Musical of Dahl novel ‘Matilda’ gets brief Indy premiere

By John Lyle Belden and Wendy Carson

If you want to see the hit musical “Matilda” before the Civic Theatre stages it next year, you have just three chances this weekend.

McDuffee Music Studio bursts onto the theatrical scene with its ambitious all-youth production. Note this London and Broadway hit is by two of the most devious minds to write material safe for children: the late author Roald Dahl and comic songwriter Tim Minchin. While the story is dark at times, the sheer absurdity of all the characters and situations keeps it light.

In this musical, with book by Dennis Kelly, the Wormwoods – a Latin dance-obsessed wife and proudly unethical used-car dealer husband – prefer their children to be like their son, Michael, comically ignorant and male. Surprise-baby Matilda is definitely neither. She insists on reading books, visiting the library and telling stories. And when she’s had enough mistreatment, she tends to be “a little bit naughty.” Perhaps some abuse at the local school, led by wicked Mrs. Trunchbull, will cure her of that.

Having an all-student cast is easy for this show, as most of the roles are children, but some local teens ably step up to fill the “adult” shoes.

William Baartz as the viciously imposing Trunchbull manages to fully embrace the extreme silliness of the role. The teen-boy musculature stuffed into an Olympic women’s hammer-thrower form only adds to the look – equal parts threatening and cartoonish.

On the other end of the scale, Kamdyn Knotts is so very charming as teacher Miss Honey, a mousey woman struggling to find her voice to help Matilda. Her willingness to show weakness and work to overcome it ironically makes her the most (if not only) mature character in the show. Krissy Brzycki as librarian Mrs. Phelps is another ray of sunshine in Matilda’s life, practically starving for the girl’s story that may or may not be fiction.

Josh Hoover impressively shows range in dual roles as a vapid dance partner and an “escapologist” in love.

Ayden Cress and Kennedi Bruner are both a hoot as Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood, despite their neglectful and somewhat abusive nature. Wesley Olin as Michael shows that rare natural talent at playing an imbecile so entertainingly he can’t help but steal the scene, even just shouting one word.

As for Kate Honaker as Matilda, to us she looks and sounds straight off the Cast Album. Honaker holds focus and makes us believe in this girl with so many brains (yet they “just fit”) and a little bit “extra” that her stressful journey brings out.

The other children are more than just chorus to Matilda’s story, as they learn to deal with a cruel yet silly world. Colton Woods as Bruce Bogtrotter gets to revel in being an unlikely hero. Brilynn Knauss as Nicole gets a quick lesson on improvising one’s way out of trouble. And Izzy Napier’s hyper Lavender declares herself Matilda’s “best friend,” then takes on one of the more notorious pranks on the Headmistress.

We would like to assure you that no newts were harmed in the making of this show, but you can buy (a rubber) one at the concession stand, as well as chocolate cake.

While the production does have its technical flaws, it is energetic and earnest. Remember that one of the main tenets of the story (like most of Dahl’s work) is that not all stories have a happy ending. But it does manage to keep a positive outlook even at the grimmest point.

If you have any children in your care this weekend, especially those of grade-school age, they will be practically falling out of their seat with laughter and delight at the show. Performances of “Matilda: The Musical” are 2 and 7 p.m. Today, 2 p.m. Sunday (May 25-26) at Lutheran High School, 5555 S. Arlington, Indianapolis. Tickets are $10, $12 for premium seats. Visit www.mcduffeemusic.com.

It’s no myth: KidsPlay an excellent display of young talent

By John Lyle Belden

KidsPlay Inc. provides an excellent opportunity for aspiring performers, grades 3 to 8, to acquire and hone their skills. And that talent is put to great use in their spring production, “Fairy Tale Confidential.”

The play is presented as an expose of various stories we see or read (or pretend we’ve read, as the narrator points out) as we grow up. Eight scenes tackle Grimm tales, the works of Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson, the legends of certain guys in green tights, and even what happens after a boy gets the deed to a famous chocolate factory.

KidsPlay director Christine Schaefer always sets high standards, bringing out the best from her young actors, but this show — with its sharp gags and smooth blend of timeless charm and today’s attitude — is one of their best productions I’ve seen in more of a decade of watching this company work.

One bittersweet aspect of the spring show is that it is the last for eighth-grade members, who can move on to high school productions and beyond (several actors around central Indiana are KidsPlay “graduates”). There are 11 in this production, nearly all with speaking roles: Olivia Alldredge, as a friendly witch with a candy house; Elise Denger, a Wendy on a mission; David Hull, as the King of Everything; Trey Smith, as Dr. Jekyll’s Assistant; Ian Veldes, as “King of Comedy” Dickens; Ethan Stearns, as Stevenson; Ben Thompson, as Peter Pan; Owen Sickels, as narrator Warren Peace; Heaven Keesling, who is in the nifty opening dance number; Wesley Olin, as candymaker “Billy Bonkers;” and Max Everhart, as Hansel.

Other notables in this vast cast include Joseph Shininger as Rumplestiltskin and Bella Turner as the girl who is awful at names; Cialey Michalisko in an impressive debut as the secret to Dickens’ success; Olivia Greer as Sleeping Beauty and Josie Joyner as Cinderella, who could use a nap; Brayden Diehl as newly-minted sweets tycoon Charles and Corbin Elliott a hoot as his Grandpa; Ashley Pipkin as a sassy Gretel; Matthew Hentz as Dr. Jekyll and his hilarious alter ego; Jaxon Brittsan and Madison Raisor as Robin Hood and his sister, Roxie; Zora Coe as temperamental Tinkerbell; and third graders Anthony Stunda and Carter Pipkin off to a good start as Darling brothers John and Michael.

It’s worth the drive out to Greenfield — playing at the Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. (US 40), 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday (April 12-14) — especially at only $5 a ticket. Advance tickets are available at Hometown Comics, 1040 N. State St. (SR 9), Greenfield.

 

KidsPlay has a story to tell

By John Lyle Belden

One of the nice things about working at the Daily Reporter in Greenfield (until 2015) was getting to know Christine Schaefer and her work with KidsPlay Inc., her children’s theatre company for youth in grades 3-8, in and around Hancock County. It casts as many young auditioners as possible and gives them a good start as they progress toward high school plays, or to taking whatever stage life brings.

The players put on two shows a year, comedies, because they are a fun challenge and always entertaining. They learn skills such as thinking on your feet – once you’re off-book, you’re off-book – and deliver their lines without microphones. The parents get involved as well, as KidsPlay is 100 percent volunteer run, with family members helping backstage with props, costumes, sets, etc.

I tell you that to tell you this: KidPlay presents its latest show, “Sahara Nights,” this weekend.

The play, a twist on the “Arabian Nights” legend, is silly fun. A spoiled Sultan (Luke McCartney) isn’t entertained enough by putting people in his dungeon for petty offenses and demands a better diversion. Sahara (Brynn Elliott), hoping to free her friend Aladdin (Wesley Olin) from being jailed for late library books, becomes the royal storyteller. But when the Sultan whines “I’ve heard that one before!” she modifies the story – Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves becomes “Ali Baba and the 49ers.” As the stories come alive on the stage before them, traditional tales mix with appearances by the Star Trek crew, Elvis (Corbin Elliott) and the Beatles.

McCartney and Brynn Elliott, the company’s eighth-graders, are great leads, and other young thespians get to show a lot of their potential, especially Heaven Keesling as the smart and dutiful royal advisor, Olivia Greer as puppeteer of impulsive and irascible Mr. Moo-Cow, and Ashley Pipkin as a magically charming Genie.

Football, sci-fi, flying carpets, “Nowhere Man” jokes, mimes, and even appearances by the fabulous Tom Jones (Corbin, again) – this show has it all.

Curtain is 7:30 Friday and Saturday, 2:30 Sunday, at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, the beautifully renovated theater in downtown Greenfield (on US 40/Main St., just west of Ind. 9/State St.). Tickets are just $5 at the door — that’s right, for less than a movie ticket, you can see some of the next generation of local actors (several KidsPlay alums have been active on stages all around Indy).

For info, and to show your support, follow “KidsPlay Inc children’s theatre” on Facebook.