Front & Center

Front & Center: November

Opening night of Matilda was everything theater should be. I left The Fox giddy with delight, laughing and dancing and adding it to my mental top five theatrical experiences. I have been a fan of Tim Minchin, who wrote the music and lyrics (and really gives the show its ‘flavor’), for a while now and this, his first musical, hopefully will be succeeded by others in short order. He is fresh, witty, theatrical and irreverent … and so is Matilda.

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Roald Dahl’s genius heroine (played with ferocious talent and charm by Mabel Tyler on opening night), you won’t find the plot here, but suffice to say that the story celebrates every child who ever spent days with their noses in books. And there’s no ‘love interest’ in the show for Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey (a delightful Jennifer Blood), which I appreciated most of all. At the end, these two strong women find that they are enough all by themselves.

I can only imagine that the actors in the show must count themselves among the luckiest to play these characters. From the strong physical comedy to the deliciously dark moments that make you squirm with dread and delight to the raucous songs and choreography, I found myself giggling madly one moment and choked with tears and emotion the next. If you missed it, the tour comes to Chicago in March and Kansas City in May. If you go, you may see me there. This is the kind of show I could see again and again.

The New Jewish Theatre produced a wonderful version of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys. There was a bit of misfortune when not one, but both the lead actors left the show for health reasons and replacements were called in. But if replacements John Contini (Willie Clark) and Peter Mayer (Al Lewis) were nervous or under-rehearsed, I didn’t see a bit of it. Their scenes together were the highlight of the show, both men displaying great physical comedy chops and precise timing. The supporting cast also was good, especially Jared Sanz-Agero as Willie’s nephew, Ben. Scenic designers Margery and Peter Spack pull off a gorgeous ruin of a New York apartment.

The Repertory Theatre started the season so well with a terrific All the Way, but even with glorious design work, wasn’t able to pull Angel Street off the shelf and onto the stage. It wasn’t the fault of the actors and certainly not the designers; it’s just an old, old piece that needs to be scrapped. There is no suspense in this ‘mystery’; you know the outcome 15 minutes into the show. But it was the archaic, specious archetypes of women as either frail and dependent or whorish and crafty that elicited my ire. This theater has the resources to produce any play, why choose this one?

Pictured: John Contini and Peter Mayer in The Sunshine Boys
Photo: Eric Woolsey Photography

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