A musical for children that gives voice to adult woes

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“Matilda the Musical” is not only for children to enjoy, but also for adults to ponder upon. Photo courtesy of ATLANTIS THEATRICAL ENTERTAINMENT GROUP

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “Matilda the Musical” opens with a buffet table set with sweets and treats piled high. The children are in colorful Halloween costumes and the adults are garbed in saturated hues. The performers dance as they sing Tim Minchin’s "Miracle" and the atmosphere is set.

The energy is palpable, and the child actors perform in pace with the adults. Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood (played by Joaquin Valdes and Carla Guevarra-Laforteza respectively) are decked in a mishmash of the most garish patterns to comical effect. Matilda is born to their dismay.

In the Roald Dahl classic, presented by Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group, the adults act like children; the teens even more while the children understandably so. To illustrate, there's a song in the second act that Mr. Wormwood sings titled "Telly," which features the lyrics "All I know I learned from the telly! ... You can't learn that from a stupid book!" Only the titular Matilda (Telesa Marie "Esang" de Torres who alternates with Uma Martin and Felicity Kyle Napuli) can be relied on to behave like a grownup, although she is not without her endearingly childish moments.

IMG_7237.JPG The titular Matilda (pictured above: Felicity Kyle Napuli is one of the alternates of the role) commands the stage with her performances of Tim Minchin songs. Photo courtesy of ATLANTIS THEATRICAL ENTERTAINMENT GROUP

The stage is surrounded by rows and rows of books, as though in a library, behind thin trees with bare branches snaking skyward. The theme repeats itself throughout various set changes — a giant chalkboard hangs from an upside down tree with branches curling into itself, ladders going as high up as the book shelves and into the ceiling. As the play unravels, there seems to be no escape from the misery of parental neglect, and of course, the nightmarish figure of Miss Agatha Trunchbull (Jamie Wilson), the gigantic, cruel headmistress of Crunchem Hall Primary School.  

The play comes into its own in the second act. De Torres commands the stage with her performance of “Quiet,” a ballad that speaks of the chaos in Matilda’s mind. Bruce (Miguel Suarez) of chocolate cake-eating notoriety, is similarly charming, and his performance only gets better as he reaches his song, "Bruce." The sets move away from skyward notions to self-contained worlds, as seen in the carousel at "When I Grow Up" and the gym at "The Smell of Rebellion."

In this scene, despite the torment the children endure in school perpetrated by Miss Trunchbull, they manage to dream for a better, more desirable future. Miss Jennifer Honey (Cris Villonco), the only adult in the scene in contrast to the children clad in uniforms, only wishes that she were brave enough when she grows up. Matilda then sings about righting the world and choosing her own story by picking out a lyric from "Naughty."

IMG_8776.JPG Miss Jennifer Honey (portrayed by Cris Villonco) is one of the main characters of the play, whose story also revolve around the cruelty of her aunt, Miss Truncbhull. Photo courtesy of ATLANTIS THEATRICAL ENTERTAINMENT GROUP

Although written for children, it is the adults who are more clearly enjoying themselves. The costumes are cartoonish and colorful; the staging is a spectacle; and each joke lands. It is also interesting to note that in moments of the adults’ scenes, Matilda gives her voice to these ‘grown people’, literally talking over their dialogue. It is in these moments that the reversal is most apparent, and to me, feels a bit subversive.

Remember the hot, runny tears and snot of righteous indignation that we used to feel as children? These moments stir those sentiments and drudge up powerful memories of how the world ought to be.

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“Matilda the Musical” runs until Dec. 10, 2017 at Meralco Theatre in Ortigas. For ticket information, visit the Ticketnet website.