A Chokey Delight
Reading Time: 4 minutes
“Imagine a world with no children. Close your eyes and just dream…”
So lies the heart of the drama in the fall musical “Matilda,” presented by the Stuyvesant Theater Community (STC), a revoltingly entertaining production of the Roald Dahl classic, adapted from Tim Minchin’s original stage musical. “Matilda” follows the eponymous protagonist (freshman Jane No), a precocious and highly intelligent six-year-old. In spite of the deplorable individuals who torment her home and school environments—her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood (juniors Brandon Phillips and Alex DiLella), her brother Michael Wormwood (junior Matthew Monge), and her school’s tyrannical headmistress, Trunchbull (junior Dinah-Luba Beylison)—Matilda develops magical powers and leads a rebellion against her oppressors, eventually finding a happy home with her teacher, Miss Honey (senior Emily Young-Squire).
“Matilda”’s intricate set design enhanced the story, with details including a cheeky “Among Us” cameo, the Wormwoods’s soap opera-style house, and Trunchbull’s austere office. The Wormwoods’s russet sofa, paired with an equally enticing vintage telly, brought out the lounge-laziness of the family. The school’s repressive yet hysterical atmosphere utilized actual school desks and jumbo ABC blocks, which created a picturesque tableau under the stage lights. The stunning set would not be complete without its luscious background, courtesy of the art crew, directed by seniors Bowen Fu and Vivian Teo. It consisted of a pink-blue ombré backdrop with cascading letter blocks spelling out “MATILDA,” forming an interesting juxtaposition when paired with the various colors and costumes on stage.
Each cast member was authentically dressed in character, thanks to the skills of the costume directors, senior Tiffany Liang and junior Petra Dijur. Trunchbull was perfectly fitted with a severe-shouldered jacket, a heavy belt, and a military bun. The children were clad in scholarly red ties, schoolgirl Mary Janes, and the occasional pair of rebellious Converse sneakers. In contrast with the school uniforms, Matilda wore a striking blue Peter Pan collared dress, clashing beautifully against the stage background. As for the Wormwood family, Mr. Wormwood donned a flamboyant ombré sequined suit-jacket, paired with a dashing green wig and a velvet top hat; Mrs. Wormwood flaunted heavy silver jewelry and an equally ostentatious puff-sleeve dress; and Michael Wormwood sported a fedora protégé. Miss Honey’s intricately embroidered floral dress was perhaps unrealistic for a poor school teacher, but was eye-catching under the stage lights nonetheless.
The technical aspects of “Matilda” were particularly refined, especially after the revampments to Stuyvesant’s Murray Kahn Theater. From neon classroom lights to severe shadows in Trunchbull’s office to the soft sunlight streaming into Miss Honey’s cottage, lights and sound, directed by seniors Ella Chan and Akram Khalifa, presented masterful techniques across tonally contrasting scenes. The show’s audio quality was mostly clear and unadulterated, though the sound was occasionally muffled when actors sang too closely into the mic. Scene transitions were coordinated smoothly, though perhaps not quietly; moments of extended chair dragging could have been masked by live music.
The band, directed by seniors Katherine Zhao and Hana Kaloudis, maintained a constant, malleable presence throughout the show, from the ominous bass staccato in Trunchbull’s hammer-throwing scenes to the smooth cello melody in the emotionally charged scenes between Matilda and Miss Honey. The musical arrangement could have demonstrated a wider range of rhythmic diversity or more expressive playing, though perhaps the simplicity of the arrangements enabled the ensemble’s consistent presence.
The levitating chalk from “The Smell of Rebellion” (made possible by magnets) was a clever choice from the props department, eliciting many gasps from the audience. During Matilda’s storytelling scenes, the escapologist (junior Kai Li) and acrobat (sophomore Andrea Wang and senior Pimada Phongsuriya) felt far away upstage, but the dreamlike quality of the flashbacks was still captured. Wang, who learned the acrobat role only one day before the show, demonstrated incredible flexibility and agility by dancing out Matilda’s imagination and performing dizzying somersaults. Certain technical difficulties, such as late scene changes and jammed desks, allowed the actors to show off their improvisation skills, leaving the audience impressed and amused. The few seconds of silence after Bruce (freshman Lily Wagman) gave a long burp served as perhaps the most entertaining moment in the entire chocolate cake scene, and the audience burst out laughing.
As expected, there were numerous standout musical performances. Young-Squire stole the show with her beautiful soprano voice in quiet, soliloquy-like moments in “Pathetic” and “My House.” Phillips showcased his fantastic tenor voice and magnificent vibrato in “Telly.” No nailed “Naughty” and “Quiet” with her perfectly childlike tone and vocal confidence. The singing numbers, from “The Chokey Chant” to “Revolting Children” rang with the students’ playful mischief and vocal empowerment. The frenetic energy that DiLella and Hollman brought to their duo, “Loud,” between the flashy Mrs. Wormwood and her dance partner Rudolpho, was reminiscent of a ‘90s soap opera.
In the acting category, several cast members shined, particularly by playing up the extremes of young vs. old and virtuous vs. wicked with Matilda and Trunchbull. It was almost difficult to believe that Trunchbull was played by a student. Beylison’s intimidating stage presence, on-point mannerisms, and booming voice provided a perfect rendition of the headmistress’ trademark comedic yet terrifying persona. No’s freshman confidence aided her portrayal of a convincing six-year-old and, to top it off, one with a posh, BBC-sounding accent. Young-Squire brought tenderness and warmth to Miss Honey’s caring character, making her all the more likable and strengthening her onstage connection with Matilda. During the intermission, Mr. Wormwood and his son Michael performed a routine promoting the telly instead of reading books, even calling one audience member a “bookworm.” In the final scene, when the Russian mafia, led by Beatriz Ongan, hunted down Mr. Wormwood, they found themselves spellbound by Matilda’s ingenuity, and the impressively accurate Russian accents by both Ongan and No were the cherry on top of an incredibly entertaining production.
“Matilda” works better as a true comedy, deviating quite a bit from the original tone of Dahl’s novel, which focused more on the intimate struggles of Matilda and Miss Honey to rise up against their oppressors. STC’s production missed a bit of the intimacy and conclusiveness of the original “found family” storyline, but authenticity is not the main function of a theater show. Rather, its primary objective should be to bring an audience together to laugh, cry, cry from laughter, and, at the curtain call, clap so passionately that both palms turn red. We know that ours did.