by Jess Hoffman

If you, like me, were a child of the 90s, you may have grown up on the 1996 film Matilda. And if, like me, you were an avid reader with tastes leaning toward the sarcastic and subversive, you may have grown up with a deep love for all of Roald Dahl’s works and their movie adaptations. I went into Schenectady Light Opera Company’s production of Matilda telling myself that I should not compare the play with its source material and judge it instead as its own stand-alone piece of media. But then again, it is hard when the show’s full title is Roald Dahl’s Matilda: The Musical.

The set for Matilda is not complicated, but the giant books in the background do put one in mind of the literary giants that have shaped our culture: Tolstoy, Dostoyevski, Dahl, etc. Moreover, the books and papers floating high above the stage seem like an excellent piece of foreshadowing for anyone vaguely familiar with the story of Matilda.

The adults in the cast, I assume, are largely of an age to have enjoyed the film Matilda as children. Whether they meant for the movie to influence their performances or not, there are traces of the classic film in their performances; but they still manage to make the characters and the show very much their own. Miss Honey, played by Jennifer Lefsyk, is just as warm and sweet as the name Miss Honey suggests. Brittany Glenn and David Quiñons Jr. as Matilda’s parents are hilariously scummy and play their roles just enough like the film’s Danny Devito and Rhea Pearlman’s to satisfy one’s desire for nostalgia, but not so much so that their performances lack originality. But if there is a single stand-out among the cast, it is Nick Contois as Agatha Trunchbull. With a combination of smugness, sadism, and cold contempt, Contois brings life to one of Dahl’s most hateful villainesses. All of these performances are enhanced by costume designer Rory Alexa, whose choices for Matilda’s parents were particularly inspired and hideous.

The general chorus is a well-polished ensemble group which provides an excellent backdrop to the play’s central conflict between the children and the adults around them; but it would be hard for any group of adults to match the raw energy of the younger children. While the young childrens’ ensemble numbers fall out of sync on occasion, and some of the young actors would do well to work on their enunciation, the children have wonderful melody and their choreography is impeccable. Funnily enough, I found the strongest member of this group to be Vincent Connel as Bruce Bogtrotter, though Connel was apparently filling in for another actor in that role the night I attended. Ryleigh Goss as the titular Matilda Wormwood, like some of the other children in the cast, has an unfortunate habit of mumbling. But Goss has such a lovely singing voice I can almost forgive her for occasionally muddling important lines in her excitement.

Roald Dahl’s Matilda: The Musical, does take liberties with its source material. The added character Rudolpho, Mrs. Wormwood’s hunky dance partner, does little to serve the plot but much to give the audience a chuckle. The addition of the escapologist and the acrobat provide important backstory. But the musical unforgivably buries the lead on Matilda’s telekinetic powers, which are a central plot point to every version of the story. Matilda’s ability to move things with her mind doesn’t come up until the middle of the second act, when I was beginning to wonder if they were going to cut that plotline entirely. From there, Matilda’s powers are used only twice and never to the spectacular potential that anyone familiar with the source material would expect. The books and papers floating above the stage remain stagnant, and Matilda’s final act of defiance is nothing more showy than writing on a chalkboard without touching the chalk. This isn’t entirely the fault of Schenectady Light Opera Company, as the show seems to be written this way. But one wonders why anyone in their right mind would make an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda that so understates Matilda’s magical powers.

I give kudos to SLOC for attempting such a challenging play, but I ultimately found that they fell just slightly short of the challenges presented by this musical. If you are looking for a perfectly polished exemplar of musical theater, look elsewhere. If you are looking for a bit of nostalgia for a beloved childhood book or movie, you may find some of what you were looking for at SLOC, but will be left largely unfulfilled. However, if you are looking for a lively and entertaining spectacle performed by an energetic and talented cast, this production of Matilda will still hit the spot.

Schenectady Light Opera Company presents Roald Dahl’s Matilda: The Musical by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin, directed by James W. Alexander, runs from September 15-24, 2023, at SLOC Musical Theater, 427 Franklin Street Schenectady, NY 12305. Musical Director: Elizabeth Sterling. Choreography by Caley Alyce Lacey. Produced by MJ Alexander and Steven Baldwin. Stage Manager: Molly Waters. Cast: Brittany Glenn as Mrs. Wormwood, David Quiñones Jr. as Mr. Wormwood, Ryleigh Goss as Matilda Wormwood (September 14, 16, 22, 24), Marlena Rowe as Matilda Wormwood (September 15, 17, 21, 23) Alex LaFargue as Michael Wormwood, Elizabeth Corey as Mrs. Phelps, Jennifer Lefsyk as Miss Honey, Kevin O’Brien as The Escapologist, Ashley Polidore as The Acrobat, Nick Contois as Miss Agatha Trunchbull, Andrei Bires as Rudolpho, Evan Buma as Bruce, Amaya Ridley as Lavendar, Charlie Palmer as Nigel, Teagan Mann as Amanda, Vincent Connell as Eric, Vivienne Hays as Alice, Brooke Lam as Hortensia, Killian Lemley as Tommy, and other parts by Rory Alexa, Hazel Chaudoir, Maggie Córdova, Emily Dawn Lacey & Ashley Schuliger. Dance Captain: Emily Dawn Lacey. Set design by Molly Waters. Lighting Design by Laura Darling. Sound design by Katie Fitzmorris. Costume design by Rory Alexa. Hair by Jennie Canale. Make-up by Rory Alexa & Jennie Canale. Property design by Kathi Waters. 

Performance dates are Friday-Sunday September 15-17 and Thursday-Sunday September 21-24.Tickets run from $27-$32. Runs approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission. Tickets are available online by phone, or at the door for any performance. Visit, call 518-730-7370, or e-mail for more information. Contains the use of strobe lights and depictions of child abuse. Recommended for ages 9+.

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