Thursday, September 14, 2023

Talented, energetic cast enlivens 'Matilda the Musical'


Doug Santana as Miss Agatha Trunchbull harangues her students. (Photo by Scott Lasky)

A talented cast of 29 energetic adults and youngsters brings “Matilda the Musical” to the stage for Palo Alto Players.

Adapted from Roald Dahl’s popular story, the plot focuses on Matilda Wormwood (Sofia Zamora, who alternates with Araceli Grace), an exceptionally bright, imaginative little girl.

Even though her mother (Brigitte Losey) would rather be dancing than mothering, and her father (Randy Lee), a sleazy used car salesman, disparages her because she’s not a boy, she taught herself to read – and not just kids books but the classics.

She gets adult support from a librarian, Mrs. Phelps (Kayvon Kordestani), whom she entertains with elaborate stories, and from her teacher, Miss Honey (Madelyn Davis), who recognizes and encourages her intelligence.

The super villain of the play is Miss Agatha Trunchbull (Doug Santana), the cruel school principal.

Because of the youngsters’ treble voices and the cast’s use of English accents, the lyrics and some of the dialogue are hard to understand. Thus it’s not easy to follow the plot if one isn’t familiar with it, but the acting helps to convey the gist of the story.

Director Janie Scott and choreographer Whitney Janssen probably had their challenges in working with so many kids, but they have molded a precision, disciplined ensemble. Hence it’s great fun watching how well everyone does.

The adults are all noteworthy, especially Davis as the supportive Honey, Losey as the self-centered Mrs. Wormwood and Santana as Miss Trunchbull, who galumphs about the stage and seems to delight in making the students’ lives miserable. It’s a drag role but not campy.

Dahl’s book was adapted for the musical by Dennis Kelly. Tim Minchin supplied the music and lyrics with orchestrations and more music by Chris Nightingale.

The music is well executed by music director/adult vocal director Amanda Ku, who leads the pit orchestra from the keyboard. Pamela Serrano does a great job as the youth vocal director.

Kudos to costume designer Greet Jaspaert, especially Losey’s outfits. Set and props designer Kevin Davies aids smooth transitions between scenes. Lighting is by Pamila Z. Gray, sound by Jeff Grafton.

Those who aren’t familiar with the story would do well to look up a synopsis beforehand, but most of the adults and youngsters at the Sept. 10 matinee seemed to know the story and reacted enthusiastically.

Advance ticket sales were so brisk that Palo Alto Players added another Saturday matinee.

“Matilda the Musical” will continue through Sept. 24 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

For tickets and information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit