Ottawa Event Review: Matilda: The Musical by Orpheus

Orpheus Musical Theatre has done it again. Every time I see an Orpheus production, I am so impressed with the performance that I almost forget that it’s community theatre and not Broadway. This time, with Matilda, they have once again outdone themselves with an elaborate set, fantastic costumes, and some of the best talent that Ottawa has to offer.

 

Matilda The Musical, based on the classic children’s book by Roald Dahl, has thrilled audiences across the world, winning 47 international awards. This was its Ottawa debut, and it seems only fitting that Orpheus be the theatre company to present it.

From the Orpheus media release: “Matilda is the story of a gifted young girl that inspires her browbeaten classmates to revolt against their cruel headmistress. Tim Minchin’s music and ingenious lyrics underscore Dahl’s outrageous characters in Dennis Kelly’s stage adaptation of this miraculous story.”

Performed at Meridian Theatres @ Centerpointe, this play utilized the stage area perfectly. As usual, the props and set design were incredible and efficient, with each set piece serving multiple purposes! I’m always amazed at the quality of props and sets in Orpheus, and while nothing will ever compare to their car in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, it was still extraordinary.

One of my favourite elements of this show was the juxtaposition between the “young kids” and “older kids.” It really reinforced the idea that to a young child in school, the older kids seem HUGE, and completely grown up in comparison! This was especially obvious in the number, “School Song,” where the older kids are sharing the reality of life at Crunchem Hall with the young kids. I love that the directing team took this approach. It feels to the audience as though they are experiencing the entire show through the eyes of a child, which was a really interesting and intelligent perspective, in my opinion!

The hair styling in this show was fantastic! Most of the kids had colourful neon extensions or overall hair colour, which I thought was a really fun idea! Kim Shields was the Hair and Makeup Designer for this show; she has done many other Orpheus shows in the past, and this experience shows! The complex and colourful hairstyles really popped on stage. So kudos to Kim and her team!

My only critique of this show would be the lighting; I know that low lighting was imperative to set the tone of the Crunchem Hall scenes, but there were instances throughout the show where better lighting could have improved the audience experience. There were a few scenes where a key character on stage was not well lit, which made it difficult to see their facial expressions and movements. I heard another audience member nearby commenting on this as well. I’m hoping that this was maybe just a glitch tonight, and that for the remainder of the run, everyone will be well illuminated to allow for the audience to fully appreciate them!

My theatrical reviews are never complete without acknowledging the standout performances. As always, I would like to preface this by saying that each and every cast member in this show was remarkable. Listed below are the performers that elevated this show to true excellence.

Matilda Wormwood (Sophia Pierce) was an absolute delight in this role. The Covert Ottawa Guy team was already a huge fan of Pierce’s; we saw her in Annie and Mary Poppins Jr. with Suzart a few years ago, we shared her performance singing the National Anthem at the Sens game recently, and you can read our review of her outstanding performance in Orpheus’ Chitty Chitty Bang Bang here. It came as no surprise to us that she was one of the two Matildas cast in this principal role (along with Shelby Shannon-Caines), and she really knocked it out of the park yet again. We might even say it was her best performance yet! Everything from her accents (including a newly acquired Russian accent), to her perfect vocals, to the impressive range of emotions demonstrated throughout the show were the embodiment of the character Matilda. The fact that a child of only ten is capable of starring in a show this big, and not only pulling it off, but MAKING the show as magical as it is, blows our minds. Congratulations, Sophia, on a job exceptionally well done. You are a true star, and we know that you are going far!

The intolerable Agatha Trunchbull was portrayed exceptionally by Jason Swan. This role is iconic, and it takes a strong character actor to do it justice. The audience LOVED Swan, and each of his scenes was met with laughter from the crowd. From his walk to his dance moves, everything he did was pure gold! Without giving too much away, I will just say that Swan is INCREDIBLY talented; his vocals and comedic timing are especially impressive. I enjoyed every moment of his performance! I really hope to see him in another show soon!

Graeme Park as Henry Wormwood, along with Hilary Peck as Zinnia Wormwood, really wowed as well. Both are very strong singers, and their songs and scenes were a lot of fun to watch! One of the best parts of the show for me was how well these two complimented one another on stage. I found them both to be hilarious, especially together!

I often like to recognize some of the performers with ensemble roles who stand out among the crowd. There were a few in Matilda that really did! Whether it be incredible facial expressions, dancing, vocals, or comedic timing, these talented individuals just took this show to the next level! They include:

  • Sadie Hansen as Amanda, with an entertaining, energetic spark

  • Cooper Dunn as Bruce, with great facial animation and a very strong overall performance

  • Henry McIntyre as Eric, who is not only adorable, but hilarious on stage

  • McKenna Mellon, who was among the strongest dancers, and embraced each character she played with perfect facial expressions and movement

  • Marcus Winchester, whose overall stage presence and likeability made him one of my favourite older kids at Crunchem Hall, and finally,

  • Paul Melsness (another Covert Ottawa Guy favourite!), for his incredible voice and depth of emotion.

I do have one small criticism for Meridian Theatres at Centrepointe itself, though. During intermission at this sold out show, the lineup for drinks was very long, taking fifteen minutes (almost the entire intermission) to get even a soft drink. The only option for snacks was a single vending machine that wouldn’t accept credit cards and was incredibly finicky with cash, so many people weren’t able to get a drink or snack after spending the entire intermission in a lineup. This is not a huge deal, but worth mentioning. I would suggest having another bartender or two to help with the crowd, and maybe offering snacks at the bar so that patrons can get a snack and a drink all at once. Generally though, Meridian Theatres at Centrepointe is amazing, with ample free parking, and staff that is always very friendly and helpful. I would like to mention a particular usher, named Ida, who came to the aid of a very sick pregnant woman who had to leave during the show. This type of incredible service is part of what makes shows at this venue so great!

Overall, Matilda was excellent. Orpheus continues with their high quality shows. Matilda runs at Meridian Theatres at Centrepointe each day (except Monday) until December 1st with evening shows every day, and Matinees Saturdays and Sundays. The complete schedule can be found on my events calendar, but don’t wait to buy your tickets, the shows are selling out FAST. Tickets are available on the Meridian Theatres website and range in price from $27 to $57 depending on your age! These prices are a steal given the quality production that Matilda is!

All photos courtesy of Alan Dean Photography.

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