By Brianne McFadden
When planning to see an opening night showing at Moonlight Amphitheater, my husband and I get excited about the opportunity for a date night. This opening night would be different. No babysitter and no night with just the two of us. Tonight we were going as a family. Fortunately for us, the risk was worth the reward and Moonlight and Matilda proved to be the perfect combination for a super fun family night.
Moonlight Amphitheater is a spectacular venue for all ages, but for children, it’s a giant playground. We were fascinated watching our boys’ eyes fill with wonder and imagination as they began running through the rows of seats and then climbed their way up to the grassy hill which they rolled down over and over. After we ate our picnic dinner we watched the summer sun slowly set behind us. All of this fun and excitement and the show hadn’t even started yet!
The lights dimmed and the orchestra began to play queuing us to take our seats. The entire set was surrounded by floor to ceiling bookshelves. The show started with a simple rectangle table and sitting in the center was an enormous birthday cake. Slowly, one by one, children started appearing from behind and underneath the table utilizing every corner of the stage in perfect unity. The music from the orchestra pit came pouring over the amphitheater in the opening song “Miracle.” This may go down as one of our favorite opening songs. The cast was truly electric and you could feel their excitement in every word and note.
At the beginning of Act 1, the audience gets its first dose of Matilda’s parents Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood, who are as despicable and selfish as they are comical. Mrs. Wormwood, played by Kristina Miller-Weston, is a neglectful wanna-be dancer who denied being pregnant with Matilda even at nine months. Mrs. Wormwood and dance partner Rudolpho, played by Ala Tiatia, were hilarious and gave some of the bigger laughs of the night. Mr. Wormwood, played by Kevin Hafso-Koppman, was excellent as Matilda’s swindling car salesman father who took a sick delight in selling junky cars to customers. Matilda’s pranks on her not so bright father were one of our sons’ favorite parts of the show.
Charity Rose, playing Matilda in her musical debut, was fantastic! Though small when on stage, her presence was big and captivating. Her solo “Quiet” left the audience silent. You could have heard a pin drop, which is saying a lot when the audience is full of children! Matilda said, “Even if you’re little, you can do a lot,” and Rose made the audience believe it!
There are a few other characters worth mentioning. Ashley Fox Linton who plays Mrs. Honey has a beautiful voice that is alone worth seeing. Fox Linton and Rose were wonderful together and gave a somewhat feel-good ending to Matilda’s otherwise depressing childhood. Isabella Pruter as Lavendar had enough energy for all of us and did a wonderful job as Matilda’s spunky best friend.
It could be argued that the star of the show was Randall Hickman. Hickman, who captivated audiences last year as Ursula in “The Little Mermaid” was perfectly cast as the evil Mrs. Trunchbull, the principal of Matilda’s school. Hickman, complete with a man bun and broad shoulders, was simply excellent. As the egotistical principle, Trenchbull made her students relive her glory days as an Olympic hammer thrower or it was off to “the Chokey” for punishment!
We enjoy seeing Moonlight use unexpected tricks to surprise the audience. One of those tricks was when you are made to believe Trenchbull actually launches one of her students high as if a hammer. The cast all stops and lookup trying to find the little girl, when suddenly a dummy is dropped from the ceiling into the orchestra pit (my kids could not believe this!). You know that no one was actually flung down into the orchestra pit, but the trick worked and the audience believed it, if only for a second.
Hats off to choreographer Colleen Kollar Smith for helping shape some of the best dancing we’ve seen. With a kid-heavy cast, the quality of the dancing was impressive. Matilda had several dances utilizing stunts, levels, and props which kept us all entertained.
Moonlight Amphitheater is known as “the Gem of Vista”, and we have experienced over and over exactly why it has earned this fitting title. Watching my boys captivated by the emotional power of music, storytelling, and dance is definitely the highlight of my summer. No TV, no screen, no devices needed, just a warm summer night, watching live entertainment as a family under the stars. You don’t want to miss experiencing “Matilda” and the magic and whimsy unique to live theatre only at Moonlight.