Mischievous maggots and lessons of loudness: The Dolphin Show’s ‘Matilda the Musical’ brings out the inner child in all of us


Michelle Sheen/The Daily Northwestern

The cast of students in “Matilda the Musical” perform in victory against Miss Trunchbull, who was played by Communications junior Lauren Gunn.

Nixie Strazza, Theatre Critic

Aerial silks, fantastical stories and an enormous chocolate cake deliver a message of wonder and resilience in The Dolphin Show’s production of “Matilda the Musical”. Based on Roald Dahl’s novel of the same name, “Matilda” teaches audiences that age and size are no restraint to standing up for what is right, even if it means being a little naughty.

The 80th annual Dolphin Show, the nation’s largest student-produced musical, runs from Jan. 20 to Jan. 28 in Cahn Auditorium, with a special children’s matinee Sunday Jan. 22.

In building the company’s version of the beloved Broadway musical, music director and Bienen senior Kevin Park said the creative team made adaptations more fit for a modern context to reflect the diversity of its cast and the greater student body.

“Our views on gender had such a huge influence with casting, and also in terms of how I music direct,” Park said.

The role of Miss Honey, Matilda’s kind and gentle teacher typically portrayed by a female-identifying actor, was filled by SESP junior Matthew McGrory. Park said the reimagining of roles and reworking of musical arrangements to fit new vocal abilities was a worthwhile challenge, which contributed to Park’s growth as a director and musician.

Similarly, the role of Bruce Bogtrotter — a young boy with an affinity for chocolate cake — was played by Communication junior Kylie Kim, an Asian American, female-identifying actress. Kim said playing Bruce allowed her to both break gender norms and tap into her inner child, while delivering a core message that still rang true.

“The big thing is standing up for yourself and being true to yourself,” Kim said. “It’s knowing when you should stand up for something, and when something is not right.”

The circus feats of Communication junior Matthew Millin and Communication sophomore Julianne Zane, the Escapologist and Acrobat respectively, were captivating and impressively demanding. Serving as the physical embodiment of an elaborate story told from Matilda’s perspective, the two performed their moves with athletic grace and elegance, bringing to life characters beyond gravity’s reach.

Morgan Barber, a Communication sophomore who takes on the titular heroine, said the decision to include acrobatic elements came from director Lucy Harrington’s desire to reimagine the physical violence written into the script in a creative way.

“We used aerial silks, the lyra hoop and different circus elements to tell the story in a way that would still depict those moments, but without causing any harm,” Barber said.

The multi-talented Millin again proved his prowess in a duet with McGrory in act two’s “My House.” The performance by the two Matthews evoked all the pain, heartbreak, resilience and determination at the heart of the show. Their harmony left little to be desired.

Communication senior Kristen Waagner’s energetic choreography made the portrayal of elementary school children believable, without compromising form or precision. The opening number “Miracle” established the eclectic, fantastical world of “Matilda” with fierce dance moves and a contagious energy that remained the rest of the show.

Tallulah Nouss shined as the egotistical Mrs. Wormwood. The Communication sophomore secured a near-standing ovation by salsa-ing and shimmy-ing across stage during her rendition of the dynamic musical number “Loud.” A killer comedian in heels and big hair, Nouss’s performance would have had Broadway royalty and original Mrs. Wormwood Lesli Margherita back-flipping alongside her.

Despite Mrs. Wormwood’s recommendation to employ a “Loud” voice, however, many of the show’s major moments were lost on the audience due to a lack of volume. Matilda’s signature retort, “That’s not right!,” which punctuates the end of the first act, was nearly inaudible before intermission. Her climactic telling-off of the “maggot”-hating headmistress Miss Trunchbull — played by Communication junior Lauren Gunn — was also unintelligible amid the staged chaos.

The same can be said about many of the lines from Communication sophomore Nathan Hiykel’s Mr. Wormwood, which missed the mark in comparison to Nouss’s performance. The absence of clear diction took away from countless jokes in his musical number “Telly” and other comedic moments.

Given the importance of words in “Matilda” itself, the gaps in sound were an unfortunate hurdle to overcome. In a show about the power of storytelling and taking the chance to rewrite one’s own, hearing every syllable of Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly’s work is imperative.

Communication sophomore Constance Harris, who was delightful in her role as Matilda’s precocious, self-proclaimed best friend Lavender, hoped audiences leave not only elated after taking in two hours of musical play but also armed with increased consciousness and care for those kept on the outskirts of society.

“So many people can empathize and sympathize and understand what it’s like to have your voice feel like it’s been quieted,” Harris said. “But you can change your story, and you can speak up, and you can find love. It only takes one person who really believes in you.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Matthew McGrory’s last name. The Daily regrets the error.

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @NixieStrazza

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