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The Continuing Appeal Of Matilda the Musical 
The Roald Dahl presentation delivers an enduring message of overcoming some tremendous odds
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––Walter Leavy
Brett Beiner Photography
In Matilda the Musical at Drury Lane Theatre, the choreography is one of several memorable elements in the popular and award-winning production. 
  IN the five-time-Tony Award-winning Matilda the Musical, little Matilda Wormwood gives the concept of peculiar a new meaning––but in a good and refreshing way. She is a precocious bookworm who would rather read a book than enjoy daily playtime. Further, the 5-year-old genius taught herself to speak Russian, which comes in handy when she has to deal with a group of Russian mafia henchmen. 
   To say Matilda is special is a serious understatement when you consider she has the gift of telekinesis and some other endearing abilities that are displayed during the musical’s run at Drury Lane Theatre through June 23. The problem is that she has boorish parents who don’t recognize and appreciate her exceptional talents.
   Based on the 1988 beloved novel by Roald Dahl, Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical is the story of Matilda, who’s somewhat of a misfit at home and at school, where she has to face the cruelty of headmistress Miss Trunchbull, who views Matilda as a rule breaker and gets her satisfaction by punishing those who break the rules. Fortunately, there is one person, Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey, who recognizes her special qualities and is more than happy to be her protector and nurturer.
   Directed by Mitch Sebastian, who does double duty as the musical’s choreographer, Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical is shaped by a book by Dennis Kelly, music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, and orchestrations and additional music by Chris Nightingale. Dahl’s book was transformed into a popular movie in 1996, and the musical––launched in London in 2010––retained its general appeal after being presented to new audiences. 
   Since making it to the stage, Matilda the Musical has been a magical, astounding, phenomenal production that is more than worthy of attention. And it relies primarily on the strengths of a little girl, one who has to deliver large chunks of dialogue in a British accent and handle a variety of difficult songs. On opening night, Audrey Edwards, a charming and talented Chicago sixth-grader who, like Matilda, enjoys reading, was in the lead role as part of a spectacular cast. (Natalie Galla of Warrenville also appears as Matilda in the rotation of actresses.) Chicago-favorite Sean Fortunato is exceptional as the menacing and wicked Miss Trunchbull, a scary, over-the-top, child-hating villain. That monstrous character is effectively offset by the pristine Miss Honey (Eben K. Logan), who is the shoulder for Matilda to cry on. Rounding out the main cast is Jackson Evans (Mr. Wormwood), Stephanie Gibson (Mrs. Wormwood) and Linda Bright Clay (Mrs. Phelps), the concerned librarian who is always ready to listen to one of Matilda’s stories.
   As expected, most of those in the ensemble on stage are children––singers, dancers and actors––who exhibit a level of professionalism beyond their ages, particularly when it comes to Sebastian’s demanding choreography. Throughout the show, the athletic youngsters perform some of the most intense and breathtaking dances seen on stage.
   In Matilda the Musical, several of the most important obstacles that children have to face come to the forefront––bullying by other youngsters, unsympathetic parents, distracted and unsupportive teachers. Not so surprisingly, it's a "mature" and determined Matilda who shows her peers how to confidently handle their own doubts, fears and insecurities.
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Matilda the Musical has gotten widespread critical acclaim, winning seven 2012 Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical––at the time the most such awards ever won by a single show.
Photographs by Brett Beiner
Miss Honey (Eben K. Logan) embraces the precocious Matilda, played by sixth-grade Chicagoan Audrey Edwards.