Roald Dahl’s MATILDA THE MUSICALBook by Dennis Kelly
Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Plaza Theatre Company
Directors - Tina Barrus and Tabitha Ibarra
Stage Manager - Madison Heaps
Music Director - Caitlan Leblo
Choreographer - Tabitha Ibarra
Costume Designer - Tina Barrus
Set Designer - Parker Barrus
Lighting Designer - Cameron Barrus
Sound Designer - G. Aaron Siler
Property Designer - Soni Barrus
Matilda - Kylie Kimball
Miss Trunchbull - JaceSon P. Barrus
Miss Honey - Tabitha Ibarra
Mr. Wormwood - Ivan Friend
Mrs. Wormwood - Caitlan Leblo
Rudolpho / Big Kid 2 - Josh McLemore
Mrs. Phelps / Children’s Entertainer - Kourtney Leigh Harris
Doctor / Escapologist - Josh Leblo
Mum / Acrobat / Henchman - Megan A. Liles
Michael Wormwood / Big Kid - William Power
Bruce - Gavin Clark
Lavender - Lily McClendon
Tommy - Sergei Grady
Nigel - Patrick Bilbow
Eric - Braedon Carlton
Amanda - Amanda Foster
Hortensia - Grace Hennington
Alice - McKenzie Karr
Dad / Sergio - Darren Clark
Backstage Lead / Henchman - Rodney Hudson
Big Kid / Henchman - Ethan Leake
Big Kids - Addisen Bairrington, Alina Jennings, Carson Clay, Eden Barrus, Ivy Bilbow, Lena Moralez, Makenna Clark, Matthew Leake
Reviewed Performance: 2/13/2020
Reviewed by Rebecca Roberts, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Originally a book by Roald Dahl, MATILDA tells the story of a little girl (named Matilda, funnily enough) who won’t let horrible people or daunting life circumstances dictate who she is going to become. With an iron will, a prodigious intellect, and a little bit of magic, Matilda faces a new school and multiple bullies (mainly of the adult variety) in her quest for happiness and love.
Playing the titular role, young Kylie Kimball had a lot riding on her performance. But like Matilda, Kimball was undaunted by the challenge and led the show with a grace and confidence just as good (if not better) as any adult lead I’ve seen. Her ability to rattle off full Russian sentences, times tables, and fantastical stories was absolutely astounding. And Kimball’s singing voice had a stunning musicality that wasn’t just “kid” good…it was “good” good. Not only did she sound beautiful, she was able to maintain an British accent while also bringing heartfelt emotion to every word she sang. I know the year has only just begun, but I’ve already added Kylie Kimball to the top of my Best of 2020 picks.
Father and daughter in real life, aunt and niece onstage, JaceSon P. Barrus as Miss Trunchbull and Tabitha Ibarra as Miss Honey played two very disparate teachers in Matilda’s life. Barrus, dressed in all blacks and greys, played the grisly authoritarian principle and P.E. teacher, always disparaging and exceedingly abusive (both verbally and physically). Clearly well known and loved in the theatre from previous roles, the audience loved every minute of Barrus’ antics. Though the character’s cruel behavior is difficult to watch – especially when directed at small children – Barrus made sure to intermittently ease tensions by emphasizing the obvious humor in the role. And any darkness emitting from Miss Trunchbull was easily counteracted by the light and joy produced by Tabitha Ibarra as Miss Honey. Dressed in happy pastels, Ibarra’s demure, but genuine, demeanor added a gentle touch so desperately needed in this relentlessly dark show.
If you assume the brutality Matilda must daily face comes only from within school grounds, you are woefully mistaken. Perhaps even more disdainful than Miss Trunchbull are Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood, the parents who raised Matilda. Playing Mr. Wormwood, bedecked in a beautiful lime green suit and beaded loafers, was Ivan Friend. Though perhaps a little young to be playing the role, Friend developed a very unique and distinct voice for Mr. Wormwood – balancing between posh and dodgy. Caitlan Leblo as Mrs. Wormwood was equally boisterous in her comically bright and unmistakably 80’s wardrobe. Leblo’s incredible accent, beautiful voice, and over-the-top mannerisms were the perfect combo needed to portray a truly terrible mother. With a father always wishing she was a boy and a mother disgusted with her affinity for books and knowledge, it would have been easy for Matilda to give up all hope. Yet, despite the odds and despite having never witnessed true goodness firsthand, Matilda developed into a brilliant, loving, and deeply convicted five and a half year old girl.
In a production full of amazing featured role opportunities, there were several performances that garnered a well-deserved honorable mention. Playing Rudolpho, Mrs. Wormwood’s sassy best friend and dance partner, was Josh McLemore, whose liquid body lithely traversed the stage in a very entertaining way. Another memorable Josh performance was that of Josh Leblo as both the Doctor, who opens the show by delivering baby Matilda into the world, as well as the Escapologist. His beautiful voice and calming demeanor played an inspiring role in Matilda’s day dreams of what true fatherly love should look like.
As far as talented children go, this production was full of them. Truly, the stage was continually packed to the aisles with young professionals dancing and singing to very difficult music. The two stand outs among them were Gavin Clark as chocolate cake enthusiast Bruce, and Patrick Bilbow as the tiny but mighty Nigel. Clark was given several opportunities to shine, and he took full advantage of every single one. And when his time came to belt out some incredibly demanding notes in “Revolting Children,” he absolutely wowed the audience. Meanwhile, Bilbow’s small stature and wildly backcombed hair made him a sight from which you simply could not look away.
As co-directors, Tina Barrus and Tabitha Ibarra worked very well together and created an extremely cohesive production. Having Ibarra as choreographer also helped unify scene action into song and dance rather seamlessly. They were both very successful in making sure that the story was being told in a hauntingly beautiful way. Truly the only place that this production really faltered was in some of the onstage special effects moments. While the efforts and thought processes behind each of those moments were definitely there, the results were unfortunately just a little clunky.
In the director’s note, it was mentioned that the production design elements were devised to look heightened and exaggerated, in order to mirror what a child might remember from their youth. I was skeptical at first, because the set began as almost an empty black box space. But as soon as the scenes were put into motion, I fell in love with the oversized set pieces effortlessly brought on and off stage, as designed by Parker Barrus. The industrialized playground equipment, the gaudy living room furniture, and the rustic cottage setting were all crafted to perfection.
Lighting designer Cameron Barrus kept the stage lit in a very dark and gloomy manner, to match the mood of the show. But he managed to do so without creating too many shadows or unlit areas of the stage. His lighting design stayed interesting and exciting, but wasn’t too prevalent that it was ever distracting. And as sound designer, G. Aaron Siler did a beautiful job of making sure that sound levels were impeccably even – an almost impossible task in scenes that felt like one hundred children were singing together in British accents at the top of their lungs. But most impressive was the beautiful echo effect added to the music and microphones in the song “Quiet.” That was a true goosebump moment!
I’ve already mentioned several notable costuming choices. But I would like to tack on this additional note. I simply have an undying devotion for costume designers, like Tina Barrus, who take the time to develop a distinct color story for characters in their productions. Being able to tell who every single character is and what they represent – without them ever having to open their mouth – is a beautiful gift that I cherish. It is not necessary and it definitely takes extra time. But to me, it is what propels a show past the community theatre level into true professionalism.
While the script is dark and at times a little choppy, the magic that Plaza Theatre Company has brought to this production of MATILDA is astounding. If you love watching children that are more talented than you will ever be, go support local theatre and see this show!
Plaza Theatre Company
305 S. Anglin St.
Cleburne, TX 76031
Plays through February 29th.
Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30pm; Saturdays at 3:00 pm
Tickets range from $15-25.
For more information and to purchase tickets, go to plaza-theatre.com or call their box office at 817.202.0600.