Review: “Matilda” at Cultural Arts Playhouse Syosset

The acclaimed West End and Broadway musical “Matilda” has finally made its way to the Long Island community theatre stage at the Cultural Arts Playhouse in Syosset. The show won seven Olivier Awards, five Tony Awards and highest marks from London and New York theatre critics during its two runs spanning between 2011 and 2017. Delighting children and adults alike over the years, a number of its songs are familiar staples in audition rooms. There is no shortage of love for this musical and that is clear on CAP’s stage in Syosset where several generations of actors come together to tell the classic Roald Dahl story of an extraordinary bookworm with tremendous passion and care.

Claire Daly as Matilda

Three talented young ladies share the coveted role of Matilda Wormwood. I had the pleasure of watching seven-year-old Claire Daly in the role on the night I attended, but Goldie Lynne Centamore and Sofia Jarmel both delight audiences for alternating shows. Although Ms. Daly is small in stature, her radiant personality fills the entire theater when she is on stage whether she is plotting mischief in “Naughty” or emoting in “Quiet.”

While the titular role keeps Ms. Daly incredibly busy throughout the entire running time, there is also room in the show’s book for a variety of entertaining heroes and villains. Leading the charge are Jared Grossman and Sydnee LaBuda as Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood – Matilda’s parents, who do not hold back their disdain for their child. The duo dominates the stage as they play off of each other with brilliant comic timing. Their featured numbers – Mr. Wormood’s “Telly” and Mrs. Wormwood’s “Loud” – are two of the strongest in the production and perfectly emphasize these performer’s strengths with visceral physical comedy.

Sydnee LaBuda and Jared Grossman as Mrs. and Mr. Wormwood

As the plot unfolds, Matilda soon realizes there are bigger bullies out in the world than her parents. Enter Miss Trunchbull – the maniacal headmistress of Matilda’s school, ruling over pupils with a sadistic iron fist. Jerry Callahan, who shares the role with John DiGiorgio, holds nothing back in his portrayal of the hammer throwing authoritarian with the perfect balance of menace and hilarity.  He embraces the English roots of the show with flawless execution of the inherent dry humor of the Trunchbull’s dialogue, never missing a beat.

Jerry Callahan as Miss Trunchbull

Meanwhile, the gentle Miss Honey’s classroom provides an escape from the wrath of the Trunchbull and an outlet for Matilda’s academic prowess. Samantha Eagle, sharing the role with Alyson Endlich, is a wonderful fit for the role, embodying the nurturing mother Matilda longs for and eventually finding her courage to stand up to her abusive boss. Ms. Eagle’s beautiful vocals and warm demeanor are highlighted during her song, “My House.”

Taneisha Corbin, a talented CAP regular, also serves as a role model for Matilda as librarian Mrs. Phelps. Although I wish there was more for her to do in the role, she executes her scenes with enthusiasm and charm. Additional featured performances include Kyle Rivera as Rodolpho, Mrs. Wormwood’s eccentric dance partner and Thomas McKenna as Russian mobster Sergei. Both actors give 110 percent in their cameos, inducing roars of laughter from the audience. Mr. Rivera in particular displays tremendous talent as a dancer and shares tangible chemistry with Ms. LaBuda as Mrs. Wormwood during “Loud,” where the duo lets loose in comedic gold.

Samantha Eagle as Miss Honey

The production also features a multitude of talented young performers in the children’s ensemble – displaying skillful gymnastics and delivering well-tuned vocals. Jack Messinger impresses as Bruce, Matilda’s schoolmate who regretfully indulges in the Trunchbull’s coveted chocolate cake. Mr. Messinger, sharing the role with Dante DiGiorgio, leads the electric production number “Revolting Children” with astonishing vocal talent beyond his years. Audrey Bitoni also gives a noteworthy performance as Matilda’s best friend Lavender, bringing an enormous amount of energy to the role. Olivia Flaherty performs the role in alternating performances.

It is clear that Bruce Grossman’s inspired direction lends itself to the joyous atmosphere of the production. A prime example is the use of fully functioning swings in “When I Grow Up” and the appearance of scooters during bows. Utilizing Thomas McKenna’s innovative set and Tony Frangipane’s tech-savvy lighting and projections, the audience is fully immersed in Matilda’s world that delves into the fantastical. Mr. Frangipane also delivers with costumes inspired both by the original West End and Broadway productions and the 1996 film.

Additionally, Kristina King’s choreography contributes to the high quality of the production, challenging the young performers and showcasing the talents of the adult cast. “Revolting Children” is a standout in this regard, combining Peter Darling’s original choreography with originality.   

With only three shows remaining, be sure to head to CAP’s website as soon as possible to secure your tickets to this delightful production!

Photo Credit: Diane Marmann

ALSO: Have you heard about CAP’s new location? Read about it here.

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