Theater Review: MATILDA THE MUSICAL (Berkeley Playhouse)

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by Chuck Louden on November 22, 2022

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


The holidays are here.  It’s the perfect time of year to get into the spirit by seeing a big production musical. Instead of the usual Nutcracker or Christmas Carol holiday fare, consider heading over to The Berkeley Playhouse to check out Matilda: The Musical, the Broadway hit by Dennis Kelly (book) and Tim Minchin (music and lyrics) that is soon to be a movie. Roald Dahl’s famous 1988 novel is about a gifted girl, wise beyond her years with psychic powers, helping her overcome her mean-spirited parents and a vicious headmaster at a private school. Matilda’s powers are tested and she finds love and understanding for the first time in her life in the form of her kind hearted teacher: Miss Honey. The story was later popularized in 1996 with a movie adaptation with Danny Devito and his wife Rhea Perlman playing the evil parents of Matilda: Harry and Zinnia Wormwood.

Gregory Lynch (Miss Trunchbull) and Miranda Klein (Matilda)

The Berkeley Playhouse is known for putting on family friendly shows. They offer camps and classes for youth as young as elementary school age all year round, but this was my first time seeing one of the the Playhouse’s productions. Many times when one attends a production based on  a children’s story, the expectations aren’t set too high. They are often saccharinely sweet, corny or schmaltzy with the predictable happily ever after ending. Not so here. The production values were professional, fantastic and very entertaining. There are over 30 youth of all ages in the production, so the audience was made up of mostly families and teenagers who were clearly there to support and cheer on their friends.

Miranda Klein (Matilda), Camden Greathouse (Michael),
Mary Kalita (Mrs. Wormwood), and Mark P. Robinson (Mr. Wormwood)

As with the infamous Annie, Matilda works here because it has all the key elements for an entertaining show. This production of Matilda boasts two youth casts and the performance I saw featured Ozzie Schaffer in the title role (she alternates with Miranda Klein). She is phenomenal and her performance as the vulnerable young girl has the audience rooting. A gifted singer as well, she has the pipes to belt out her solos as well as in the group ensemble numbers. Mark P. Robinson and Mary Kalita as the duplicitous Wormwoods give colorful over-the-top performances — it’s a delight hating these abusers. Chanel Tilghman as the kind and loving Miss Honey starts out meek and mild, but as the show progresses and the character finds her voice, her subtle transformation draws the audience in. In the number “My House” her empowerment becomes apparent with her angelic and powerful voice as she sings about her plight.  

The company in Berkeley Playhouse's production of Matilda the Musical 

Every good story needs a good villain. Gregory Lynch more than fits the bill as Miss Trunchbull, the crazy headmistress of Crunchem Hall Primary School. Her tough drill sergeant persona steals every scene she’s in. If Miss Hannigan in “Annie” is farcical, Miss Trunchbull is the Wicked Witch of the West. Her very presence evokes fear in not only the children, but the adults as well. The adults are terrific, but the large ensemble of the children — from younger ones in elementary school to the older teenagers — are all quite talented. There are many musical numbers, directed by Dane Paul Andres and choreographed by Andres and Cat Reyes, and the youngsters are thoroughly professional in each. There was not a misstep in a number involving the children climbing ropes and ladders and twirling about while singing. Nor was there an off-key note in the whole show, thanks to the vocal direction by Camden Daly and the tight musical direction of Jessica Igarashi with her live orchestra.  

Jordan Battle (Miss Phelps) and Miranda Klein (Matilda)

Cliché as it sounds, the show truly is a fun-filled, entertaining and enthralling evening for the whole family and a great way to enjoy the holiday season.  

The Company

photos by Ben Krantz Studio

Matilda The Musical
Berkeley Playhouse
Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Ave. in Berkeley
ends on December 23, 2022
for tickets, call (510) 845-8542, ext. 351 or visit Berkeley Playhouse

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer Dykes November 27, 2022 at 12:56 pm

What an awesome review! But there are two casts of the children, and I believe that on the date this reviewer attended, Ozzie Schaffer was Matilda, not Miranda Klein. They are both excellent, but it would mean a lot to the kids to be recognized.


Tony Frankel November 28, 2022 at 2:27 pm

Thanks for noticing, Jennifer. We updated the review.


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