Filichia Features: Prepare Ye the Way of MATILDA

Filichia Features: Prepare Ye the Way of MATILDA

By Peter Filichia on November 30, 2018

Linda Goodrich's terrific production of Matilda at the Walnut Street Theatre won't just bring joy to those in Philadelphia.

It'll also serve to remind you directors and producers that you too can produce a stunning production of Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin's Matilda.

Remember, you will need time to prepare for a great Matilda.

Actually, the girl who'll play your Matilda Wormwood may not yet be ambulatory or even born. She's entering first grade, although you'd never know if from her already having read A Tale of Two Cities and Nicholas Nickleby. (As a result, her parents are threatened by someone so much smarter.)

It's the most demanding role that's ever been given a child, and yet the six Matildas I've seen have all been exemplary - including Walnut's Jemma Bleu Greenbaum. She inherently knows (or has been taught) that a great kid performer doesn't telegraph to the audience "Hey, aren't I terrific?" Instead, she lets theatergoers say "Hey, isn't she terrific?" When the time comes, make certain your Matilda does the same.

Don't throw away your children's Halloween costumes. You could use them in the opening number as the play-clothes for the chorus kids (who brag that their fleet of helicopter parents believe they're "miracles"). The Walnut's Mary Folino fancifully put them in a pirate costume, military fatigues and even a Vegas-era Elvis outfit down to a white cape with a red lining.

Start collecting garish clothes. Mr. Wormwood (a hilarious Christopher Sutton) wears plaids that The Four Plaids wouldn't have deigned to use as dishrags. The outfits for Mrs. Wormwood (a superb Lyn Philistine) are just one step up from a lady of the evening's. This serves to reinforce the message that they're dummies who don't have the sense to know they have an extraordinary little girl. How they hate her - horrors! - voracious appetite for reading.

Make a trip to the attic or basement and find an old television. The Wormwoods aren't wealthy, so their TV can't be an HD wall-filler. You'll need a television topped by rabbit ears (as the double antennae were colloquially called) for the second-act opener "Telly." Here Mr. Wormwood relates how vital television is to one's life. Seconding his emotion is beloved son Michael (an amusing Mark Donaldson), a dull-normal who believes that he's SO bright when he comes out with the word "Telly!" whenever the song calls for it.

Work now on getting a wrought-iron company to donate large steel rods. Robert Koharchik's set at the Walnut includes many vertical bars to recreate the school's front gate. That they also create the image of a prison cell is an apt metaphor. For the kids under evil headmistress Miss Trunchbull's ever-so-watchful eye, a prison is what this school will be.

Traditionally, a man is cast as Miss Trunchbull . If you've seen the 1996 Americanized film of Matilda, you know that this horrific character was played by an actress. This English-bred musical chose to go the British panto route. Having a man in drag makes this repulsive human less real and comic instead as well as a character you love to hate. Ian Merrill Peakes at the Walnut got an extra laugh after he did a cartwheel (which the role requires); Peakes afterward looked into the audience and gave a judgmental look that said "Aren't you ashamed that you peeked at my knickers?"

But the real reason that you should to do Matilda is to combat these times when ignorance is more accepted and intelligence less valued. License Matilda, for this is a message that can't wait.

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