Saturday, May 04, 2019

The Kids are More than Alright: Drury Lane Oakbrook Stages a Likable Local 'Matilda' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace, IL
Thru June 23

I've long been a fan of Drury Lane Oakbrook, having attended over 25 shows there since the turn of the century. 

But I now live farther away than I once did, and less enjoy driving, so although it remains one of Chicagoland's best self-producing homes for musical theater, I just don't get there very often.

But I'm also a big fan of the musical Matilda, ever since I passed on an opportunity to see it in London soon after it opened in 2011 (in favor of the dreadful Ghost).
I soon became enamored of the cast album and made a point of seeing the musical when I was in London in 2013.

Although I've never read the 1988 novel by Roald Dahl--whose entire, otherwise estimable oeuvre has been somewhat soured for me by awareness of his antisemitic statements--the story of a smart, spunky girl named Matilda was a joy to witness onstage.

Photo credit on all: Brett Beiner
And though I'd also seen the musical in 2016 on a U.S. national tour after it had hit Broadway, such was my regard for the material--including Tim Minchin's rock-infused score--that I was curious what DRO would do with Matilda as a local production.

Delectably, the cast in Oakbrook Terrace is terrific, including--on opening night--Audrey Edwards in the title role (she alternates with Natalie Galla).

As I said, I've seen Matilda in London's West End and on a Broadway tour, and Edwards genuinely impressed me as much as I could have hoped.

She--and hopefully Galla is just as good--is reason enough for anyone new to this musical to know that Drury Lane is providing a fine rendition.

There are some ways--tangible and not--in which I wasn't as beguiled by this Matilda (as a show) as I was previously, but newcomers should especially find much to like.

Beyond Edwards, there are a whole bunch of talented kids, including Joshua Zingerman as Bruce, which is also the name of one of the better songs.  

The adults are also excellent, led by Sean Fortunato as the cruel headmistress, Miss Trunchbull.

Also good at being bad are Jackson Evans as Matilda's cheeky but often unkind dad--he repeatedly calls her a boy--and Stephanie Gibson as her mom.

Much more genteel are Eben K. Logan as Matilda's teacher, Miss Honey, and Linda Bright Clay as an encouraging librarian, to whom Matilda tells stories.

I won't spell out much of the narrative, but Matilda is a great kid who loves to read, but is mistreated by her parents and--along with classmates constantly threatened to be sent to the demonic "chokey"--terrorized by Trunchbull.

Though tales of individuality, resilience and rebellion/resistance have made for many great musicals--including Annie and Billy Elliot of those chronicling children--Matilda is distinctively powered by some genuinely fine rock tunes, including "Naughty" early on.

I thought the staging of "When I Grow Up"--by director/choreographer Mitch Sebastian--could have been better handled, but the song was still quite well-delivered by the kids, as was Minchin's likewise inspired "Revolting Children."

Led by Evans and Evan C. Dolan, "Telly"--an ode to television, as opposed to reading--makes for a fun way to start Act II. 

While it might sound quite normal and reasonable for me to say I wasn't quite as smitten by a musical in a suburban Chicago production as by a London or Broadway original, I've long known DRO to do truly outstanding work.

So while I did quite enjoy Matilda once again, I was hoping to do so a bit more.

Perhaps it was the lack of newness that made some of the lesser songs feel, well, lesser, and while the scenery here didn't dazzle, I can't say I recall many specifics about the grander productions I've seen.

So for anyone who enjoys musicals enough to want to see stellar ones they haven't yet, this iteration of Matilda definitely merits your attendance.

The cast is excellent, the storyline familiar but enticing, some of the songs truly outstanding and the whole affair enjoyably entertaining.

Bring the kids or--as I did since I don't have any--just yourself. For the "revolting children" onstage at Drury Lane deserve to be hailed.

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