By Mary Boyle
There is hardly a child born after 1980 who isn't familiar with the stories of British author, Roald Dahl. Even if they aren't readers, many of his books have made their way to film, such as James and the Giant Peach or Fantastic Mr. Fox. Being such a popular children's author, it's surprising that it took so long for Dahl's stories to make their way to Broadway, but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory just wrapped up its Broadway run a year ago and, the year before that, MATILDA The Musical finished up its time on Broadway. Although First Stage, Milwaukee's nationally acclaimed children's theater, has never took on a full-length Broadway musical before, this seemed like a good production to start with.
Unlike most children, who are beloved by their parents, Matilda (triple cast as Taylor Arnstein, Reese Bell, and Marina Evans) is nothing but a nuisance to her family, Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood (Jackson Evans and Molly Rhode) and their son, Michael (double cast as Jonathan Neustifter and Nikolai Morrow). They just can't understand why Matilda, who is just 5 years old, would rather read a book than watch the telly, like they do. Luckily, Matilda has an ally at her local library, where Mrs. Phelps (Solana Ramirez-Garcia), the librarian, lives for Matilda's stories. When Matilda begins school, she finds another ally in her teacher, Mrs. Honey (Elizabeth Telford), who recognizes Matilda's incredible brilliance at once. Under the reign of the terrifying headmistress, Miss Trunchbull (Kelly Doherty), surviving is first and education is second. With the Truchbull and her parents against her, Matilda knows that she must be the one to change her story, and to do that, sometimes you have to be a little naughty...
Directed by Jeff Frank, with Choreography by Jayne and Michael Pink, Artistic Director of the Milwaukee Ballet, and Music Direction by Jeff Schaetzke, Matilda translates beautifully from the page to the stage, and is a production the whole family will enjoy. Though it is longer than the standard First Stage production, Matilda is fast-paced and fun, so the time flies by. Evans and Rhode, as the Wormwoods, are priceless and Kelly Doherty is perfectly cast as the Trunchbull. Lyonel Reneau, an adult performer with a several roles, has a beautiful voice, as does Elizabeth Telford, who plays Miss Honey. The music is live, which really gives the production a Broadway feel, thanks to musicians Samuel Clein, Paul Westfahl and Josh Robinson.
Matilda's cast boasts several First Stage Alumni, including Molly Rhode, Kelly Doherty, Allie Babich, Jamie Mercado, Elliott Brotherhood, and Teddy Warren, who is a stitch as the flamboyant Rudolpho. The Young Performers and Teen Ensemble are double cast, and feature several who call Ozaukee home, including Reese Bell from Cedarburg, who is one of the three Matildas, as well as Alex Radtke from Cedarburg, Ben Stull from Mequon, Celeste Hermans from Saukville, and Sawyer Esten from Cedarburg.
Roald Dahl’s MATILDA The Musical runs January 11 – February 24, 2019 at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater, located at 929 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets can be purchased in person at the Marcus Center Box Office at 929 N. Water Street, by phone at (414) 273-7206 or online at www.firststage.org. Performance runtime is approximately two hours and 40 minutes, including intermission. Suggested for families with young people ages 8 – 18+.
About First Stage
First Stage is one of the nation’s leading theaters for young people and families. First Stage touches hearts, engages minds and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences through professional theater productions that inspire, enlighten and entertain. Its Theater Academy, the nation’s largest high-impact theater training program for young people, fosters life skills through stage skills and serves over 2,100 students each year. As Wisconsin’s leader in arts-integrated education in schools, First Stage’s dynamic Theater in Education programs promote literacy, character building and experiential learning throughout the curriculum, serving over 20,000 students each year. First Stage was selected to participate in the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2012), and was the recipient of the Milwaukee Business Journal’sEureka Award, recognizing creativity and innovation in business, education and the arts for its Next Steps program for students on the autism spectrum (2013, 2015). First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Milwaukee Arts Partners and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF).