On meeting our fave Matilda on stage for the first time

I had a lot of expectations walking into the Meralco Theater last Sunday afternoon. I was about to watch the musical staging of Matilda — based on the children’s book by Roald Dahl of the same name — by the Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group, after all. While we all know of the gifted Matilda Wormwood from the book and the movie (y’all should’ve seen that by now), there’s still something exciting about meeting and hearing her on stage for the first time. Besides the fact that the musical is critically acclaimed — it won multiple Tony Awards — it also made its Asian premiere through this staging in the Philippines. Not to mention, the role of Matilda is alternately played by three talented young Filipinas — Telesa Marie “Esang” De Torres, Uma Naomi Martin, and Felicity Kyle Napuli. But we’ll get into that more later.

When you first enter the theater, the set transports you to the whimsical world of your childhood dreams. You’d think the production design couldn’t get any more “extra”, but the musical numbers just kept getting better that by the time the kids perform School Song, you know better than to expect what’s next.

Wunderkind: Telesa Marie “Esang” De Torres is one of the actresses playing telekenetic fave Matila.

The show is as visual as it is driven by the music. There’s a notable contrast between the set and mood for the school, the living room, the library, and the dream sequences. Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood (played by Joaquin Valdes and Carla Guevara-Laforteza) donned bright colors and bold prints while the kids were dressed in a dull, restricting fashion, as if to mimic the nightmare they have to deal with in school. And let’s not forget the props for every musical number. They had everything from a whimsical carousel to a jungle gym to a dark and magical library. It’s also important to note the timeliness of the story: people in power are bullies, adults are irresponsible, and children fight for what is fair. Sound familiar?

There really were a lot of things happening in the show. Add to that the fact that it ran for about two-and-a-half hours and you’d easily think it was some kind of sensory overload. While that might be true to a certain extent, I’d argue that the consistency of the extravaganza made it feel cohesive, making it very effective. I’d also argue that a huge factor of the success of the storytelling is all thanks to the great voices and intense characterization of the stellar cast. Even the short intermission between acts I and II was full of personality thanks to Mr. Wormwood and Michael’s performance of Telly. Seeing veteran Jamie Wilson play the role of the infamous Miss Trunchbull was also an experience of its own.

 

Make it double: Joaquin Valdes and Carla Guevara-Laforteza do a great Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood.

If there’s anything that I would’ve wanted to see more of, it’s Matilda’s use of telekinesis. She doesn’t discover her powers until later in the show and she barely makes use of it ’til the big confrontation with Miss Trunchbull in act II. But where the characterization of Matilda lacked in super powers, it made up for with talent. I was lucky enough to have caught the performance of “Esang” De Torres, who was known as a finalist in ABS-CBN’s The Voice Kids Philippines and for her role as little Cosette in the Manila and Singapore run of the Les Miserables Asian tour. In a sea of veteran actors, nine-year-old Esang holds her own on stage. She even commands it. You can just tell this little girl was born to perform even before she was mentored by the Lea Salonga. I never once doubted her abilities as a singer, but it was really during her hauntingly beautiful narrations of the story of the acrobat and the escapologist that really convinced me to give a standing ovation at the end of the show, together with majority of the audience that afternoon.

I wish I could show you some kind of proof so that you’ll believe me when I tell you that the magic of the show really lies in its cast, most especially the children. But thankfully, there are a few more shows happening ’til this weekend for you to see and hear it for yourself.

I guess you can say I walked out of the theater really, really charmed.

 

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Matilda The Musical by the Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group runs ‘til Dec. 10. For tickets, visit www.ticketworld.com.ph

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