Matilda’s Magic Flies to the Walnut Street Theatre

Jemma Bleu Greenbaum as Matilda. Photos by Mark Garvin.

All children are perfect miracles, says the ensemble cast of children who launch into the first song of Matilda the Musical. All except Matilda herself, that is. Her parents never wanted her, they don’t appreciate her, and they scold her for reading books rather than watching TV. Mom’s too busy wanting to be a ballroom dancer and her car-salesman dad is focused on scamming people. Like Annie before her (a show that played last year at Walnut Street Theatre), Matilda lives a hard-knock life for sure and deserves so much more.

The story of this smart-as-a-whip young lady comes from Roald Dahls’ 1988 novel, Matilda. She’s bold with a big heart and big imagination. It’s clear she is not like her family or her peers, and she uses her talents to become the hero of everyone at her new school. The lack of love and acceptance at home is well made up for by Matilda’s librarian, her teacher Miss Honey, and fellow classmates. She’s soon seen as a fearless leader and protects everyone the best she can against the evil headmistress Miss Trunchbull.

It’s highly unlikely that you don’t know the tale of Matilda. So I’ll spare the specifics. If you’re a fan of the beloved book or the 1996 movie version, this stage version is a must-see. The show opened in London in 2010 and was quickly moved to the West End where it still runs today. It came to Broadway in 2013 and was nominated for 11 Tony Awards! In London, it holds a record (along with Hamilton) as the most Olivier Awards won by a musical.

Matilda will be at the Walnut Street Theatre until January 6th. The title role is shared by two local young ladies, Ellie Biron of Philadelphia and Jemma Bleu Greenbaum of Elkins Park. Last night, Greenbaum took the stage and won over the audience with her professionalism. Matilda is a very talkative girl with a lot of stories to tell and Miss Greenbaum perfectly brought this character to life. The cast has so many stand out performers as well. Miss Honey, played by Laura Giknis (Sophie in Walnut Street’s recent Mamma Mia), beautifully performed the number “My House”. Ian Merrill Peakes portrays the hilarious and mean Miss Trunchbull, nailing the physical comedy of the character. Real life husband and wife Christopher Sutton and Lyn Philistine play Matilda’s parents and they are equally as funny- no wonder they seemed so compatible on stage!

Laura Giknis, Ian Merrill Peakes, Jemma Bleu Greenbaum, and Ensemble.

The cast of children in Matilda certainly need to be recognized; such powerful young actors! Audiences will love watching them in every scene. Nicky Intrieri, who plays Bruce, seems the most comfortable on stage as he masters the cake eating scene and belts out the lyrics to “Revolting Children” as if it were his personal anthem. 

Matilda is a great show to see with your family this holiday season. She and her classmates remind us all of the magic we encompass. They provide a great message to all boys and girls to stick up for yourself and your friends if something doesn’t seem fair! You’re not just a “little kid”, you are worth something! You matter and you can do anything if you set your mind to it!

If you and your family take away just one lesson from Matilda, though, let it be the importance of reading. While I absolutely love this show, I think the book tells much more of Matilda’s story. Consider reading it to your children before you see the show. Or run out and buy it right after!

Walnut Street Theatre is partnering with Philadelphia READS to collect books for the Jacoby Book Bank during Matilda’s run. The books donated by theatre-goers will be given to teachers throughout the Philadelphia area. Please bring a book to donate when you come see the show so Matilda’s love of reading reaches the Philadelphia community.

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