Roald Dahl’s dark comedy comes to life at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
Remember when childhood friends — and foes alike — united against the common enemy? Well, the big, scary teacher with the hideous mole is back but she’s no match for a wily 8-year old as “Matilda the Musical” takes to the stage this holiday season at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.
The fairy tale-like take on the book by Dennis Kelly, later made into a film and adapted for the stage by children’s author Roald Dahl, runs Thursdays through Sundays through Jan 6 and is a not-to-be-missed experience.
Haley Ballard shares the lead role with two other young actresses for the 29 performances, part of more than a dozen post-millennial actors who sing, dance and act with amazing poise and pitch, most from the area, some first-timers to the stage in the under-10 set, and all aspiring to careers in the performing arts.
“Matilda” is set in contemporary London, yet with the surreal mystique of a timeless fairy tale. Matilda Wormwood is born to shallow and self-absorbed parents who banish their smarty-pants daughter to a private school, only inflaming Matilda’s calling to right the wrongs of her world. Her mission soon becomes outing and ousting the horrid headmistress Miss Trenchbull, played with garish flamboyance by Nathan Halvorson.
No stranger to the FAC stage, most recently “Reefer Madness” and “Guys and Dolls,” it was a bold choice to cast Halvorson in the gender-bending role. But it works: The audience was captivated with Halvorson’s larger-than-life persona, strutting in black patent leather boots, military garb and garish lipstick. Tiny Matilda musters her courage and rallies her fellow students into rebellion in hilarious scene after scene. Twenty-plus adults and children move in near-perfect harmony in full-troupe scenes, while duos and trios dance and sing the story, toggling between memory and fantasy as Act Two reveals its surprises.
The show’s adult themes totter on the edge of age-appropriateness for the younger patron, but ultimately good triumphs over evil, bolstered by Matilda’s beloved Miss Honey, the mousey teacher and heroine-in-waiting. The role is filled with the big voice of Carmen Vreeman Shedd, a 24-show veteran of the FAC which she calls her “artistic home.”
Laura Weinberg brings unexpected depth to Matilda’s shallow mother, flaunting her dance moves with a Latin lover while dissing Miss Honey’s passion of books over beaus. As her sleazy, plaid-suit wearing car salesman husband, Scott RC Levy is the perfect worm, as Mr. Wormwood. Having directed more than 25 shows at the FAC and serving as its artistic director since 2011, Levy is the core of every production — this time, in a comedic role for which he is perfect. He manages to incite audience laughter even when insulting Matilda, pulling off perfectly staged slapstick antics.
Together, Matilda and Miss Honey ultimately sack Trenchbull, sending Matilda’s neglectful family packing in a comic escape scene. The second act’s brisk pace and plot twists feature the cast’s playful pranks and maneuverings that showcase the synergy of this amazing ensemble.
“Matilda the Musical” will delight and dazzle all who attend — a holiday delicacy to relish with youth, talent and tenacity all in one package.