special five-year-old, a genius if you will. She’s reading way beyond her years and has abilities that even she can’t fathom. However, she is born to Mr and Mrs Wormwood, the most selfish and undeserving of parents, who worship their monosyllabic son but despise their clever daughter. Her mother isn’t interested in a bookworm, ‘looks before books’, she says as she focuses on her dancing career. Mr Wormwood, a dodgy car salesman, won’t even acknowledge his little girl proclaiming her, ‘a boy without a thingy?’ at birth and calling her ‘boy’ thereafter.

Once Matilda starts school, it is obvious to her teacher Miss Honey that she is one gifted child, however, the terrifying headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, has other plans for the ‘revolting children’ under her care. The ex-Olympic hammer thrower rules her school with fear and discipline, threatening any disobedience with punishments such as being sent to the ‘Chokey’. At least Matilda has her happy place in the local library, where she can tell her eager listener, Mrs Phelps, a tale of a world-famous acrobat and escapologist couple and their child.

The book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin bring Dahl’s characters to life wonderfully with all the naughtiness and vile villainy that made his stories so perfect. The language is clever, incredibly witty and edgy too; Mrs Wormwood singing about her ‘smarting front-bottom’ after Matilda’s birth, is one phrase that stuck in my mind. The soundtrack has Minchin’s humour stamped all over it; catchy tunes with cheeky verse that spill fun with every note.

The set sprawls out along the sidewalls of the main stage, with letters and books dominating the surrounds. Set pieces of bookshelves or school desks slide in and out of the stage and powerful spotlights and their shadows are used for dramatic effect. The crowd pleasing spectacular ‘When I Grow Up’ sees the cast swinging over the audience and is bound to be one of the most memorable musical theatre experiences you’ll have. It’s just one example of the slick and original choreography within the show.

When it comes to the cast, you can’t help but be in awe of the little stars on stage that are bursting with charisma like small musical theatre dynamos. The kids are just phenomenal, from every foot stamped to every note sung. There’s a rotating cast of four Matildas, but on opening night it was Izellah Connelly who sung and danced her heart out as our leading lady, showing off some of her sass and swagger early on during her rendition of ‘Naughty’. She shared a mischievous twinkle with the audience throughout and had great chemistry with Lucy Maunder, who played the sweet Miss Honey.

James Millar plays Miss Trunchbull, a comically mountainous woman with a huge bust, shoulders and monobrow who has just the right balance of scary and comical; after all, you don’t want the little ones having nightmares. Millar’s portrayal is a real highlight and evokes many a belly laugh. She gets to deliver some wonderful insults to the children like calling them, ‘vile repellent sticky-fingered little snot goblins’. Trunchbulll’s solo ‘The Smell of Rebellion’ (alongside the backdrop of a Phys Ed. Class) is a real belter, as well as a total show stopper for its choreography. Matilda’s parents, played by Kay Murphy and Daniel Frederiksen, are energetic, colourful scoundrels who despite their delicious nastiness are extremely funny. Both actors revel in these unapologetic characters.

You should see this show if you loved the book,  you should see this show if you loved the film but you should definitely see this show if you want pure joyous entertainment. Auckland audiences are going to love Matilda The Musical with its quirky wit, delightful cast and glorious songs.

Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar.

Matilda The Musical is on at The Civic until 22 October.