A good musical needs to have a consistent sensibility that permeates every corner of the production. So many times a show is a jumble of moods and styles to the point it winds up not having anything particularly interesting to say.
Fortunately “Matilda” (full name “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical”), which is now playing at the Fox Theatre through Nov. 1, has all of the whimsical, rabble-rousing attitude of its source material.
Dahl has always trod on the darker side of children’s literature, portraying a world that can be as cold and cruel as it is wondrous and hopeful. “Matilda” takes all of these contradictory absurdities and puts it all on the shoulders of an incredibly gifted little girl.
Matilda (played with grace and poise beyond her years by Mabel Tyler on the night I saw the show, as Tyler is one of three Matildas touring with the production) is a brilliant child born to a pair of complete dolts.
Matilda’s mother (Cassie Silva) is more concerned with her looks and dance competitions than her daughter’s well-being and her swindler father (Quinn Mattfeld) constantly ridicules her for reading books and refuses to acknowledge she’s a girl by constantly calling her “boy.”
Her only respite is the library, where she delves into books and shares stories with the enthusiastic Mrs. Phelps (Ora Jones).
Matilda has high hopes things will be better when she gets to school, but quickly realizes it is a place with the only goal of turning a child into another brick in the wall.
Fortunately, Matilda finds an ally in her teacher, the sweet, meek Miss Honey (Jennifer Blood), who recognizes the amazing potential Matilda possesses.
But every great story needs a great villain and Matilda gets hers in the broad-shouldered form of the school’s headmistress, Miss Trunchbull (played to the hilt in sexually ambiguous drag by Bryce Ryness).
Miss Trunchbull is a former Olympic champion in the hammer throw and rules the school with an iron fist, all the while preaching order and discipline. When she sees a bright spark like Matilda, her first instinct is to snuff it out. Of course, Matilda is no ordinary spark.
“Matilda” is a terrific show that is as clever as it is entertaining. The set design is delightfully askew, which makes you believe anything is possible in this heightened reality.
The cast is solid, especially the kids in the show, who are just as polished and professional as the adults in the cast.
The show is just a lot of fun and the songs are lively and witty with standouts including “Miracle,” “Bruce” and “School Song,” which gives us a surprising lesson on the alphabet.
There are also some impressive production numbers, including a swing set that sends performers out over the audience in “When I Grow Up,” and the cast gets to show off their acrobatic prowess in “The Smell of Rebellion,” which takes place during a vigorous session of physical education conducted by Miss Trunchbull.
Simply put, “Matilda” is one of those shows that is a joy for the whole family and a great way to introduce kids to the theatre, especially kids with a little spark of anarchy of their own.
“Matilda” is now playing at the Fox Theatre through Nov. 1. For tickets, call 314-534-1111 or go to metrotix.com.