by Shirley Lorraine
Hi-Jinx on High Street with Matilda
It is a multi-award winner. It was Best New Musical in 2012. It is high energy, high camp and filled with talent. The production is Matilda, the Musical, based on the 1988 book by Roald Dahl, perhaps best known for Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Moorpark’s High Street Arts Center has compiled an extensive cast of characters from kids to, well, not kids, all of them eager to share the eccentricities of Dahl’s imagination.
It is an extremely ambitious undertaking. Kudos to director Tami Keaton and the multitude of crew members who make the magic happen. And yes, there are some truly magical moments throughout.
Not familiar with the story? It centers around Matilda (dual cast with Noelle Gibson and Bridget Hunzeker), a young girl who is saddled with a set of n’er do well parents, a lazy brother, and no encouragement to become educated. She reads. This angers her mother and father, who clearly think reading is a waste of time.
They ship Matilda off to a boarding school led by a particularly unpleasant headmistress (played with cartoonish relish by Sean Burns) who enjoys beleaguering the young in her care. Despite efforts to add a touch of empathy to the daily rigor, teacher Miss Honey (Kristina Reyes) befriends Matilda, recognizing her special talents, and things begin to change for the better.
The action is rapid-fire, nearly frantic at times, and spiced with complicated choreography to maintain the very large cast moving so that the stage is fully utilized. Numerous cast members play several roles, switching from speaking parts to ensemble and back with ease.
Matilda’s parents, Mr. & Mrs. Wormwood, are played by Megan Razor and Michael Rosenblum to the hilt. They, too, are caricatures of their characters and fascinating to watch as they are clearly approaching the very limits of hamming it up, to the audience’s delight. They are not likeable people, but the portrayals are a hoot. PC the play is not.
Opening night featured Noelle Gibson in the pivotal role of Matilda. She was on fire and delivered a solid, sterling performance. Backed up by a bevy of talented up-and-comers, Gibson easily held the leading position.
The story has numerous quite dark moments. My 10-year-old niece (my evening’s “date”) shared that she “liked most of it, but some of the parts were scary”. Indeed, they are, and unpleasant, but well managed. She did enjoy the high-camp, cartoony overall shading of the show.
High Street productions consistently deliver high quality theatrical experiences. Their commitment to bringing lesser done works to the stage and encouraging actors of all ages is laudable.
Matilda, the Musical continues its run through February 27 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Matinees on Sundays. Seating is pre-arranged and reservations are required. Come prepared to show proof of vaccination of a negative Covid result and wear your mask. All details are available on their website www.highstreetartscenter.com. 805-529-8700.