Matilda The Musical at the Ziegfeld Absolutely Soars in Ogden/Park City Engagement

Steve Odenthal

Matilda The Musical will extend its run into September at the Egyptian Theater in Park City, Utah.

Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical is an absolute delight that you will want to see before it closes at Ogden’s Ziegfeld Theater this weekend. I wish I had caught this one much earlier because it is phenomenal. Not to worry though, this fine cast moves the show to Park City’s Egyptian Theatre for an additional two-week run. But don’t wait for the PC version of this show, grab your tickets now in Ogden. It is amazing.

Playwright Dennis Kelly combines his talent with the Music and Lyrics of Tim Minchin in this thoroughly entertaining romp of a production. The show features a family of, er, well, not your normal proportions. Entertaining is perhaps the right word to describe the assortment that our heroine, Matilda (Victoria Bingham), finds herself attached to. She seems to have captured ALL the IQ that was allotted their household and finds herself especially at odds with her father, Mr. Wormwood (Eb Madson) who clings to the slim hope that Matilda will somehow become a boy if he only insists that she is one. It doesn’t work, but the interplay between Bingham and Madson is stunning. He, in his boisterous, know-it-all braggadocio while the young actress respectfully, dejectedly and absolutely insists, “I’m a GIRL.” Bingham is so captivating in the role that the audience is immediately swept up by her sad demeanor that oozes charm. The role of Matilda is double cast in this production with Pippa Parry bringing it home on other nights, but on this night Miss Bingham set the stage.

Mr. Wormwood mid-deal-making

The Wormwood family, I am sure, have their moments of normalcy but have the decency to keep those few times locked away well out of sight of the audience. Madson steers the whole boat in a magnificently funny way. His timing and natural feel for comedy shine as Wormwood goes about his entrepreneurial life scamming the Russians (or anyone who is in the vicinity) without a doubt that he will succeed in a big way. His wife, played by Becky Knowles perfectly, has more than enough doubt and sarcasm for her family. Knowles seems to be a master comedienne and delights onstage. Wormwood’s son, Michael (Isaac Allred) becomes one with the sofa and achieves a certain Zen with a Grin that is hard to put out of your mind. Allred’s character is played right on key, and he delivers, but it is especially nice to see him in the ensemble getting a chance to show us more. As a member of the teen ensemble, there were times when I was sure that he would need to have concussion protocol—his choreography was so wild and entertaining. Poor, Poor Matilda.

Trunchbull holds court…

If you know the story, you will know that Matilda attends a slightly less than Charm School, ruled over by headmaster Trunchbull (Quinn Kapetanov). To say the children are afraid of this guy is over-simplification. Heck, I was, and probably my grandchildren will be as well. Kapetanov fills up the Theatre with a huge voice and talent. Oh, and he wears a dress. I should have been ready for this comedic tour-de-force when I read his simple bio: “Quinn has done a lot of shows, this is his second one wearing a dress.” That’s it.  You must watch the quiet ones—and with Kapetanov you have no choice. What a treat.

Parent-Teacher conference?

I don’t know that it is possible to counteract Trunchbull, but if anyone is up to the task, it is Natalie Peterson who plays the aptly named Miss Honey. Peterson is at ease on stage and in this role. She charms the audience immediately and brings us to her side as she cares so very much for Matilda. Peterson’s strong and beautiful voice is evident throughout the show. In fact, all the voices of this show are strong and right—well done to the entire cast and Musical Director Kelli Morris.

Director Morgan Parry has done a wonderful job in assembling the best throughout the show. From Choreographer (Kacee Neff) to Costume & Hair Design (Alicia Kondrick)—and believe me, hair is very much a part of this play—this show is a knock-out. I hope that Amber Hansen was paid an overtime stipend because as Dialect Coach, she surely earned it. There are some production values here that rival ANY in the state.

The family that dances…

It is hard to watch a show like this where talent seems to seep from its every pore; it becomes a bit of sensory overload. Tyson Allred (Escapeologist/Sergei), SueAnn Phillips (Mrs. Phelps), Colton Kraus (Children’s Entertainer/Teen Ensemble), Kate Potter (Silk Acrobat/Teen Ensemble), and Jack Toll (Rudopho/Teen Ensemble) are all perfectly cast and vital to the show. Each showed me a story about to happen with their character(s) that, had the playwright chosen to go there; I would have followed along willingly.

The Ziegfeld Theatre is establishing quite a troupe of young talent that is simply outstanding. In this show the natural attention is on the younger schoolmates who join Matilda in their war with Trunchbull, but the older group, the Teen Ensemble (Kallam MacKay, Kaylee Nelson, Keely Parry, Gracie Sabin) keep the show firing on all cylinders through choreographed movement, while getting the set pieces and younger actors to their marks. This is a very talented group of young actors.

Then, of course, there is the “Chokey-bait,” the bain of Trunchbull’s existence, the children—schoolmates to Matilda. There is huge talent here. Big voices. These school chums Bruce Bogtrotter (Henry Bell), a cake-eater and belching specialist, Wyatt Christensen as Eric, energy personified, Hortensia (Camila Lucena), acrobatic, energetic, and polished, Declan McAlhany as Nigel, a budding talent, Lucy Whitby as Lavender providing comic relief and an occasional Newt as needed, and Kealia Wootton—a strong young dancer, playing Amanda, provide the backbone to this show and a promise of more great shows at the Ziegfeld for years to come.

Go and see this show. It is the best version I have seen of this musical. If time is short, catch it up at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City. It will be well worth it. Great job Cast and Crew!

Something Fresh in Catch Me If You Can at Heritage Community Theatre

Steve Odenthal

Flying the friendly skies… A Conman’s story takes flight.

There is something quite fresh about the musical Catch Me If You Can now playing at the Heritage Community Theatre in Perry, Utah. The chances are that you won’t be familiar with the show which premiered on Broadway in 2011 at the Neil Simon Theatre and garnered four Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical. I wasn’t. And you probably will not yet know the songs. But you will, after watching this production. Mixing a laugh with a tear and splitting time between poignancy and guilty pleasure, this show is one that entertains.

Since I did not know the show, I was hoping for a Guys, and Dolls feel, and at times I almost got there, but this show has legs of its own to stand on. The father and son relationship is explored at length, and from a few angles that surprised me. That made this show something fresh. I found myself entranced in the action and story of this piece. I think you will be swept up as well. Be aware that this is a show without children on the stage and I think that this is a night to leave them home as well. There is no blatant license taken here, but it is a picture of the times and told from a Con-man’s point of view. There is a comeuppance, and justice is done in the end, but the story’s covers are peeled back far enough to see the motivation, and even the criminal’s naivete at times. I loved the portrayal, but make no mistake, this is not the role model you seek.

A million-dollar grin can only take you so far. But you will fly first class right up to the end.

The play, with Music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics from Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and book by Terrence McNally (the same production team that brought forth Hairspray) is well directed by Heritage veteran Leslie Richards maps the criminal career of Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Ben Lowell), a too-clever 16-year-old who has the charm, charisma, and chutzpah to bluff his way through any situation. He learned from the best, his dad, Frank Abagnale, Sr. (Troy Hone), an entrepreneur and slickster never far from a big win, but usually, a day or dollar short. The father-son relationship is the heart of this show, and the casting of Lowell and Hone is as ideal a pairing as could be imagined.

Lowell, for his part, never fails to shine in his own light with a grin that could melt an iceberg. I immediately felt I was being conned by this guy, but I loved the con and fell right into line with the character. While pulling this feat off with every audience member, because that is what conmen are supposed to do, I was amazed to find that Lowell could maintain that hold on me as he took the audience into the awe which Frank Jr. felt for Frank Sr.

Hone, seen many times before on Heritage’s stage, completes the show as we see his pure love and devotion for his one earthly price, Paula Abagnale (Brooke Wardle) who slips through his fingers, and also the pride with which he regards his son—who is reeking the revenge on the world Senior only wishes he could. Hone’s portrayal of sixties-cool and quiet desperation makes everywhere he wanders on stage a poignant treat.

Wardle commands the stage each time she appears but does so with a poised distinction that holds us at bay but softens and melts as she beholds the two men whose world she has shaped. It seems a mere matter of fact that she has room in her life for a third and separate lover. I should mention again that no special attention is paid to this part of her compartmentalized life, but it is there. It is just the character’s way.

Every show must have a good guy. The character Carl Hanratty (Travis Williams) is a hero, but in this telling, he is a well-weathered guy not above making a mistake—remember, this is Frank Jr. telling us the story. At times Hanratty, the beleaguered FBI Agent-in-charge, seems about to go under himself as he chases the criminal waiting for that one mistake, they all make. Williams takes us through a lot of emotions as he inadvertently bonds with his nemesis, and winds up the winner in this cat and mouse game. His part in the “My Favorite Time of Year,” “Little Boy Be A Man,” and “Don’t be a Stranger” numbers are among the most touching of the night. Lowell, Wardle, Hone, and Williams make for a very strong presence on stage in this show.

Hanratty—Agent in Charge with his assorted minions, somehow keep on the trail and in pursuit.

I must say that the FBI agent presence, with Agents Branton (Daniel Price), Cod (Colton Jones), and Dollar (Cameron Linford) looking to steal a scene or two, made me a little uncomfortable. I am biased because I am old enough to have had friends in the FBI at this time, and little is done with these characters except to use them as comic relief. I knew a stronger, silent type Agent—in fact, one friend who worked on this particular case. But I need to understand that this probably was the way Frank Abagnale Jr. saw his pursuers. Laugh with their antics is the best way to handle it, I guess because you will not have my personal baggage and the four actors do a good job in their roles.

But while we are on the subject of comic relief, actors Amber Kacherian and Jordan Martineau combine to become a tour de force in the roles of Carol and Roger Strong, doting parents of Brenda Strong (Aisha Marie) the apparent love of the younger Abagnale’s life (and coincidentally, the mistake the criminal finally makes). Marie comes alive in the second act and knocks us dead with her voice on “Fly, Fly Away.”

I did mention earlier that the music in this show is catchy, but it is more than just that; everyone who takes a song turn seems to be able to belt when appropriate—I’m looking at you, Tyler Bender (as the nurse soloist)—and lend a full voice to the songs. Ensemble actors: Annelise Anderson, Katie Hassell, Allison McEvoy, Mckenzie Nay, Eric Hawkins, and Kiressa Cullimore make the score look easy. Misa Findley, as music director has a lot to be proud of here.

In fact, the entire cast has a lot to be proud of in this production. It is not every day that the Heritage Community Theatre steps out of its own shadow to bring a new, relatively unknown, but very promising play to our area. It is a great leap of faith. We have the opportunity to see a play in its infancy that will soon become VERY popular and a standard. Are we up to it? I think we as a community are. See Catch Me If You Can—you will be entertained and probably have a new favorite show.  I think I do.

Catch Me If You Can at the Heritage Community Theatre in Perry, Utah

Fri, Sat, Mon August 23 – Sept 14 with Matinee August 31

Curtain: 7:30 PM – Tickets: $12.00