A Theatre Buff Reviews: Matilda The Musical 

Matilda The Musical is the delightful tale of a little girl who survives the emotional abuse of her narcissistic, conniving and stupid parents, and the spirit crushing conduct of the headmistress of Crunchem Hall Elementary. The book upon which this musical is based was written by Roald Dahl, so we know that there will be both harrowing and hilarious moments as the story unfolds. Matilda survives these wretched adults because she is a precocious reader and a gifted storyteller. And she thrives because she has support: her Grade One classmates and two mentors (the librarian and her teacher).

Matilda The Musical - Mirvish

The role of Matilda is demanding. The night I attended it was performed by the talented Hannah Levinson.  She shone, and she was capably supported by her ‘classmates’ who are also triple threat performers.  Matilda’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood (Brandon McGibbon and Darcy Stewart) were suitably despicable, and the headmistress, Miss Trunchbull (Dan Chameroy), was the embodiment of a mean spirit. The roles of teacher and librarian (Miss Honey-Paula Brancati and Mrs. Phelps-Keisha T. Fraser) were understated by comparison. Both were performed with engagement and compassion.

Kudos to Tim Minchin who created the tuneful music and spirited lyrics and to Rob Howell who designed a set that incorporates colourful and eclectic tiles from the game of Scrabble.

If you plan to see Matilda, do take one or more children with you. The children surrounding me were totally absorbed in the story, as were their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Matilda is a superb introduction to the joy of live performance.

Matilda The Musical is playing at Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto until October 16, 2016.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of one family’s journey through palliative care.

A Theatre Buff Reviews: If/Then

If/Then is a musical that delivers through story, song and dance. It’s engaging and it’s clever. The premise explores possible futures for Elizabeth (Jackie Burns), a young and recent divorcée, as she learns how to make a life in New York City after moldering in Phoenix for ten years.

If/Then seamlessly blends two versions of Elizabeth’s life from the pivot point of one day in Central Park. As Liz/Beth’s futures evolve, then so do the lives of her friends. Not surprisingly, the story-line becomes complex. Audience members who prefer a linear tale could find the play/musical confusing. Mirvish often has a synopsis in their programme, but not this time.

This musical examines the fabric of living and loving in the city. Elizabeth, who has a PhD in urban planning,and her social activist friend, Lucas (Anthony Rapp), explore the form-function question: How does one design city space to enhance constructs like social justice and hard realities like personal safety? The same question plays out in relationships. How does one weave in threads of love, joy and spontaneity into structures of marriage, job and family. These complex questions are explored through characters who are intelligent and reflective, and they are handled in a way that is funny yet serious, and light-hearted yet poignant. As one character notes, “How much you love your life is what every life is worth.” This statement summarizes the ethos of the play perfectly.

While I will admit to preferring musicals where I leave the theatre humming, If/Then’s music and lyrics are compelling. The performers are energetic and they are ‘on their game’ for both acts. Jackie Burns, is the lynchpin and she never wavers. She has an outstanding ability to convey a range of emotion through song.

The set designers skillfully convey a range of space in NYC by the creation of two levels: A walkway, like an industrial High Line, runs the length of the stage. Above the walkway, images of brownstones and iconic NYC buildings are projected and  often overlaid on city planner grids of neighborhoods. Most of the performance takes place below the walkway using a movable feast of stage props to proficiently create a variety of scenes: city park, office, living room, bedroom, bathroom, and subway.

If/Then is a musical, which much like Rent, is likely to bring a young audience into the theatre. And that’s a good thing for those of us who enjoy the artistry and energy of live theatre!

If/Then is performing at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto until May 8, 2016.

2016-If-Then