‘Matilda’ Delivers Surprising, Sassy Fun at the Public

 

The award-winning musical production of Matilda, based on Roald Dahl’s (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) adored children’s classic of the same name, announces its darkly humorous intentions immediately with the ironic opening number, “Miracle.” Hey — this is no kiddie matinee.

That’s not to say it’s inappropriate for children. As a matter of fact, it’s perfect fare for youngsters to see with their parents. A tale about an intelligent misfit trying to find her way in an uncaring and misunderstanding world, Matilda has multiple messages that speak to everyone.

Taylor Henderson and Madison Genovese in Matilda, now playing at the Public (Siggi Ragnar).

As the show begins, Matilda Wormwood is conceived by self-centered, low-class Cockney parents. It’s immediately clear that they didn’t really want her in the first place (her father keeps calling her “Boy”), but she just happens to be a genius with preturnatural abilities.

As terrible as her parents are, she soon faces an even bigger foe in the personage of her new school’s headmistress, the horrifying Agatha Trunchbull.

Fortunately, she has a young teacher, the appropriately-named Miss Honey, on her side, and she makes it her mission to lead her equally-oppressed fellow students out of Trunchbull’s hell.

From start to finish, Matilda is a complete delight. Dennis Kelly’s book brings all of Dahl’s characters to vivid life, and Tim Minchin’s music is off-the-charts terrific. When was the last time you got hooked on a musical’s songs on the very first spin?

The Public Theater production is letter-perfect. Ken Urso provides terrific direction for his supremely talented cast, and musical director Andrew Hendley’s orchestra offers the resonant notes for them to sing. Courtnie Mercer designed new choreography for this show, and it’s extremely impressive.

In the pivotal role of Matilda, Taylor Henderson hits it out of the park. Also notable are Briane Green and Robby Vance as her awful parents. The very male Shane Glenn Vickers is a delightful casting choice as the hideous Miss Trunchbull, and adding  the much-needed touch of sweetness is Madison Genovese as the compassionate Miss Honey.

All of the other members of this massive cast — children and adults alike  — are  exceptional.

The tech specs are always what you’d expect from the Public: an attractive set designed by Jeremy Whittington, which is well-lit by Dan “Doc” Heggem. Sound design is delivered by the ever-reliable Jesse Worley, and  Elisa Bierschenk and Sara Brookes provide the spot-on costuming.

Matilda plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. through Aug. 11 at The Public Theater, 800 West Ashby Place. Reservations can be made online or by calling (210) 733.7258.

*Audrey Anne Davis also plays Matilda on alternating days. We didn’t see her, but she’s probably awesome, too.

Cover photo by Siggi Ragnar.

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