Matilda: The Musical has a subversive blast with Roald Dahl's story

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      By Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin, from the novel by Roald Dahl. Directed by Daryl Cloran. An Arts Club Theatre Company, Citadel Theatre, and Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre production. At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on Wednesday, May 22. Continues until July 14

      A bunch of “revolting children” turn rebelling into an art form in Matilda: The Musical, which looks to be a shoo-in as Vancouver’s first big summer hit. And, not surprisingly, the hugely enjoyable show comes from the director of the last summer blockbuster here.

      Daryl Cloran, who brought you the inspired, bellbottoms-and-Beatles-song-filled As You Like It at Bard on the Beach in 2018 now brings the same warped physical humour and hyperenergized pacing to Matilda: The Musical.

      Based on Roald Dahl’s unsentimental story of a brilliant bookworm bullied relentlessly by her parents and her school's sadistic headmistress, it boasts truly twisted villains, delightfully unaffected child performances, and a cavalcade of showstopping song-and-dance numbers.

      Best of all, it retains Dahl’s dark humour throughout. One tune features Matilda’s father singing the praises of TV over books (“The bigger the TV the smarter the man!”); in another over-the-top choreographed number, the headmistress force-feeds a boy chocolate after a massive belch reveals he stole some cake. Don’t get your knickers in a knot, though: the black bits are balanced by goodhearted messages about inclusion and standing up for yourself. It’s just that, as Matilda sings in her fetching solo, “Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.”

      Arts Club artistic director Ashlie Corcoran revealed during the opening-night introduction that she’s dreamed of programming the Tony- and Olivier-toting musical ever since her job interview here two years ago. And it’s easy to see why. A copro with Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre and Winnipeg’s Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Matilda pulls things off at the scale the production demands.

      One of this musical’s huge strengths is its adult cast, well-honed from travelling with the show in Western Canada.

      As he should, John Ullyatt steals the show as the amply bosomed headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. He looks like a more intimidating Frau Blücher, if she’d been England’s 1969 hammer-throwing champ and had a thing for drill-sergeant uniforms. Ullyatt's Trunchbull is a villain for the ages, as adept at swinging little girls by their pigtails as she is at cartwheeling across the stage. Her school motto: “Children are maggots.”

      A close second is Ben Elliott’s Mr. Wormwood, with a face as cartoonishly rubbery as his legs; just watch him try to remove a fedora that’s been Krazy Glue’d to his head.

      Alison MacDonald and Georgia Acken
      David Cooper


      With her bad bleach job and sequined everything, Lauren Bowler slays as Matilda’s ballroom-dance-addicted mother, and Corben Kushneryk, as her mouth-breathing couch-potato brother, doesn’t have to say a word, or even move off the sofa, to be funny.

      The cast of local child stars does a fine job of manoeuvring composer Tim Minchin’s tongue-twisting lyrics. (“You produce, Bruce, fantastically enthusiastic gastric juice.”)

      As the title character, Georgia Acken (who will alternate in the Stanley run with Thailey Roberge) plays it low-key and stern; this is not a showy role like Annie, after all. She has a sweet voice, which plays nicely off Alison MacDonald's in the moving second-act duet between the girl and the kind teacher who takes her under her wing.

      Kimberley Rampersad’s choreography brings extra kick to the show, playing elaborately with the alphabet in “School Song” and even bringing some B-boy skills to the kids’ final uprising. And designer Cory Sincennes’s set of wonkily towering, Seusslike bookshelves gives the production the surreal edge it needs.

      In all, it’s the antithesis of dumbed-down kid stuff, making Matilda: The Musical subversive enough for adults to enjoy as much as any maggot out there.